As February moves forward this year, I’ve done a bunch of digging into inspirational African American writers, scientists, mathematicians, and historical figures throughout the past several hundred years. I could talk about Madam C.J. Walker, who started a company to educate and sell hair and beauty products for African American women in the early 1900s. I learned about Dr. Rebecca Cole, the second black woman to graduate from medical school; she worked with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (the first white woman doctor) in New York and taught hygiene and childcare to families in poor neighborhoods.
There are African American athletes I grew up hearing about: Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was an Olympian and World Champion several times over in long jump and heptathlon, was someone I watched compete whenever I could. Sports Illustrated for Women named her the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century; I joined track in high school because of her. I wasn’t any good, but she inspired me anyway. Tennis player Zina Garrison won my heart when I was watching Wimbledon one summer: she beat Monica Seles and Chris Evert to reach the finals of Wimbledon. She was an amazing athlete, and so much fun to watch–and she inspired me to join the tennis team at my high school. Again, I wasn’t very good, but I kept going because she did.