This month marks the recognition of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. This celebration serves as a reminder of how his heroism in preaching his message of non-violence helped to guide the 1960s Civil Rights Movement until his assignation in April 1968. Dr. King’s courageous “I Have a Dream” speech gave the nation hope and continues to inspires others today.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Despite facing their own unique set of challenges, many African Americans also have made huge contributions to the nation and have become instrumental, influential forces to our society. Below are just four black leaders who have made a difference by inspiring others.
The first inspiration is Berry Gordy, Jr. The founder of Motown Records established the most successful black-owned music label in the U.S. and Gordy serves as a model of pride and self-expression. Through his music producing, song writing and entrepreneurship, he has helped connect people regardless of skin color.
Gordy was inspired by Dr. King’s vision and is responsible for discovering and opening the door for some of the greatest African American musical talent in history and bringing them into the mainstream. Gordy’s talented list of discoveries includes such iconic performers as the Supremes, Junior Walker & the All-Stars, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, Martha and the Vandellas, and many more.
“Motown was about music for all people – white and black, blue and green, cops and the robbers. I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone.”
~Berry Gordy, Jr.
Next is eight-time Grammy Award winner and self-crowned King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who left behind a unique legacy to inspire his fans. Jackson’s father, Joseph Jackson, was a musician with a keen eye for talent; he famously formed and managed his sons in the Jackson 5 (originally the Jackson Brothers). With the Jackson 5 in 1970, Michael Jackson became the first artist with four consecutive No. 1. Hits.
Then, in 1982, Jackson released the album Thriller which is considered his greatest album. Remarkably, Thriller produced seven Billboard Top 10 hits and has sold 109 million copies worldwide, making it the most successful album ever. In 1983, Jackson debuted his signature dance move, the Moonwalk, during a performance of Billie Jean on the then fledgling cable network MTV. Jackson successfully proved the viability of music videos and helped break the color barrier by driving the network away from its original rock format and towards a more inclusive pop and R & B format.
“In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.”
Third, is trailblazer Oprah Winfrey whom Forbes magazine lists as the richest African American of the 20th century and the world’s only Black billionaire for three consecutive years (current net worth is $3 billion). Additionally, Business Week has named Winfrey the greatest black philanthropist in American history. That is because her Oprah’s Angel Network and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation have raised more than $80,000,000 for charitable projects and non-profits.
From humble beginnings and suffering years of abuse as a child, Winfrey’s tenacity helped her overcome her past to become an overwhelming success who transformed media as we know it. She began her career as a journalist in 1971 when she entered Tennessee State University. This gave Winfrey the skills and insights she needed to help her eventually revolutionize the TV talk show genre with her nationally-syndicated program, The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Her early TV popularity led her to the film industry in 1985, when Steven Spielberg cast her in the acclaimed movie The Color Purple. Winfrey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role.
Winfrey is often referred to as the Queen of All Media because of the mark she has made to TV, radio, film, magazines, and books. Her contributions to the world are definitely worthy of recognition. In fact, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
“I believe that every single event in life happens in an opportunity to choose love over fear.”
Lastly, is our 44th president, Barrack Obama. In 2008, he became the first African American to serve in this office. Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991 and served as a community organizer, civil-rights lawyer, and law professor before pursuing a career in politics.
As a community organizer, Obama connected with some of Illinois’ most influential African American leaders. In 1992, he ran a highly successful Chicago voter registration drive for Project Vote! His leadership helped Carol Moseley Braun become the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Obama was recognized for raising more money than any other state director, and he made Crain’s Chicago Business’ list of “40 under 40” in 1993. His leadership and success helped him lay the foundation for winning election to the Illinois State Senate in 1996. Moving forward, he became only the third African American U.S. Senator since Reconstruction when he won election in 2004.
During this time, Obama also became an author when he published his autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, in 1995. The book has since been printed in more than 25 languages and had a second printing in 2004. Remarkably, the audiobook version of Dreams earned narrator Obama the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in 2006.
Of course, his was greatest achievement was becoming president in 2008. To succeed, Obama utilized a unique grassroots approach and the internet to target Millennials to help fundraise and to get out the vote. Obama’s campaign strategy connected him with supporters who subsequently formed various online communities to extend his campaign’s reach in every state.
In the end, Obama raised the most money ever in the history of political fundraising for his 2008 campaign, more than $778 million. Additionally, in October 2008, Obama was recognized for this accomplishment when he was voted Advertising Age magazine’s Marketer of the Year by members of the Association of National Advertisers for his campaign strategy. Obama’s crushing the status quo in the political arena sets an example of courageous, tenacious leadership for all Americans to follow.
“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and latino America and asian America – there’s the United States of America.”
Click the link below to watch the full “I Have a Dream Speech” by Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963.