By: Ashnoor Kaur and Logina Bahnase
Who is the first Black Woman Role model that comes to your mind? Do your thoughts wander to Michelle Obama and Beyoncé? Or do you think about activists like Rosa Parks? Even beyond these individuals, there are many ground-breaking Black women that one must recognize during Black History Month.
Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan ecologist and the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She also served in the National Council of Women in Kenya and developed an organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. She has addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the earth summit. In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote. Her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conversation are inspiring.
Wilma Rudolph: the fastest woman in the world at the height of her career, survived polio and scarlet fever as a child. She says, “my doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” As one of the 22 children, she was surrounded by care. She first started sports by playing basketball and was a natural athlete. She is an Olympic champion who continued her involvement in sports by working at several
community centers even after she retired. She was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame. In 1990, Rudolph became the first woman to receive the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Silver Anniversary Award. Rudolph relentlessly pursued her dreams making her a model for all.
Born on December 23, 1867, in Delta, Louisiana, United States, Madam C.J Walker is known as the “first self-made American female millionaire”. She made her fortune by selling her line of hair products. Due to her struggle with hair loss, she started experimenting with products which led her to create her own line. She created a treatment called the “walker system” which prioritizes the health of the client who would use it. This was different from how the hair industry was back then. She is remembered as a person who changed the hair industry and turned it into what we know today.
Jean Augustine is known as the “first African-Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons.” She was born in St. George’s, Grenada in 1937. She was a member of Parliament from the Greater Toronto Area constituency of Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 1993. She kept winning elections until she wanted to try something new by retiring from politics and pursuing advocacy in 2005. In the time she worked in Parliament, her work included Minister of Multiculturalism, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, and later she became the first Fairness Commissioner of the government of Ontario. Some of her achievements are the legislation to protect disadvantaged low-income individuals and passing a legislation designating February as Black History Month in Canada.