Novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston laid out her audacious view of American hierarchy and unacknowledged labor in her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
Nanny, the protagonist’s grandmother who lived through slavery, spells out the idea of social ranking as it pertains to race and gender. The quote is most often paraphrased as “black woman is the mule of the world.”
In the four decades since Negro History Week expanded to Black History Month, a pattern — which Hurston would almost certainly recognize — has emerged. The same moments in United States history are often explored. The same black men are often lifted up. It’s their labor and their activism that is most often lionized.
Those men and their works are important. But, of the 41.39 million black Americans alive today, 52 percent are black women. Those women and their foremothers also carry stories worthy of attention. Black women comprise a powerful and engaged voting block. They bolster, operate and certainly organize most of what happens inside of charitable organizations and churches. A black woman developed the business which made her the nation’s first publicly-known black millionaire. She used some of her wealth to fund John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Black women generate dozens of reasons to honor black women 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s why NBCBLK decided to focus on the stories of phenomenal women with “She Thrives: Black Women Making History Today” for Black History Month. Writers, editors and producers at NBC News pored through hundreds of nominations from our audience to pick 10 women who deserve the spotlight.
The following profiles tell the stories of black women who are trying to change policy and oversee the fair practice of the law. These are women who are working to create space for black art and style, women trying to improve the way that we all use our resources. These are stories of women trying to expand women’s economic viability and boost the quality of education for our children. These are women providing care and compassion to the surviving families of those killed by gun violence, and women drawing attention to violence sanctioned by the state.
These women are shaping their communities and, in their own way, altering life for everyone in 21st century America. Theirs are stories which deserve to be told.
Meet all of our She Thrives honorees. And share their profiles on Twitter with the hashtag #SheThrives.
SHE THRIVES CONTRIBUTORS
Janell Ross is a reporter at NBC News covering race, politics and social issues for NBCBLK.
Erin E. Evans is an editor for NBCBLK. She is the former editorial director at Mic and covers television, internet culture and social justice.
Minyvonne Burke is a breaking news reporter for NBC News’ digital team covering a range of topics including crime, entertainment, tech and general news. Before joining NBC, she worked for news organizations including the Daily Mail, the New York Daily News, The Jasmine Brand and the International Business Times.
Janelle Griffith is a breaking news reporter with NBC News. She previously worked as a reporter at Newsday and the Star-Ledger. In addition to breaking news, she enjoys covering entertainment, racial injustice and social inequality.
Nirma Hasty is a video journalist based in New York City. She shoots, edits and produces short character-driven documentaries. Her work focuses on social justice issues, keying in on racial disparities, economic inequality, immigration and the criminal justice system.
Jazmin Rose is an NBC News associate who works on original videos. She previously worked and edited digital pieces for NBC Nightly News.
Melissa Noel is an award-winning multimedia journalist, Caribbean correspondent and media entrepreneur. Her work focuses on telling stories that center issues impacting marginalized communities.
Natelegé Whaley is a culture journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is a former staff reporter for Mic and BET and has also contributed to Pitchfork, Eater, Vibe and other outlets. Whaley covers a range of topics including human interest stories, hip-hop's impact on the wider culture, and reproductive justice.
Adriana Bellet is an editorial illustrator who delights in painting spirited faces and colorful spaces. She draws and paints for various international publications, both for digital and print projects. She’s an occasional maker of brand illustration, working from her home studio and often signing her portraits as Jeez Vanilla.