Twenty inspiring black women who are making history in 2020 (part 1)

March 5, 2020

Each March, Women’s History Month recognizes the ground-breaking achievements of women and women of color.

Kaia Shivers, a liberal studies professor at New York University, helped select a list of 20 female innovators and leaders who are making history and setting records.

From entertainers to philanthropists, here are black women who will change the world in 2020.

Chef Mariya Russell is the first black woman to earn a Michelin Star.

Russell is chef de cuisine at Kikkō, a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in Chicago. In September, she became the first black woman to be awarded a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide’s 93- year history.

Originally from Springfield, Ohio, Russell became interested in food from a young age and began by cooking soul food and Midwestern staples, like mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and casseroles.

She later moved to Chicago to attend The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. She and her husband went on to work together, eventually both joining Kikkō.

In an interview with Michelin Guide, she said, “Thinking about [being] the only Black woman doing this is really, still very much so, blowing my mind. Representation is really important in all kinds of things, but in an industry like this, I think it’s really cool.”

“Black-ish” star Marsai Martin is the youngest executive producer in history.

Marsai Martin, 15, started her role as Diane Johnson on the hit ABC TV comedy in 2014, when she was just 10. Two years later, she starred in her first film, “An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win,” set in Detroit during the civil rights movement.

She starred in “Little” for Universal Pictures, and at just 13, was named an executive producer, making her the youngest in history. She is also producing and acting in another film, “Amari and the Night Brothers.”

In an interview with the LA Times, she gave her advice to others wanting to follow a similar path. “Believe in yourself. Push to your highest limit. Be confident that you can do it. If you take that one push to do it, then God’s got the rest. Just leave it up to Him,” she said.

Lizzo was the most nominated artist at the 2020 Grammys.

Lizzo shot to fame in 2019 with the release of her third studio album, “Cuz I Love You.” Her most played song was “Juice,” but the success of the album popularized two of her previous singles, “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell,” which were released in 2017 and 2016, respectively. In 2019, Time named the singer, dancer, and flutist Entertainer of the Year.

She was nominated for eight awards at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards in January 2020 and won three.

Along with her work as a musician, Lizzo has been a champion for body positivity. After facing criticism for wearing a thong dress to a Lakers game, she took to Instagram to spread a message of acceptance: “Who I am, and the essence of me, and the things that I choose to do as a grown-ass woman, can inspire you to do the same. They don’t have to be like me – you need to be like you, and never ever let somebody stop you or shame you from being yourself.”

History’s most decorated track and field Olympian, Allyson Felix, stands up for maternity protections.

Felix is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in history with nine Olympic medals — a record she shares with Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey. Six of Felix’s Olympic medals are gold, the most of any female track and field star.

Even more incredibly, she won gold at the World Championships after becoming a mother in late 2018. But after Felix gave birth, she said her previous sponsor, Nike, offered her a 70 per cent pay cut, and in an op-ed for the New York Times, she exposed the poor maternity treatment she said she received from Nike.

“Protection during maternity isn’t just limited to Olympians; working women all over the US deserve protection when they have children. We shouldn’t have to rely on companies to do the right thing. Our families depend on it,” she wrote.

After the outcry, Nike agreed to update future contracts with female athletes.

Felix hopes to make her fifth Olympic team at the 2020 Games.

Janet Mock, who will be honored at this year’s GLAAD Media Awards, is championing transgender representation in the media.

A transgender writer, producer, and activist, Mock will receive the prestigious Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the 2020 GLAAD Media Awards in March.

Mock is a writer, director, and producer on the Golden Globe-nominated series, “Pose,” which illuminates 1980s ballroom culture and its effect on media, fashion, and art of all kinds, while boasting the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever. In her book, “Redefining Realness,” she said, “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community.”

South Sudanese-Australian supermodel Adut Akech Bior is working with the UN to help refugees.

A former child refugee herself, 20-year-old Akech was recently featured on Time’s 100 Next List (the only model this year). She made her international debut walking for Saint Laurent during Paris Fashion Week, and in 2019, she was named Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.

In a recent interview with Vogue UK, she spoke on what it means to be a refugee. “You don’t wake up thinking, I’m going to be a refugee,” she said. “The only difference between a refugee and someone who grew up in the Western world is that we were forced out of our own country, out of our homes, because of fear – not out of choice.”

(Continued next issue)