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Game Changers

Angie Thomas

Novelist Angie Thomas used her words to set the young adult world on fire. Thomas was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Growing up in a violent area, her mother fostered Thomas’ passion for reading and writing by taking her to the local library. Writing allowed her to pursue her musical dreams as a teen rapper. Eventually, she set aside her music aspirations to pursue writing, majoring in Creative Writing at Belhaven University.

Her college studies led her to create her first book, The Hate U Give after a professor championed her to translate her upbringing into words. Her experiences, the Black Lives Matter movement, and her love for Hip Hop informed her work from then on. Her manuscript won her the inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant. The Hate U Give was a New York Times best-seller and adapted into a modest box-office hit with Thomas as a producer.

Thomas has since released two more New York Times best-sellers, On the Come Up and Concrete Rose, in 2019 and 2021. The former was adapted for the screen as a feature-length film directed by Sanaa Lathan. She most recently participated in the YA anthology Blackout, along with other writers Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon.

Her upcoming novel, Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Mainfestor Prophecy, will debut on bookshelves and online on April 4, 2023.

Angie Thomas used her experiences as a voice for those without one. She proved Black writers could use their voices to address topical subjects without compromising their principles and morals. Despite all her success on multiple fronts, Thomas shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Novelist Angie Thomas

Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.

Angie Thomas

Tope Folarin

Writer and educator Tope Folarin used his experience as a first-generation American to shed light on serious topics. Folarin is the eldest of four siblings raised in Utah and Texas. His parents instilled a love for their native country in their children, sparking his fascination for culture and words. This love translated to him attending and graduating from Morehouse College.

His academic pursuits led to Folarin furthering his studies at Harvard University. He went further as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, where he obtained his M.Sc. in African Studies and M.Sc. in Comparative Social Policy. His work soon found him writing several short stories while opening pieces for notable publications like The Atlantic. His writings led him to win the Caine Prize as the first non-native African writer to do so.

Folarin expanded his work into publishing with his semi-autobiographical novel A Particular Kind of Black Man. His debut novel won him the Whiting Award for Fiction. His writings also garnered him a fellowship through the National Endowment for the Arts.

In addition to his writing career, Folarin has used his voice in the educational space for over a decade. He currently serves as executive director of the Institute for Policy Studies and Georgetown University’s Lannan Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing.

Tope Folarin channeled his thoughts and words to reflect the differences within the U.S. His work championed Black writers to allow their voices to tackle serious subjects in a quest for change. Folarin is trying to change the world with every word.

Art became for me the pathway to, I think, achieving a kind of wholeness… And that was the beginning of my journey, I think, to becoming a more coherent individual human being.

Tope Folarin

Get to Know These Black Creatives

Patrick Alston

Abstract painter Patrick Alston

Abstract painter Patrick Alston is taking painterly abstraction to a new level. Alston was born and raised in New York. As a young artist, he had an affinity for gesture painting, materials, and psychology. He found inspiration in abstract and experimental artists like Raymond Saunders, Cy Twombly, Mark Bradford, and Basquiat.

His love for attraction led to him attending Wabash College in Indiana, where he majored in art and psychology. His studies and post-grad work focused on socio-politics, identity, language, and the psychology of color. After graduating from college, he began showcasing his painterly abstractions in various solo and group exhibitions across the globe, including the U.S. and the U.K. In 2021, he secured his first art residency through Gallery 1957 in Accra, Ghana.

Alston currently splits his time between New York and Connecticut, where he has a dedicated studio.

Amy Sherald

Portraitist Amy Sherald

Portrait painter Amy Sherald is bringing a fresh take on portraiture. Sherald was born and raised in Georgia to an upper-middle-class family. She had an affinity for art at a young age, drawing and doodling on her classwork. She found inspiration after seeing the work of Bo Bartlett on a school field trip. Despite her artistic interest, her parents discouraged her interest, leading her to enroll at Clark-Atlanta University as a pre-med. She eventually switched to painting after taking a class taught by renowned artist-historian Dr. Arturo Lindsay.

