Sheroes: Walker, Chisolm, Colvin, Jones

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day in January as opposed to another month, like February for example? The holiday commemorates his birthday, which is January 15, and if he were alive today, Dr. King would have turned 90 this year. Once the country made the day a federal holiday, it was decided that we would remember his birthday on the third Monday of every January. That is why the date fluctuates each year.

To honor the legacy of Dr. King, many people use time off to volunteer. Other people spend time going to parades or other community events. Even though the weather may be bleak and the allure of lights and tinsel may be gone from the December holidays, there is plenty to get excited about when you think about MLK Day as a chance to continue the spirit of giving.

The entire month of February is Black History Month. Every year during this time, people like to remember the important and significant contributions that Black people have made throughout history. Did you know that we have only been celebrating Black History Month since 1976, and before that it was only for one week, coincidentally, around the same week as President’s Day?

As we end Black History month and prepare to celebrate Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day on March 8, this is a particularly great time to learn about some Black women legends who are sheroes like Madam CJ Walker, Shirley Chisolm, Claudette Colvin and “Baby” Esther Jones.

Madam CJ Walker was one of the first women of ANY race in America to become a self-made millionaire. Born just 12 years after the end of slavery, she went on to establish a beauty and hair care empire with a legacy that is still intact today. Not only did she invest in herself, but she trained over 20,000 Black women to be their own boss and build financial wealth. During her short life (she died in 1919), she was a huge advocate for social causes like education for Black people and helped to establish YMCAs in Black communities.

Election season feels like it is right around the corner, and with more and more women entering the political world, it feels right to talk about the imprint Shirley Chisolm made on her own campaign trail. In 1968, the same year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Shirley Chisolm won her race for U.S. Representative for the state of New York. Just four years later, she made history for being the first female candidate to run for the U.S. Presidency. Many women in politics today look at what she did in her public career for inspiration on how they can carry the torch forward.

You may be very familiar with the name Rosa Parks, but you may not know that she was not the first woman to defy the bus riding policies of segregation. A woman named Claudette Colvin was arrested in March of 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a White woman. She was only 15 years old. Just several months later, in December, Rosa Parks took the same action (they were both connected to the greater Civil Rights movement that was happening throughout the American South). While Rosa Parks has passed on, Ms., Colvin is still alive and went on to continue pursuing activism for racial justice.

Do you love the cultural icon “Betty Boop?” If so, you need to thank “Baby” Esther Jones for the image. Esther Jones was a performer in the Harlem Black arts scene in the 1920s. Her acts were becoming well known outside of the Black community and two people, a cartoonist and an actress, took note of her work. The actress started using Esther’s performing style in her work, while the cartoonist used Esther’s iconic “Boop Oop A Doop!” tagline for his new pinup gal. The actress actually sued the cartoonist claiming inappropriate use of her imagery, and in the course of the case, it was discovered that both had taken their signature artistry from Esther Jones. To this day, Jones’s estate has not been compensated for any of her contributions to pop culture.

Learn as much as you can this month and every month about the amazing people who helped make this country what it is.

Ayanna Colman is a Senior Performance Adviser with Results Washington. A licensed attorney, she is committed to serving her community through her work and civic engagement.

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