So many in the Black community are doing incredible things to be great and make the world better. But sometimes, those moments of greatness can be overshadowed by the tragedy and hardships faced in the world.
To celebrate Black History Month, Inside Edition Digital shines a light on people doing extraordinary things within the Black community.
Zaila Avant-garde Becomes Spelling Bee Royalty
In 2021, History was made at the Scripps National Spelling Bee when Zaila Avant-garde, 14, became the first African American to win the coveted title of Spelling Bee Champion.
The competition came down to Zaila and a 12-year-old girl, and Zaila was a little worried when the judges gave her the winning word: murraya. She had never heard of it, but it’s actually a flower grown in China.
Not only did California teen Ahmed Muhammad make history at Oakland Technical High School as the first Black male valedictorian of his graduating class, he also faced the biggest decision of his life after he was accepted into all 11 colleges he applied to.
"I was thinking, maybe I can get into maybe one or two of these, and that's all that really matters because you can only go to one college. But 11. That was crazy," he said. "It'll be a tough decision for sure, but I can't go wrong with any of the schools."
This comes as no surprise as Ahmed scored 1540 on his SATs and earned 5s in eight out of nine AP courses he took. He also has a 4.78 GPA overall and is slated to graduate with a 5.0 GPA in his senior year.
Changing the Yoga Industry
Ashley Adams fell in love with yoga after just one class, but she was concerned by the lack of diversity in the practice. Which is why Adams, owner of Yoga Blue Fitness in Tarpon Springs, Florida, decided she wanted to pave the way for change. Since that decision, she has certified thousands of yoga teachers of all skin colors and sizes.
"We're here, too, and it does not look like what you see on Instagram, but it doesn't make it any less powerful, important, and needed than any of those other images that you're seeing," Adams told Inside Edition Digital.
According to the career site Zippia, 77% of American yoga teachers are white, 9% are Latinx, and 6.4% are Black.
More Representation in Books
There was a time that 6-year-old Nancy Bhattacharya hated wearing her bonnet. She never saw her favorite characters from the books she loved to read wearing one, so despite having textured hair that would be damaged by a standard pillowcase, she didn’t think it was for her.
“Because she’d never seen anybody besides me and her grandma wearing a bonnet, she presumed bonnets were just for old people,” her mom, Nancy Redd, told Inside Edition Digital. “Whenever you see a [Black] female cartoon character laying down at night, her hair was never protected by bonnet, which most people who actually live a Black experience know, that is an inaccurate assessment of how we sleep.”
Realizing she could create the positive influence she wished her daughter could see in the world and inspired by her own love of haircare, Redd wrote a children’s book called “Bedtime Bonnet,” which shows different ways Black people of all ages take care of their hair.
Joshua Bennett's Poetry
The first time Joshua Bennett performed his poetry, he was 12. His mother pushed him on stage at the Yonkers Public Library and told him, “a gift is something you share with the world.” So, he walked on the stage and performed a piece titled “Hope and Love.”
Bennett quickly learned that he was utterly petrified of standing on stage. But in the same thought, he understood he not only loved to write, but he was good at it.
Years later, Bennett is now a published poet and English professor at Dartmouth College, focusing on African American literature.
The poet was brought up by his mother, who was raised in a tenement in the South Bronx, and his father, who was born in Jim Crow, Alabama. Black identity was rooted in his everyday life.
Now a published author several times over, Bennett uses his poetry to pay homage to the community that raised him.
Decorated Black Soldier Isaac Woodard Helps Integrate the Military
Isaac Woodard Jr. was a decorated Black World War II veteran whose brutal beating by police in the Jim Crow South left him blind. The young sergeant was on his way home from serving overseas in 1946 when he was thrown off a Greyhound bus and arrested.
South Carolina authorities attacked him so severely his eyes were gouged out by a club with nails attached to it. The news of his suffering sparked national outrage, led to the integration of the U.S. military, and lit a fire under the civil rights movement in America.