Following graduation, Sherald apprenticed for Lindsay, helping him organize and install exhibitions in Central and South America, China, and Norway. She eventually pursued her MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Soon, she put her art career on hold to take care of her ailing family. She returned to the art world with her first solo show in 2011. Her work eventually caught the eye of others, leading to some firsts. The portrait artist became the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and the first Black woman commissioned to create a presidential portrait with her painting of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Sherald currently works in Maryland, where she has a dedicated studio. She currently participates in solo and group exhibitions while accepting commissions.

Brit Bennett

Novelist Brit Bennett

Freelance writer and novelist Britt Bennett gives a view into African-American life through a female lens. Bennett was born and raised in California in a predominately female household with her mother and sisters. Those relationships inspired her to write as she began crafting her first novel in high school. Her passion for writing led her to major in English at Stanford University.

Bennett decided to pursue her MFA at the University of Michigan before attending Oxford University. She first caught national for her essay “I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People.” The writer eventually authored more notable works like “Addy Walker, An American Girl” and “Ta-Neishi Coates and a Generation Waking Up.” She soon ventured into publishing with her debut novel, The Mothers, in 2016 before releasing her follow-up, The Vanishing Half, in 2020. Both books became New York Times best sellers and were optioned for upcoming live-action productions.

Bennett was named to Time magazine’s Time100 Next. She recently published her first children’s book Meet Claudie: An American Girl.

Sophia Yeshi

Illustrator and graphic designer Sophia Yeshi

Illustrator and graphic designer Sophia Yeshi uses her work to highlight Black women and the LGBTQ+ community. Yeshi grew up in Baltimore as the daughter of a Pakistani father and a Black mother. Her affinity for graphic design began at age 12 when she scored a free trial of Photoshop. She took graphic design courses in high school before studying the discipline at the University of Baltimore.

After graduating, Yeshi interned for a few local firms before she started freelancing for companies like Converse and LinkTree. Soon, her work caught the attention of Refinrey29, which commissioned her to do some design work for the website. After that, the multifaceted artist created designs and campaigns for brands and publications like Instagram, Rock the Vote, The New York Times, Dwell Magazine, Comcast, Google, and UPS. She gained enough traction to secure a creative residency with Adobe and a teaching partnership with Skillshare.

Along with creating designs for multiple companies and brands, Yeshi also runs a blog highlighting other designers.

Tre Seals

Graphic and type designer Tre Seals

Type designer Tre Seals uses his work to elevate and amplify social causes. Seals grew up in Washington. D.C., where he lived on a farm. His fascination with drawing and writing began at age four when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His love for letters became a legit creative business in the 5th and 6th grades. He designed his first font as a high school senior, which led to him majoring in graphic design at Stevenson University.

Seals spent his early post-grad career working for several design firms. Those experiences led him to want to diversify the design industry. He launched his company before founding his font foundry, Vocal Type, in 2016. His diverse fonts caught the world’s attention in 2020 when his font Martin became associated with Black Lives Matter murals after the killing of George Floyd. This attention eventually led to the type designer creating fonts for filmmaker Spike Lee and the Amazon Labor movement.

Seals currently works in Maryland, the home base of his studio and foundry. He recently published his first book, Dream in Color, while working on other non-type design projects.

Forgotten Black Figures: Joshua Johnson

Portrait artist Joshua Johnson was an important first in the art world. Johnson was reportedly born in Baltimore, Maryland or the French West Indies, to a white father and an enslaved Black mother around 1763. He obtained freedom in 1782 after his biological father acknowledged Johnson as his son. Being declared a free man meant working as a blacksmith’s apprentice.

