Every now and then you get to bare witness to a magnificent, paradigm shifting moment that is so inspiring, so extraordinary that its impact is immediately felt and you just know, on an instinctive level, that you’re witnessing history and things will never be the same. At other times the impact is more subtle, quietly setting off a chain of events that gradually changes the way people think, move and operate in society. It’s the fusion of those steady, calculated moves and the dramatic, pivotal moments that evolve social norms and ultimately transform the world.
In honor of Black History Month, here are 23 magnificent moments in recent history that forever changed us.
1. Barack Obama steps on the scene.
At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the then-Senator Barack Obama delivered an inspiring, impassioned, semi-autobiographical speech that made us all believe in the promise of America.
2. Nina Simone affirms our blackness.
Singer, pianist and songwriter, Nina Simone was clear about the purpose of her work. Ms. Simone came to affirm, praise and love on our blackness, and her timeless music still does just that.
3. Jesse Williams gives THEE speech.
During the 2016 BET Awards, actor Jesse Williams was presented a Humanitarian Award for his activism and vigilance in advocating for political and social change. The EPIC speech that followed set the world on fire and left us speechless.
4. Amandla Stenberg calls out cultural appropriation.
Actress Amandla Stenberg took to YouTube and brought a word on behalf of every black person who has ever been ridiculed for their features, only to see them embraced when flaunted by mainstream culture.
5. Marvin Gaye asks the question on everyone’s mind, “What’s Going On?”
In 1971, Marvin Gaye abandoned the formulaic Motown hit machine and changed the game with the release of the socially conscious album, “What’s Going On?”
6. The Oprah Winfrey Show gets syndicated.
Oprah Winfrey is arguably the most powerful person in the world. Not only did she change the game with her nationally syndicated talk show, the barrier-breaking media-mogul expanded the consciousness of the world. She may very well be single-handedly responsible for the audacity of these millennials running around out here in pursuit of purpose.
7. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People's campaign.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement. Of the many sermons he gave, he is easily best known for his I Have A Dream speech, but toward the end of his life, Dr. King was promoting another march on Washington to advocate for poor people of color. In this clip he calls out the strategic, institutionalized disenfranchisement of black’s even as the government incentivized poor white immigrants to build wealth. Click here to watch Dr. King’s full speech on the three evils of the White-American Society: racism, militarism & capitalism.
8. Whitney Houston delivers riveting rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."
Whitney Houston made us all believe in the promise of this nation with her soul-stirring rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" before Super Bowl XXV in 1991.
9. Malcolm X confronts self-hate.
“Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips?” In this clip, Brother Malcolm X confronts self-hate while defending the Nation of Islam.
10. The 1968 Olympics Black power salute.
U.S. Olympic sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos faced praise and backlash when they raised their fist during the American National Anthem at the medal ceremony of the 1968 Summer Olympics in solidarity with the black liberation movement at the time.
11. Halle Berry's Oscar win.
In 2002, when Halle Berry made history as the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, overcome with emotion, the actress paid tribute to the many black actresses that came before her.
12. Donny Hathaway heals our souls.
In this live recorded rendition of “Young, Gifted, and Black,” singer Donny Hathaway delivers a timeless ode to empower and inspire us to higher heights.
13. Colin Kaepernick takes a knee.
In 2016, San Francisco 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick began sitting out the national anthem as an act of protest against police brutality imposed upon African-Americans and other minorities.
14. James Baldwin schools Cambridge.
In this historic debate between James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley Jr. at Cambridge University, Baldwin answers the question: "Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?" Click here to watch the entire debate.
15. Michelle Obama takes the "high road."
In the speech she gave during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama somehow managed to succinctly articulate the grace that epitomized the Obama’s eight years in the White House with one single phrase. When it comes to dealing with adversity and fighting the fray, she said, “When they go low, we go high."
16. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's case for feminism.
In this Ted Talk, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie makes the case for why everyone should be a feminist. The talk, which received wide acclaim within academic, literary and feminist communities, received worldwide recognition after Beyonce sampled part of the speech in the song, “Flawless.”
17. Van Jones’ 'whitelash.'
After the preliminary results of the 2016 Presidential election revealed Donald Trump as the 45th President of these here United States, commentator Van Jones emotionally described all of us were all feeling. It’s as if he had a crystal ball.
18. Beyonce gets woke AF.
With the February 2016 release of her “Formation" video, Beyonce threw the world off its axis, marking a revolutionary new turn that confused some, ignited others and caught many off guard. "Never before have we seen a pop icon, especially an African-American woman, use her platform as a musician, as a celebrity, in order to make some of the boldest, most ferocious, most inspiring political statements about the black freedom struggle," said Yale University professor, Daphne Brooks in an interview with CBS News. Above is live action footage of the world's reaction.
19. Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for our coins.
In his essay titled, The Case for Reparations, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates lays out the very real and tangible evidence of government sanctioned discrimination against black people that systematically robbed them of the ability to build wealth.
20. Kendrick Lamar keeps it one hundred.
When Kendrick Lamar shuffled up to the mic at stage of the 2016 Grammy’s with his wrists in chains, we knew it was about to go down! What followed was a powerful, politically charged performance that spoke directly to the realities our times.
21. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James take a stand.
Donned in black, the four NBA players took to the ESPYS stage with a Black Lives Matter Message. “We cannot ignore the current state of America,” Carmelo Anthony said. “The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust, and anger that plagued so many of us. The system is broken.” Where's the lie?
22. Viola Davis’ wins the 2015 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
After becoming the first African-American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama, Viola Davis took the opportunity to deliver a powerful acceptance speech about diversity and opportunity.
23. Obama Sings Amazing Grace
The summer of 2015 was a trying one for black lives. When President Obama broke out in an off-key, heartfelt rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was slain in cold-blood by white supremacist Dylann Roof, along with eight other victims, it was the exactly what our souls needed. We miss you #POTUS44.
The way our melanin is set up, there is just way too much #BlackExcellence to capture in one list. What are some other moments in recent history that changed the game? We want to hear from you. Drop a link below.