Now his great-niece, Laura Williams, hopes to share his story with a younger generation. She's written a new children's book, "I Am Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr.: How My Story Changed America."
"His blindness allowed us to see," she told Inside Edition Digital.
Changing the Farming Industry
Though the world has been living in uncertainty with the spread of COVID-19, for John Boyd Jr., living with the feeling that anything can happen is second nature. But what he can't stand, he tells Inside Edition Digital, is the added weight of difficulty he and other Black farmers face.
"You have to deal with mother nature, like today, snow and ice," Boyd, a commodities farmer, said at the time in the wake of a devastating snowstorm. "But you shouldn't have to be faced with discrimination and unfair practices."
Boyd is Black in an industry he calls "a white man's game."
Because of his plight and many others like him, Boyd has fought his entire life to make farming and agriculture a more equal playing field for all farmers.
Black History Month lasts 28 days, and a Texas student has had no problem coming up with 28 different looks to go with the theme.
In 2018, Law student Staci Childs, 30, spent February dressing up as different black women who have impacted history, from Maxine Waters to Beyoncé.
“I’ve been told that I’m pretty creative, and I come up with all these things in my head, so I figured Black History month would be a good way to channel some of my creativity,” Childs told Inside Edition Digital.
The Fight to End Hair Discrimination
Iyani Hughes, an on-air reporter, started Curly Girls On because she wanted to combat the stereotype that natural hair is “unprofessional.” Hughes said that after facing hair discrimination of her own as a Black woman in corporate America, she wanted to create a place of encouragement for on-air reporters who choose to wear their naturally.
“I choose to wear my hair natural on-air to honor my natural beauty with authenticity. Representation matters in all capacities, the journey, the acceptance, and the celebration,” one member of the group wrote.
Hughes is just one of many Black people who feel hair has been an issue in the workplace. It’s a common trend seen in headlines and, more recently, court cases.
The fight to end hair discrimination in the workplace is a national one Hughes and many others are fighting.
Many leaders are hoping to see The Crown passed in all 50 states. The Crown Act is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, including the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of a person’s hair texture or protective hairstyles, including braids, locs, twists, or Bantu knots.
Directors Making History
For decades, Black filmmakers have been overlooked and marginalized by those who nominate and bestow awards for excellence in movie making.
But as nominations loomed for the 2021 Oscars, several Black artists were considered frontrunners for Best Director — and hopes were high that, finally, a Black filmmaker would receive the golden statuette since African Americans began making movies more than a century ago.
Black directors being talked about included Regina King, George C. Wolfe, and Spike Lee.
Nic King Makes History
Nic King still held his position in corporate retail when COVID-19 showed up and shut most places down. Nearly a year after the virus arrived in the U.S., he quit.
“I left my corporate job, I would say probably mid-pandemic,” King told Inside Edition Digital. King initially made the move to spend more time with his 15-year-old son.
He wound up making history.
From his Connecticut home, King created Legacy Cereal Company. It is believed to be the first Black-owned cereal brand.
Deborah Archer Makes History
In 2021, Deborah Archer was elected president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), becoming the first Black person to lead the organization in its 101-year history. Archer was elected unanimously in a virtual meeting by the organization's 69-member board of directors.
She is the ACLU's eighth president since the nonprofit was founded in 1920 "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."
The ACLU called Archer is an "established civil rights lawyer, scholar, and teacher."
"In this new role, she brings with her a wealth of experience on racial justice and constitutional matters," the ACLU said in a statement. "The election of Deborah Archer marks the first time a Black person will lead the ACLU's board."
Run The Jewels Raises Money
Hip-hop group Run the Jewels harnessed their popularity to benefit civil rights organizations and charities supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and offered their new album in exchange for voluntary donations, in turn raising thousands in just hours.