Following his apprenticeship, Johnson began teaching himself to paint. Multiple records have him registered as a limner and portrait painter between 1796 and 1824. His whereabouts remain scratchy as he reportedly moved around the Baltimore area several times. It was believed he supplemented his income by painting furniture for affluent Baltimoreans. Despite being a Black painter, his subjects were upper-class white citizens. His work became so popular that he painted the area’s most notable families. He advertised his services in the local Baltimore newspaper Intelligencer. Johnson gained credit for doing 13 paintings during his most active period.

Despite his humble beginnings, Johnson’s painting career was fruitful as land records showed he was a property owner in Montgomery, Frederick, and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland around or after 1824. He was reportedly married twice – once to a woman named Sarah, who bore him two sons and a daughter. He later remarried another woman named Clara.

As records from the period are hard to come by, Johnson’s latter years are a mystery. He reportedly passed away in 1826.

Joshua Johnson displayed his talents at a time when most Black people barely had any freedom. This self-taught genius set a precedent for many Black painters and visual artists who continue to follow in his footsteps to this day. Due to a lack of records, many of his contributions to the art world were uncredited until historians started researching his work. However, now is the time to recognize Mr. Johnson for letting the world know that Black artists could leave an indelible mark.

18th century painter Joshua Johnson

Inspirational Black Artists, You Need to Know

Jacob Lawrence

Painter Jacob Lawrence

Multi-discipline artist Jacob Lawrence used his brush to bring African-American life into the art world. Lawrence was the eldest of three children moving around until they settled in Harlem. He found an affection for art by participating in art workshops run by renowned painter Charles Alston. At age 16, he dropped out of high school to support his family by working at a laundromat and a printing plant.

Lawrence kept pursuing art by studying at Harlem Community Art Center and the American Artists School while working at the Works Progress Administration. Following a military stint, he crafted some of his best-known works, including The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Harlem. His most famous panel series, The Migration of the Negro, made him the first Black artist represented by a New York gallery. While working as an artist, he taught at several colleges and universities across the U.S.

In his later years, Lawrence continued exhibiting his work at notable museums while delving into other art mediums. He started the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation with his wife Gwendolyn Knight, allowing young artists to create and study American art. The painter passed away on June 9, 2000, after a battle with lung cancer.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Abstract artist Jean-Michel Baquiat

Abstract painter Jean-Michel Basquiat put every avenue of African-American life with a unique style. Basquiat was born and raised in New York with a Haitian father, a Puerto Rican mother, and two younger sisters. He got his love for art from his mother, who encouraged him to draw. That affinity only grew after ending up in the hospital at age seven, reading the medical book Gray’s Anatomy. He attended the City-as-School, where he began doing graffiti under the moniker SAMO.

Basquiat left home in 1978 with a passion for the art world. He tried different artistic endeavors before landing his first public art show in Times Square. His work appeared in several exhibitions before landing patronage from Annia Nosei. He continued exhibiting his work across Europe and the U.S., at one period being one of the highest-paid artists. This period spawned notable works like Untitled (Skull) and Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta.

In his final years, Basquait continued exhibiting his work around the world. At the same time, he developed a heroin addiction, which led to his eventual death at age 27 on August 12, 1988.

Bisa Butler

Textile artist Bisa Butler

Fiber artist/quilter Bisa Butler used her fine art skills to redefine quilting. Bulter was born and raised by her educator parents in New Jersey as the youngest of four siblings. She first knew she had a talent for art after winning an art contest at age four. Her affinity for art led her to pursue her BFA at Howard University, majoring in painting.

However, it wasn’t until she pursued her MA at Montclair State University that Butler finally turned her focus toward fabric art. She began exhibiting her work across the U.S. in the 2000s. At the same time, she was teaching art classes in New Jersey high schools for over a decade. By the 2010s, she began exhibiting her quilt work in various countries, including Art Basel in Switzerland.

Butler continues to craft her fabric art for various exhibitions and other outlets like publishing and filmmaking. Her work is currently available in permanent collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gordon Parks

Photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks

Photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks captured African American life through his lens. As the youngest of 15 children, Parks was born into a working-class family in Kansas. After his mother passed, He moved to Minnesota, where he went through multiple careers.

