February is Black History Month — a month for us to honor African-American history and the phenomenal people who are making it. From actors, to inventors, to Trey Songz’s abs, here are a few groundbreaking individuals who deserve far more than a month of praise.
+ Oscar Winner Hattie McDaniel
This Sunday is Oscars night! Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American ever to win an Academy Award — Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1939 classic “Gone With The Wind.”
+ Actress Kerry Washington
With ground-breaking roles in “Django Unchained” and ABC’s hit series “Scandal,” Kerry Washington is both telling and making African-American history. She is the first Black woman to star in a drama series in over 35 years, and was heavily involved in both of Obama’s presidential campaigns.
+ Musician Trey Songz
Trey Songz became the first African-American lead in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise this year — and no, he wasn’t killed off first. He also remains a positive role model for African-American youth — from running his own charity to volunteering with many others.
+ Gymnast Gabby Douglas
Last year, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas became the first African-American gymnast in history to win individual all-around gold at the Olympics.
+ Dancer Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey was a dancer, choreographer, and activist whose works often highlight African-American history. He is credited with popularizing modern dance, and creating opportunities for Black dancers on what was once considered a White stage. His dance company is also behind the performances in mtvU’s The Backstory.
+ Screenwriter Shonda Rimes
Shonda Rimes is a female African-American screenwriter, director, and producer behind hit shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and “Scandal.” How many female African-American screenwriters-directors-producers can you name? Exactlyyy. Get it, Shonda!
+ Inventor Lonnie Johnson
Without NASA thermodynamic engineer Lonnie Johnson, Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” would be an entirely different song. Why?! ‘Cause Lonnie invented the Super Soaker water gun — the number one toy in America in 1991 and 1992.
+ Director Ava Duvernay
Last year, Ava became the first Black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for her film “Middle of Nowhere.” She also helped launch the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), an organization created to help distribute independent Black films.
+ Footballer Brendon Ayanbadejo
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo boldly stands up for same-sex marriage in a sport that is notoriously closed-minded when it comes to homosexuality. As a straight ally, he campaigned for his state of Maryland to legalize gay marriage…and it did on January 1st, 2013!
+ Singer-Songwriter Ne-Yo
In the film “Red Tails,” Ne-Yo plays one of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen — the first African-American aviators in the U.S. Air Force. “I had no idea how deep the story went or about all their amazing achievements,” Ne-Yo said of the airmen while promoting the movie.
Who are you celebrating during Black History Month? Let us know in the comments or Tweet us!
Celebrate Black History Month
Learn more about African American trailblazers, change-makers and risk-takers.
Go inside The Backstory
What if someone you knew ended up in modern-day slavery? Go inside the Backstory to find out and take action.