History is filled with people who are notable for one reason or another. Pauli Murray is notable for dozens. Throughout her life, she was told she couldn’t do things, often because she was black or a woman (or both). In pretty much every instance, she pushed back, challenging the cultural norms of her time and notions of what was acceptable.
Dispatches From the Internets
I can’t remember exactly when I discovered Lizzo, but I do remember how refreshing I found her work. A self-professed “big girl with a cute face,” Lizzo is incredibly empowered and comfortable in her own skin. Having struggled with my own body image issues—including dealing with a decent amount of body shaming—I’ve found her ability to find beauty in everyone—including herself—inspirational.
Nina Simone’s performance of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” has long been one of my favorite songs. Her hands slink across the piano keys as her unmistakable voice seems to dance in, out and, around the melody they produce. It’s a joy to listen to and still gives me those this-is-amazing shivers that only the best music does. I don’t recall my first introduction to Nina Simone, but I remember how striking her voice was. And she used that voice to say the things others couldn’t.
During Black History Month, there is, understandably, a great deal of focus placed on the folks who risked their lives (and, in some cases, lost them) in the fight for the civil rights of their fellow Black Americans. Growing up, however, I never heard about Bayard Rustin and his incredible legacy of standing up for marginalized people, both here in the U.S. and abroad.
A few weeks back, Marcy Sutton shared a slide deck by Tanya Reilly with me. The talk was “Being Glue” and it discussed the incredibly important (and shamefully undervalued) role of being the “glue” that holds a team together and makes them successful. That talk was concerned with technical teams, but this role is universal to any organization, collaboration, or project. In many ways, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was glue for the civil rights movement and I don’t think she gets enough credit for it.
Few people in hip-hop command as much respect as Chuck D. But unlike many who’ve achieved his level of critical and commercial success, Chuck D has never stopped fighting for others. And he’s challenged me to do my part.
Have you ever heard the name Alan Emtage? Probably not. He didn’t start a nearly trillion-dollar company. He isn’t digging massive tunnels under cities. His pet project isn’t putting people on Mars. But he wrote the first search engine, way back in 1990. The thing is, he doesn’t brag about this accomplishment.
I hadn’t heard about Thomas Jennings until recently, but his story is a pretty impressive one. Did you know he invented dry cleaning? Yeah, a white man is often credited with the invention of modern dry cleaning, but Thomas Jennings invented the “dry scouring” technique that gave birth to modern dry cleaning. He also successfully patented the idea, becoming the first black man to be awarded a patent for his invention. In 1821, a full 42 years before the Emancipation Proclamation!
We lost an amazing voice and an amazing human being when Aretha Franklin died last year. Countless articles have been written about the positive impact she’s had on the struggles for both Civil Rights and Native American rights. Apart from her amazing voice and presence, the thing I will remember most about Aretha is her purse.