Parks’ love affair with the camera didn’t happen until age 28 after seeing images of migrant workers in a magazine. The self-taught photographer began taking photos, which led to positions with the Farmer Security Administration and Office of War Information. After working for the U.S. government, he began working for Vogue and Ebony before becoming Life magazine’s first Black photographer. During this time, he published several books and notable photo essays, including “Harlem Gang Leader.” He eventually expanded into other mediums like film and music composition, leading to classics like The Learning Tree and Shaft.

In his later years, Parks continued his photography and film work while venturing into writing and painting. He continued working until his death on March 7, 2006.

Faith Ringgold

Mixed media and textiles artist Faith Ringgold

Mulitfacted artist and quilter Fait Ringgold used her art to tell powerful narratives. Ringgold was born to creative parents in Harlem as the youngest of three children. Her love for visual art came from her mother to cope with her chronic asthma. She decided to pursue art education at City College, where she obtained her B.S. and M.A.

Ringgold started her career as a painter. Works such as The American People Series saw her travel to Europe and the U.S. before scoring her first solo exhibitions in New York. Eventually, she extended her artistic endeavors into performance art and sculpture, culminating in pieces such as The Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro. She ventured into her beloved quilt art until the 1980s with notable works like Echoes of Harlem and Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?

Ringgold has kept her artistic endeavors going by venturing into children’s literature. She spent over a decade teaching at the University of California until her retirement in 2002. The artist continues to work on new pieces with permanent collections at multiple museums.

Forgotten Black Figures: Anna Russell Jones

Visual artist Anna Russell Jones set the tone with her versatile arts background. Russell Jones was the youngest of three children in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after her father’s passing. Her family fostered her love for art at an early age. It led her to attend and graduate from William Penn High School for Girls.

Russell Jones’s passion for art led to her becoming the first Black woman to receive a four-year scholarship to attend the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, known today as Moore College of Art & Design. She majored in textile design, becoming the first Bakc graduate of the college. After graduation, the visual artist worked for the James G. Speck Design Studio from 1924 to 1928. Later, she opened up a design studio, where she took orders across the U.S. and Canada.

During World War II, Russell Jones enrolled in and was accepted into the United States Army, becoming the first Philadephia-based Black woman to join the Armed Forces. Her visual arts pedigree came into play as she designed graphics and other designs for military publications. Following her military service, the designer returned to her alma mater for graduate studies before studying medical illustration at Howard University. She worked as an LPN before switching to civil services as a graphic artist and illustrator.

In his later years, Russell Jones continued accepting freelance work from various clients and projects. The designer passed away on April 3, 1995.

Anna Russell Jones forged paths in multiple fields without realizing she was doing so. Her pursuit of the arts still reverberates today with more BIPOC designers and visual artists who continue making strides. Her contributions as a designer across different fields may go unsung. Here’s to Mrs. Russell Jones for making inroads at a time when racism and sexism were more pronounced than they are now.

Textile and graphic designer Anna Russell Jones

I must’ve been good in art… I remember[if] I always had a pencil in my hand I would draw.

Anna Russell Jones

Inspirational Black Designers, You Need to Know

E. Simms Campbell

Commercial artist and cartoonist E. Simms Campbell

Illustrator and commercial artist E. Simms Campbell was a trailblazer in the print world at a time where Black voices weren’t prominent. Campbell was born in Missouri to educator parents but moved to Chicago as a kid following his father’s death. Working for his high school newspaper fostered his love for illustration and cartooning. He attended the University of Chicago before transferring to the Chicago Art Institute.

