There is great diversity in the heritage and culture of people of African descent and the contributions they have made and continue to make to the world. Given the African Diaspora’s global presence, its essential to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Black people worldwide.
In fact, one of the main objectives of the International Decade For People of African Descent is to promote greater understanding and respect for the diverse heritage, culture, and contributions of people of Black people. The United Nations General Assembly formally proclaimed the decade in 2015, and it will run through 2024 with the motto “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development.”
Here at ESSENCE, we celebrate Black excellence globally. From Barbados to Belgium, Canada to Zimbambwe, here are five Black changemakers who are creating history across the African Diaspora.
Jean Augustine is a social activist, educator, and ground-breaking parliamentarian. She became the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament in Canada in 1993 and has been a steadfast defender of women’s rights, youth rights, and the rights of Black communities.
Among her many accomplishments as a member of parliament, she is the person who championed the historic vote to have February proclaimed as Black History Month in Canada.
Born in St. George’s, Grenada, Dr. Augustine immigrated to Canada in 1960. Although she was a qualified teacher when she arrived, she had to start out as a domestic worker and shoe clerk before earning a Teacher’s Certificate.
An energetic advocate of social justice, she went on to work as the principal of an elementary school before entering politics and supported many social causes through her work with The Hospital for Sick Children and as President of the Congress of Black Women in Canada.
In 2007, Dr. Augustine became the first Fairness Commissioner in Ontario, a position created to ensure that the credentials of internationally trained professionals are evaluated fairly and transparently. She retired in 2015 after eight years at the helm of the agency.
In 2018, she was honored with the Nelson Mandela award by Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union for having made an impactful contribution the advancement of human rights and social justice.
Several Canadian landmarks, including sports complexes, educational institutions, and parks, bear her name. Dr. Augustine is an iconic figure in the history of women of African descent in North America, having dedicated her life to advancing racial and gender equality.
The Rt. Hon. Dr. Cynthia Pratt has blazed many trails in her career. Affectionately known as Mother Pratt, “She was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, which is a position equivalent to that held by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. She was also the nation’s first female minister of national security and the Progressive Liberal Party’s first elected female deputy leader (PLP). When then-Prime Minister Perry Christie had a stroke in 2005, Mother Pratt also filled in as acting leader.
She officially returned to politics in August 2022 after a 17-year absence, when she was appointed Deputy Governor-General of the Bahamas. Her most recent book “From The Pit To The Palace” chronicles her journey from growing up in the inner city in Nassau, Bahamas to becoming successful and paying it forward across the Caribbean, the United Stares and beyond.
Michaela Moua is an Afro-Finnish therapist and former professional basketball player who made history in May 2021 when she became the first anti-racism coordinator of the Brussels-based, European Commission.
After a successful career in basketball, which included playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes, Finnish women’s basketball league as well as leagues in Italy and Switzerland, Moua studied international development. She has held several key positions in NGOs in her native Finland that combats racism and discrimination. Most recently, she worked at the Non-discrimination Ombudsman’s office and at the Ministry of Justice in Finland.
Moua’s role requires her to collaborate with European Union (EU) member states, the European Parliament, civil society, and academia to improve anti-racism policy responses. In addition, she works to implement the Commission’s policy on preventing and combating racism.
Moua’s appointment fulfills an important commitment announced in the (EU) Action Plan against Racism (2020-2025). Its implementation required the appointment of a Commission coordinator for anti-racism.
Born to a Finnish mother and Ivorian father, she is one of five Afro-Finns behind Finland’s only annual event celebrating the beauty of black hair, the Good Hair Day. She was nominated for The Most Influential Africans & Afro-Finns Excellence Awards (FINMIAA) by Diaspora Glitz Magazine in commemoration of Finnish Independence.
A doctor, diplomat, educator, and entrepreneur, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao is known internationally for her efforts to improve healthcare systems, particularly in countries in Africa, and to promote women’s rights around the globe.
A native of Zimbabwe, Dr. Chihombori-Quao immigrated to the USA in 1977. She graduated from Fisk University and Meharry Medical College in Tennessee and has practiced medicine in the United States for over 20 years.
Dr. Chihombori-Quao is Founder and CEO of Bell Family Medical Centers and the Chair of the African Union African Diaspora Health Initiative (AUADHI). The AUADHI initiative was created in 2012 in response to the shortage of healthcare workers in Africa due to migration. She mobilizes health professionals from the diaspora to meet the health care needs of the African continent.
The groundbreaking physician and entrepreneur was appointed as the African Union representative to the United States in 2016 where she developed and maintained relationships between the 55 member countries of the African Union, the Executive and Legislative branches of the US Government and Africans in the Diaspora among others.
However in 2019, Dr. Chihombori-Quao was fired from her role as Ambassador following a speech where she denounced France’s colonization of Africa. The African Union was met with swift backlash but has never confirmed whether the comments on France played a role in its decision. Since her departure from the AU, the noted physician and international advocate continues to speak out on issues of modern colonialism and neo-colonialism and its impact on Africa.
She touts diaspora-wide engagement and actionable plans through her speeches and as founder of the African Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI). Dr. Chihombori-Quao is currently spearheading the “Wakanda One Project” which will foster the development of medical facilities, hotels, shopping centers and other structures in the five regions of Africa.
Regarded internationally as a distinguished academic, thought leader, and global public activist, Sir Hilary Beckles is one of the world’s leading voices on equality, reparatory justice, and economic development for people of the African diaspora.
The revered Barbadian historian is the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), where his career has spanned over 40 years since he joined the faculty in 1979. He is an advisor on Sustainable Development to former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, which has outlined a 10-point action plan for justice for the victims of slavery and their descendants. Sir Hilary has said that the fight for reparations may be the greatest global political movement of this era.
Sir Hilary has received widespread global recognition for his academic achievements, leadership expertise and activism. In 2007, he was knighted by the Government of Barbados in recognition of his distinguished service in the fields of Education, Sports, and the Arts. It’s the country’s highest national honor.
In 2015, he became the second recipient of the Global Community Healer Award for humanitarian work from the Community Healer Network in Washington DC. The first wasthe late Maya Angelou. Sir Hilary was also invited by the President of the UN General Assembly to deliver the feature address that launched the UN International Decade for People of African Descent. In 2021, Sir Hilary was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Global Award for Peace and Freedom by the National Action Network (NAN) for his global advocacy for reparatory justice, equality, and economic development for people of African descent.