Chandra Wilson For the Grey’s Anatomy breakout star, self-confidence didn’t always runneth over. “I was always questioning, ‘Lord, what in the world am I doing here, and why haven’t I gotten fired yet?’” says Wilson of her early days in musical theater. “Fortunately, I’ve been in the presence of people who’ve let me know I’m good enough where I am.” Whether it was her mother; her Broadway patron, George C. Wolfe, who directed her in Caroline, or Change; or her role model, director–choreographer Debbie Allen, Wilson has had someone rooting for her. Now it’s her turn to uplift others. She’s starting a program in her native Houston for high school seniors and adults who wish to study the arts. Says Wilson, “I just want to continue the giving.” —cori murray
The Black Female Cadets of THE U.S. MILITARY ACADEMY AT WEST POINT The 73 young Black women currently at the academy (see ID map, page 230) know they will likely be sent to Iraq after graduation. Each day they balance a rigorous academic curriculum with military training that includes weapons instruction and combat drills. They must also cope with grim news from the battlefield, like the death last year of 2nd Lieutenant Emily Perez, the first Black female West Point graduate to be killed in Iraq. “Emily was from the class of ’05, so it hit close to home,” says cadet captain Marjana Mair, 23, of Perez, who was the highest-ranking woman of color in West Point history. Yet Mair feels confident about going to Iraq. “Instead of the draft, I’d rather they send someone who wants to go, like me.”—cynthia gordy
Kadiatou Diallo, Marie Dorismond and Valerie Bell (from left) When Marie Dorismond and Kadiatou Diallo heard about the shooting of Sean Bell, an unarmed Queens, New York, man who died last November on his wedding day in a storm of 50 police bullets, they rushed to the side of Sean’s mother, Valerie Bell. Both had lost their sons to police violence in New York—Amadou Diallo in 1999, Patrick Dorismond in 2000—so they understood her pain. The two attended Sean’s funeral and a protest march in the weeks following. Recently three of the five officers who fired at Sean were indicted on criminal charges. “My husband always said Sean would be famous,” says Bell, who held a 50-day vigil last winter to focus media attention on her son’s killing. “I never thought it would be like this.” The mothers are now bonded by their struggle against racial profiling and police brutality. Says Diallo, 48: “I draw strength from working hard to effect positive change.”—c.g.
Dr. Maya Angelou When asked to describe her own boldness, Dr. Angelou, 79, demurs, preferring instead to elaborate on what it means to live boldly. “Living with humor, compassion and style—that’s bold,” says the celebrated author, poet, educator, director, actress and civil rights activist. “It’s about being brave and bodacious.” What it is not about, she says, is accepting any label that diminishes. “Black women of another generation would never stand for being called bitches and hos,” she says. Dr. Angelou, whose message of hope and unity permeates everything she does, says we shouldn’t be afraid to be kind to one another. “Black women need to compliment each other more,” she explains. “Pat someone on the shoulder as you pass by. You have no idea how you encourage a person when you do this.”—vanessa bush
When her eldest son was diagnosed with autism, Holly Robinson Peete’s storybook life was nearly shattered. The hardworking actress even considered walking away from her 12-year marriage. Read her full story, “Holly’s Heart,” by Erin Aubry Kaplan now on essence.com.
Kai Leigh Harriott (opposite) Her body may be confined to a wheelchair, but Kai Leigh Harriott’s generous spirit knows no bounds. At age 3, she was hit by a stray bullet when a teenager fired three errant shots in her Boston neighborhood. After months of rehabilitation and nearly three years of waiting for a trial, Kai Leigh finally came face-to-face with the man responsible for her paralysis. She astounded everyone in the courtroom by addressing the shooter and forgiving him. “My heart told me that it was the right thing to do,” says the soft-spoken 6-year-old. Kai Leigh’s mom, Tonya David, plans to start the New Beginning Foundation, a nonprofit designed to help other families in similar circumstances. “I want to give back the way others gave to us,” she says. —zulaika jumaralli
Standing with her 5-year-old granddaughter, Ellika, as Rosa Parks lay in state at the Capitol, Marian Wright Edelman said to her, “Never forget what one Black woman can do to change this country.” As founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), Edelman, 67, has spent the past 30 years fighting for policies and legislation that protect children. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she enlisted the help of Hollywood wives such as Malaak Compton-Rock and LaTanya Richardson Jackson to help fund 14 new Freedom Schools in the Gulf Coast. Scheduled to open this summer, they will provide children with quality summer- and after-school education. —wendy l. wilson
Tamia On the surface, the R&B songstress has a picture-perfect life: a successful career, an NBA hubby and an adorable 5-year-old daughter. But the 32-year-old can also add survivor to her life’s résumé. In 2003 Tamia learned she has multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that weakens the body’s central nervous system and causes extreme fatigue. Not one to shrink from a challenge, Tamia educated herself about the illness. “People of color have to be aware of their medical status and be persistent with their doctors,” she says. Over the past four years, Tamia has spoken out publicly about leading a productive life with the disease. “Forget about trying to get through the storms,” she says. “Life is about learning to dance in the rain.” —bridgette bartlett