The group announced that they had raised over $75,000 in five hours following the release of their highly anticipated fourth album, “RTJ4,” for free on their website. Upon “ordering” the free download of the 11-song album, fans were taken to a prompt where it asks to donate to National Lawyers Guild: Mass Defense Fund.
The First Black Mayor in Ferguson's History
Ella Jones made history in 2020 when she became the first Black and woman mayor of Ferguson, six years after the St. Louis suburb gained national attention for the spark in protests after a white police officer shot and killed Black teenager Michael Brown.
Her victory came amid protests across the nation over the killing of George Floyd and police brutality against Black Americans.
“It’s just our time,” Jones, 65, said. “It’s just my time to do right by the people.”
Tyler Perry, the History Maker
In 2019, trailblazer Tyler Perry mowed down another path when he became the first Black person to own and head a major film studio.
The massive 330-acre Atlanta studio sits on an old Confederate army base. To put it in perspective, Warner Bros. studios and Walt Disney Studios, both located in Burbank, California, sit on 145 acres and 51 acres, respectively.
“You know what? It feels like encouragement, it feels like gratitude,” he said. “But more than anything, I hope it becomes, for everybody else who is ever dreaming and hoping, they can do it too.”
Tyler Perry's Good Deed
Tyler Perry was undoubtedly in the holiday spirit, giving over $400,000 to pay off layaway items at two Walmarts in Georgia in 2018.
He announced the donation in an Instagram video, saying, "If you have a layaway at either place and it was in there as of 9:30 this morning. Then I have paid for all of your layaways for Christmas. So Merry Christmas."
Many were filled with emotion at the director's generosity. Tears were flowing throughout the stores as people realized what Perry had done. He paid for products for 1,500 people, according to a Walmart spokesperson.
Record-Setting Graduating Class
The 2019 class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point had the highest number of African American women graduates in its 217-year history.
Women entered West Point for the first time in 1976, also the nation's bicentennial. Of 119 females, 62 graduated in 1980 as second lieutenants in the Army.
"As with anything that is new, there is sometimes hesitation and reluctance to change," Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald said in 2010, on the 30th anniversary of her historic class. "Unfortunately, there was animosity toward us. Really, the reaction from the men ran the gamut. Some were curious, some ignored us, some were helpful, and some were hostile and difficult."
Dress Up As African American Icons
In honor of Black History Month in 2020, a cute 2-year-old dressed up as Black icons.
Londyn Bennett-Dotson paid homage to those who came before her, like Rosa Parks, Kobe and Gianna, and Malcolm X.
Londyn's mother, Ashleigh Sheppard, who lives in South Carolina, said she's passionate about Black history and wanted to share that love with her daughter.
"I am really into Black history. I love watching Black history films or reading up on people from the past who are influencing Black history," Sheppard told Inside Edition Digital. "My daughter isn't always up for pictures every single day, so we just try to do it when we can."
First African American Cardinal
Pope Francis elevated Archbishop of Washington D.C. Wilton Gregory to cardinal in 2020, making him the first African American to hold the position.
The 72-year-old is now the highest-ranked Black prelate in the United States.
"With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ's Church," cardinal-elect Gregory said in a statement.
Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday to join the calendar since Martin Luther King Day was first acknowledged in 1983. And like every American holiday, food is involved.
Joi Chevalier is CEO of Cook's Nook in Austin. As a native Texan, she's recognized Juneteenth her entire life. She recently chatted with Inside Edition Digital's TC Newman about the holiday and the traditional food associated with it.
"The story of Juneteenth and the story of Black Americans is an American story," Chevalier explained. "We grew up acknowledging the day, whether it was in service, or whether it was marking with dinner or some family group activity."
Black Women in Politics
In 2021, Kamala Harris broke long-held barriers to become the vice president of the United States, not only marking the first time a woman had ever held the position but the first time a Black and South Asian person had as well.
Long before this day came, however, other women of color paved the way. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek the nomination for president of the United States from a major political party, was one of those women.
