Celebrate Black History Month!
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by Black individuals and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. Check out three vignettes below of prominent African American women who have contributed greatness to our society.
 
 
Maya Angelou 

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. At 13, she moved with her mother and brother to San Francisco where earned a scholarship to study dance and drama at the California Labor School. Although she left school at age 14, becoming the first African-American female cable car conductor, she later finished her high school education in the arts.

In the 1950s, Angelou found success: she trained with famed choreographers and, while singing at a nightclub in San Francisco, was scouted by Broadway producers and offered a role in the opera Porgy and Bess. After touring Europe on Broadway, Angelou returned stateside and released the album Miss Calypso. 

In 1969, she penned her first work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which remained on the New York Times best-seller list for two years. Her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, published in 1971, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1977, she wrote Georgia, Georgia, the first original screenplay by an African-American woman to be produced. In 1988, Angelou became the first African-American woman to direct a major motion picture.

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the inauguration of President Clinton. Angelou has earned three Grammy nominations for her spoken-word albums and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She was awarded the Lincoln Medal, the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Gwendolyn Brooks 
 
Publishing her first poem at the age of thirteen, Gwendolyn Brooks was a prolific poet by the age of seventeen.  Growing up in Chicago, Illinois, Brooks drew inspiration from her urban surroundings.  Brooks’ career took off in 1945 after her first book, A Street in Bronzeville, was published by Harper and Row, earning instant acclaim.  She went on to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship and then became one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle Magazine. 

In 1950, Brooks’ second book of poetry, Annie Allen, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, making her the first African-American woman or man to receive the honor.  Brooks was also asked by President John F. Kennedy to read her work at the Library of Congress Poetry Festival.

Brooks began her teaching career in 1962 and worked at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  One of the most notable poets in contemporary literature, Brooks’ work is still innovative and groundbreaking today.
 
Ursula Burns

When Ursula Burns assumed the role of CEO at the Xerox Corporation in 2009, she became the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company. 

Born in 1958 to Panamanian immigrants, Burns was raised by her mother in a New York City housing project. Burns credited her mother as the greatest influence in her life: despite the poverty and gang life of her neighborhood, her mother encouraged her to see beyond her immediate environment.

Burns excelled in school, particularly in math and science, and after graduating high school, earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. She then earned a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University.

In 1980, she joined Xerox as an engineering intern. The following year, she was hired and worked in a variety of capacities until 2007, when she was named a President of the company. Two years later, history was made when Burns became CEO of Xerox, replacing Anne Mulcahy. It was the first instance of a woman succeeding another woman as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In 2009, Ursula Burns was asked by President Obama to lead the national Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program and was appointed vice-chair of the President’s Export Council in 2010.

Information retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/business/21xerox.html?pagewanted=all