In continuation of our series celebrating Black History, this third article gives insight into inspiring Black voices: celebrating pioneers from the past, and looking ahead, we celebrate inspirational people who are uplifting Black voices and are helping to drive change in workplaces.
Black History heroes:
Percy Julian – Chemist and researcher
A pioneer in chemistry and plant-derived medicine, Julian was one of the first African Americans to earn a PHD in chemistry despite not being allowed to attend high school.
Thanks to Julian’s research on medicinal plants, he helped to make the treatment of glaucoma readily available. He also developed an innovative process to create birth control on an industrial scale, making it accessible to more American women. Alongside being behind the creation of many life-changing drugs, Julian was also a social activist and provided opportunities for more scientists of colour in his companies. He also founded the ‘Legal Defense and Educational Fund of Chicago’ to help upskill Black communities.
Bessie Coleman – Pilot
Inspired as a young woman by her brothers’ stories from World War I, Coleman was motivated to become a pilot. However, as a Black woman, she was rejected from aviation schools across America. Determined to achieve her goal, she instead taught herself French and moved to France to earn her pilot’s license, becoming the first African American to receive a pilot’s license. Upon her return to America, Coleman started to perform stunts in shows but refused to participate if the audience was segregated, in solidarity with her community.
Coleman’s voice in Black history is still inspiring today, her passion and determination allowed her to break barriers in aviation and paved the way for all Black female pilots in America.
Charles Hamilton Houston – Lawyer and activist
Known as ‘the man who killed Jim Crow’, Houston made it his mission to end Jim Crow after being subjected to racism whilst he served his country in World War I.
Determined to put an end to the “separate but equal” principle, Houston enrolled in Harvard Law School to get his doctorate and went on to become the first general counsel of the NAACP. As well as mentoring young Black lawyers, he became very active in many cases surrounding education and segregation – his legal strategies paved the way for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to reject segregated schools, four years after his passing in 1950.
The best way to bring about sustainable diverse change in your workplace is to hear from the changemakers themselves. Below is a short list of influential voices, providing inspiration and ideas to help you drive strategic change in your organisations:
Minda Harts – Author, Founder and CEO
Speaker, author and trailblazer, Harts is an advocate for young women and is passionate about getting them a seat at the table. From creating books like The Memo and You Are More Than Magic to help young women of colour find their voice and become leaders, to the ‘WOC Equity Initiative’, she shares her knowledge and experience to help others develop their careers. Listen to her podcast or find out more about Harts on her website.
LaTonya Wilkins – Founder and Author
After years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies, Wilkins has developed an evidence-based approach to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. She strives to show others how to ‘build real relationships across differences’. Her company Change Coaches educates workplaces on DEI through coaching, workshops, culture academies and more, showing how individual people can ‘lead blow the surface’ to make real and sustainable changes for diversity in the workplace. View resources from Wilkins’s Change Coaches on workplace diversity.
Zachary Nunn – Founder, Creator
Nunn created the Living Corporate podcast to amplify the voices of Black people at work. His extensive range of podcasts cover topics including ‘mental wellness while Black’, and ‘supporting Black women at work’. But Nunn is taking this podcast to new levels. Living Corporate now has curated content that their team has put together for listeners to choose from, which now provides subscribers with a more personal experience. He aims to take Living Corporate to new levels, with the intention of creating a community for Black and Brown people who are navigating the workplace.
This article is the third of a four-part series celebrating Black History Month. The next article will be on the top resources to continue celebrating Black History throughout the year.