Chisholm, who ran under the slogan “Unbossed and Unbought,” had already become the first African American woman to be elected to Congress in 1968, representing New York’s 14th Congressional District.
Black Inventors Changing The World
From changing the world to making everyday life easier, Black scientists and inventors have long imagined, then created, pioneering works, often without recognition or compensation.
Some of them on that list include George Washington Carver, Lewis Howard Latimer, Marie Van Brittan Brown, and Dr. Shirley Jackson.
Mural That Matters
A powerful and massive new mural dedicated to the memory of Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement was unveiled in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2020.
The large-scale mural showcases the face of the late EMT killed in her apartment on March 13, 2020, by police in Louisville, Kentucky. Next to her image reads the text, "Black Lives Matter."
The 7,000-square-foot mural was organized by Future History Now in partnership with Banneker-Douglass Museum and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.
The Evolution of the Macy's Day Parade
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade has been around since 1924 since a small group of Macy's employees gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving two years after the company opened "The World's Largest Store" on 34th Street.
And in 2002, the first African American-inspired balloon was introduced to the parade and came from the Nickelodeon children's series "Little Bill."
Child Creatively Celebrates Black History Month
In 2017, a 6-year-old named Lola celebrated Black History Month by paying tribute to Black voices in the arts with a creative photo series.
In 2018, Lola paid tribute to Black men and women who have made huge art contributions, such as Maya Angelou, and honoring works like the play “A Raisin in the Sun” and the 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou.”
Cristi Smith-Jones, Lola’s mom, dressed her daughter to recreate paintings and sculptures by Black artists and even honored recent works like “Black Panther.”
Buffalo Soldiers Honored
The United States' all-Black 9th and 10th Calvary, nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers, was honored with a new bronze statue located in West Point, New York.
The monumental statue is currently located at the U.S. Military Academy.
For decades, Buffalo soldiers served on the Western frontier following the American Civil War. "In 1866, six all-Black cavalry and infantry regiments were created after Congress passed the Army Organization Act."
Their main tasks included teaching military horsemanship to white cadets, helping to control the Native Americans of the Plains, capturing cattle rustlers and thieves, and protecting settlers and railroad crew.
Jackie Robinson's Life Story
He was the legendary number 42 who dazzled fans with his talent. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier as the first African American to play Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Then in 2013, Robinson's inspiring story became a major motion picture called 42.
The movie stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers general manager who took a chance on the young second baseman.
"It's always important to tell stories of people that overcame daunting circumstances. I think it gives us all hope," Ford said.
Students Honor Icons
In 2019, a group of sixth-grade students in Milwaukee kicked off Black History Month by paying homage to influential Black figures.
From Biggie Smalls to Michelle Obama, students at Milwaukee College Prep recreated iconic photos to honor people of color who have made huge impacts on society.
“When you look at TV, a lot of people that look like us just aren’t portrayed the way they should be, and we want to make sure that black excellence is really shown on the higher platform,” teacher Terrance Sims told Inside Edition.
Black Rowing Team Makes History
In February of 2019, Four women made history and became the first all-Black women’s rowing team to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Elvira Bell, Christal Clashing, Samara Emmanuel, and Kevinia Francis spoke to Inside Edition Digital about competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, in which up to 30 teams row more than 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua.
“We literally rowed into Black History Month. We feel proud to be not only Antiguans but a part of the Black race,” Emmanuel said. It took them 47 days, eight hours, and 25 minutes to make the trip.
Spike Lee and 'Black Panther' Make History
"Black Panther" clawed its way to the top of the Oscar list as the Marvel movie became the first superhero flick ever nominated for Best Picture.
"It's fantastic for 'Black Panther.' That film not only broke records at the box office, but it was also a cultural milestone for many people," Fandango correspondent Nikki Novak told Inside Edition.
It was another first as Spike Lee finally earned a Best Director nod for "Blackkklansman." It is also the first time he has earned a Best Picture nomination.