Black History: African American Pioneers and Influencers in Education

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” 

Malcolm X

Black History Month is a month of celebrating black achievements. The word ‘black’ tends to have negative connotations but in this month, we celebrate all the positivity in the black culture.We are taught from an early age that education is important to our futures. These African-Americans are just a handful of people who have influenced education institutions and the carriculum in some way. They have provided opportunities for young people of all races to help them have a brighter future.


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Maya Angelou

She was a poet and author who wrote numerous works tailored to everyone. She wrote for children, women, men, people. Her notable works include the novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and the poem Phenomenal Woman. She promoted education and inspired community work such as the Maya Angelou Institute for the Improvement of Child and Family Education. They help to teach children and families through their various programmes and research. She taught us to be creative.


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Vivien Thomas

He helped to shape the medical world. In the 1940s, he pioneered in the development of heart surgery in children, especially surgery that treated blue baby syndrome in new born babies. He didn’t have a degree, due to poverty and racism. However, he didn’t let that stop him. He persevered to become a cardiac surgery pioneer and teacher. He taught us to go for our dreams, regardless of circumstance.


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Daniel Payne

He was a pastor of an African Methodist Church. He did more than just preach a message of hope. He acted on it and helped freed people following slavery. He later became one of the founders of Wilberforce University and served as the president of the school. He taught us to be proactive.


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Mary McLeod Bethune

She was a teacher who believed in the education of young people. She was brought into the spotlight as she was a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet as an advisor on black issues. It was here that she created the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, giving a voice to the African-Americans. She later founded Bethune-Cookman College for African-Americans. She taught us to be a voice for our nation.


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Oprah Winfrey

She is a philanthropist and the host of The Winfrey Show, which showcases talent, debates and educational resources. She was born into poverty, and is now one of the world’s wealthiest African-American women. She has donated to a large number of charities throughout the years. In 2007, she opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. She taught us to be giving.


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Magic Johnson

He was an NBA star. He used his influence to open The Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies. They are alternative high schools geared at students who dropped out of school or were likely to drop out. He gave young people a second change at making a change in their life and took time to care for that that who society gave up on. He taught us to never give up.


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Kevin Johnson

He was also an NBA star who became the Mayor of Sacramento. He founded a school network called the St. Hope Public Schools. They include education for early childhood, elementary education, middle and high school education. He made education accessible for all age groups. He taught us to be inclusive.


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Serena Williams

She is a tennis champion. Aside from playing tennis, she established the Serena Williams Foundation and used it to open The Serena Williams Secondary School in Kenya. Due to the success of this school and the impact it had on the community, she decided to open a second school, The Wee Secondary School. She gave hope to both girls and boys, and made education a possibility. She taught us to progress.

There is so much to be learnt from the amazing individuals. Black history is about coming together to recognise those achievements and see how we can impact the world also. But, we don’t need to wait until October to make a change. You don’t have to go out to build a school or become a heart surgeon to make a difference. It starts by showing acts of kindness to all and having belief in yourself and others to encourage ideas and innovations that help humanity.

For more information:

We have an Increasing Wellbeing and Inclusion in Early Years Settings course.

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