Black History Month: Influential Africans Edition
Living in the United States and going through the K-12 public school systems, one of my favorite times of the year was February. It was one of the few times in the year that schools taught the cultures, contributions, and experiences of Black people living in America.
However, as the daughter of black immigrants from Sierra Leone, while many of the prominent figures highlighted looked like me, they had a very different ethnic and cultural background.
Black History Month in the United States in many K-12 curriculum is often synonymous with commemorating the economic, social, historical, cultural, contributions of African Americans to the United States and to the World.
The notion of ‘blackness,’ was positioned as an experience that was unique to African Americans. While I did not have the words to articulate the erasure of black-immigrants in Black History Month commemorative effort, I did feel it.
According to a research study by the Pew Institute in 2016, black immigrants and their children make up one-fifth (18%) of the overall black population in the United States
This month, Readers Inspired decided to highlight Africans who have made remarkable contributions to American society and culture.
Abdul Karim Kallon
Born in Sierra Leone, Honorable Judge Abdul Karim Kallon immigrated to the United States as a child in the 1980s. He is the first Black immigrant in history to serve as a federal judge in Alabama.
In 2016, then President Obama nominated Honorable Judge Kallon to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, citing his "long and impressive record of service." Had Judge Kallon been confirmed, he would have been the first African American from Alabama and first Black immigrant to serve on the Eleventh Circuit.
Born in the United States to Nigerian parents, Nnedi Okora is an award-winning author of children's and adult literature with science-fiction, fantasy, and magical realism themes. Her work incorporates influences from West African and Nigerian culture in creative and nuanced ways. Her work includes the award-winning and nominated titles such as Amphibious Green, Zahra the Windseeker, Long Juju Man, Who Fears Death, Akata Witch, Lagoon, and Binti.
Born in Wau, Sudan (now South Sudan), Alek Wek is a supermodel and humanitarian. Her career has inspired many black women, particularly dark-skinned women, and forced the modeling industry to reevaluate ideas of beauty that were centered around Caucasian beauty aesthetics. Alek has been an advisor to the U.S. Committee for Refugees Advisory Council. She also works with several other charitable organizations such as World Vision, Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF. In 2007, she released an autobiography, entitled Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, documenting her journey from a childhood of poverty in Sudan to the catwalks of Europe
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii two years after the territory was admitted as the 50th state, Obama served as the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to assume the presidency in the United States.
Obama graduated from Columbia University and worked as a community organizer in Chicago. He later was admitted and enrolled in Harvard Law School where the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, he became a civil right attorney and professor at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. From 1997 to 2004 he represented the 13th District in the Illinois Senate for three terms when he ran for the US Senate. From 2005 to 2008 he was the US Senator for Illinois.
In 2008, Obama was nominated and elected President of the United States, becoming inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Obama was re-elected for a second term in 2012. During his presidency, Obama signed many landmark bills into law including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In 2015, Obama spoke in front of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia becoming the first sitting president to do so and also the first U.S. president ever to visit Kenya.
Born in Sudan (now South Sudan), Manute Bol was a famous basketball player and activist. At 7 ft. 7 in height, he was the tallest player in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). During his career on the court, he was known for his imposing defensive presences, earning him the first in blocks per 48 minutes, almost 50% beyond the second-place earner and second all-time average in NBA history for blocked shots per game and ranking 15th on the career blocks lists.
Manuate moved to the U.S. in 1982 with limited English language skills. Within three years, he had studied English at Case Western Reserve University, played a year of college basketball at the University of Bridgeport and was drafted by the Washington Bullets (now Wizards). During his 10-year NBA career, Manute contributed much of his earnings to various causes in Sudan (now South Sudan). He used his celebrity to support victims of the Sudanese civil war, to advocate against modern-day slavery and bring awareness on human-rights abuses throughout Sudan. He often visited Sudanese refugee camps and set up the Ring True Foundation to support Sudanese refugee.
On June 19, 2010, Bol died from acute kidney failure and complications from Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Tributes to Bol's basketball career and charitable works came from around the United States and the world.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Isa Rae is an actress, director, producer, and scriptwriter. Her web series, 'The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,' which gave a nuanced look of the experience of African-American women, gained popularity and was adapted into a television series titled ‘Insecure,' which she contributed as a co-writer and the show’s executive producer.
Isa Rae, spent part of her childhood in Dakar, Senegal before her family decided to settle in the United States. She attended and graduated from Stanford University with a major in African and American-African studies. Upon graduating, Issa Rae received a theater fellowship at The Public Theatre in New York City. Issa Rae was recognized in Glamour Magazine’s ‘35 Under 35’ and ‘Forbes30 Under 30’. She is also an honorable recipient of Vanguard Award during the 10thanniversary of ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood. Issa Rae is known using her celebrity to provide a platform and opportunities for other writers and filmmakers of color. In 2015, she released her first book, a memoir entitled 'The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,' which became a New York Times best-seller.