It’s Black History Month and 15 Black Women Are Making History Today

Issue 159 — February 1, 2021

Oprah’s O Magazine is a rich resource if you are looking for information about Black History Month. And no doubt your inbox is filling up with proclamations and programs in celebration of the month that highlights the past accomplishments of Black men and women.

But given this particular moment of reckoning with systemic racism in American culture, I want to celebrate Black women who are making tomorrow’s history today.

I realize that history is usually thought of as a backward look. And there are lessons to be learned, inspiration to be taken from knowing our history. That’s why my Leadership Power Tool #1 is “Know Your History and You Can Create the Future of Your Choice.”

But at the start of Black History Month 2021 in the midst of such a volatile time, it’s time to focus on the “create the future” part of that Power Tool.

Because each day, each of us is creating the future by what we do or don’t do. And each time we take the energy of disruption caused by, say, a pandemic or a racially motivated injustice that touches the national conscience, or an attack on the People’s House, we can move that dial toward progress.

There are so many Black women leaders making history today. They are not only breaking new ground themselves; they are paving the road for others to travel on in the years ahead.

They are role models, achievers, intentioners, people you should know.

Top of mind because last week it was announced that Rosalind Brewer, former president and CEO of Sam’s Club and current Starbuck’s COO, will soon become CEO of Walgreens. That will make her not the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company — Ursula Burns holds that distinction — but Brewer will be the only one currently in that position.

Brewer is a role model to me because she exemplifies intention, an often unrecognized linchpin for gender and racial equality. She has said, “You can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect.”

And of course, Kamala Harris’s “first but not the last” election to be the Vice President of the United States is history making, history pattern breaking, and an inspiration to all the girls and young women, from youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman to the daughters and granddaughters of so many of my friends who are already declaring their intentions to run for president a few decades hence.

Both Stacey Abrams and Black Lives Matter founded by three Black women have been nominated for Nobel Prizes for their powerful political organizing.

Those seven boldfaced names deserve every accolade they get. And I want to recognize, celebrate, and thank eight other Black women who are making history. If you don’t know them yet, you will.

Jamia Wilson — publishing: When you meet a young woman you sense has extraordinary talents and a couple of decades of feminist activism and publishing leadership later becomes executive editor at Random House, you feel like a proud auntie. I can’t wait to see how her fine social justice sensibilities will shape her choices of books to champion. I know we’ll all want to read them.

Jennefer Witter — public relations: A chance meeting at a restaurant blossoms into a professional relationship and Take The Lead is privileged to have the Boreland Group, Jennefer’s company, to represent us and to benefit from her expertise in diversity and inclusion as well as her media relations smarts.

I don’t even remember who we were meeting with but Jennefer Witter and I have been pals ever since.

Felicia Davis — Leadership Brand Architect, executive coach: Felicia is also the founder of the Black Women’s Collective which helps Black women “crack the code of leadership success.” And as a Take The Lead Leadership Ambassador, she’s about to launch the Academy for Advanced Leadership. Watch for that soon!

Felicia and I have taught three cohorts of 50 Women Can Change the World in Nonprofits together.

Lisa Matthews — media: It was a pleasure to reconnect recently with Lisa, now Associated Press Assignment Manager, U.S. video, when I noticed that she had been elected president of the prestigious National Press Club. She’s only the second woman of color to hold that position in the Club’s 114 year history. I had met her initially in a previous role at AP when I was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and always appreciated her even handed professional approach.

Sheila Robinson — diversity maven: Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, board chair of Take The Lead, calls Dr. Sheila Robinson’s Diversity Woman Media, Nancy’s Women Connect 4 Good Foundation, and Take The Lead as “the trifecta” that can accomplish anything for diversity and women’s equality. Sheila puts on incredible conferences that bring together the experts in DEI and corporate leaders, as well as publishing Diversity Woman Magazine.

Tiffany Dufu — connector, entrepreneur: After publishing her book Drop the Ball, Tiffany is now balancing many balls in the air as she builds her company The Cru, which curates circles of women who help each other thrive. When the pandemic forced the groups to pivot from location-based to virtual, she seized the moment and has attracted investors who realize the power of the Cru to grow exponentially.

Minda Harts — thought leader, career development consultant: Minda is everywhere these days. Her bestselling book The Memo is a handbook for women of color who are ready and “intentioning” to secure a seat at any powerful table. Minda’s thought leadership includes a podcast and burgeoning media presence. You might have caught her recently on Take The Lead’s Power to Change Conversations webinar.

Cheryl Pegus M.D. — healthcare: One could ask, “where in the world is Cheryl Pegus?” since her career and professional associations have spanned a wide range. Currently Executive Vice President of Health and Wellness for Walmart, the unifying thread from cardiologist in private practice to corporate executive is her passion for keeping people healthy. We met when we both spoke at an American Heart Association event and I have been trying to get her to join Take The Lead’s board ever since.

No doubt this list could go on and on, and I encourage you to add to it here and in social media posts.

Like Women’s History Month in March, Black history deserves not just a month but to be routinely part of history writ at large, and certainly an integral part of American history as it is told and taught. Meanwhile, let’s continue to celebrate and elevate the accomplishments of Black women in February and every day.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.

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