Following his college years, Campbell’s caricatures caught the eye of Triad Studios, where he worked for two years. Soon, his work made waves after moving to New York, where he contributed illustrations to Life and Judge magazines. This buzz led to him working for national mainstream publications, including Cosmopolitan, Ebony, The New Yorker, Redbook, Playboy, and a twenty-year tenure with Esquire. He created the magazine’s iconic mascot Esky. His hard work paid off as he became the first Black cartoonist to have a syndicated comic strip with Cuties in over 145 newspapers.

In his later years, Campbell continued to work in illustration and design following his exit from Esquire. The illustrator passed away on January 27, 1971, from a brief illness related to cancer.

Thomas Miller

Graphic designer and visual artist Thomas Miller

Visual and commercial artist Thomas Miller was influential in the commercial design world. Miller was born and raised in Virginia to working-class parents. His love for art started at a young age after becoming fascinated with Leonardo da Vinci. After graduating high school, he attended and graduated from Virginia State University before joining the military in World War II.

Miller didn’t start doing art professionally until he returned from the war and enrolled in Chicago’s Ray Vogue School of the Arts. After graduating, he faced an uphill battle in finding employment before landing a position at the prominent firm Gerstel/Loeff. However, it was his 35-year tenure at the renowned graphics studio Morton Goldsholl Associates. He was instrumental in several major advertising campaigns like the 7-Up and Motorola rebranding. Outside his commercial work, he built a career as an independent artist through private commissions and gallery showcases.

After retiring from Morton Goldsholl, Miller created the Founders Mosaics for the DuSable Museum of African American History in 1995. In his later years, he kept commissioned independent artwork for other entities and displayed his work in galleries. The artist passed away on July 19, 2012, from natural causes.

Georg Olden

TV graphic and motion designer Georg Olden

Graphic and commercial designer Georg Olden was influential in commercial and motion design. Olden grew up the youngest of three children moving from Alabama to Virginia to Washington, D.C. after his father left for his civil rights work. He began drawing in high school before attending and dropping out of Virginia State University.

Olden’s graphic design began after enlisting in the military and joining the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). His time in the military was fruitful as VP of CBS Television Lawrence W. Lowman was his colonel and recruited him to be a graphic designer. From 1945 to 1960, he served as director of graphic design, where he and his team created countless network and show ids for classics like Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, and Lassie. During this time, he became the first Black person to design a U.S. stamp, celebrating 100 years of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.

After leaving CBS, Olden worked for notable advertising agencies BBDO and McCann Erickson. The designer passed away on February 25, 1975, after being killed by his live-in girlfriend.

Gail Anderson

Writer and graphic designer Gail Anderson

Graphic designer and educator Gail Anderson helped to make type a force in design. Anderson is a first-generation Jamiacan-Ameircan born and raised in New York. She became fascinated with designing after crafting faux fan magazines for the Jackson 5 and the Partridge Family. Her love for design led her to attend and graduate from the School of Visual Arts.

Anderson started her design career by working at Vintage Books and The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. After working for both organizations, she spent fifteen years at Rolling Stone, going from assistant to senior art director. The graphic designer crafted multiple covers and editorial stories featuring celebrities like Gillan Anderson and Alicia Keys. After her Rolling Stone tenure, she worked for the advertising agency SpotCo from 2002 to 2010. During this time, she designed a U.S. stamp celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. She extended her design skills to multiple Broadway and off-Broadway productions.

Anderson has continued to work in commercial design through her agency Anderson Newton Design with Joe Newton. She continues to teach future designers as a professor at her alma mater.

Archie Boston Jr.

Graphic artist Archie Boston Jr.

Graphic artist and educator Archie Boston Jr. shaped the look of American advertising and commercial design for decades. Boston is one of five children born to a truck driver and caregiver in Florida. His high school art teacher encouraged him to enter a local art exhibition. Another source of inspiration came from his older brother Bradford, who was a designer as well. He followed his older brother to the California Institute of Arts, where he majored in graphic design.

Following his time at CalArts, Boston worked at Hixson and Jorgensen Advertising and Botsford Ketchum before forming Boston & Boston with his older brother. The design duo crafted notable campaigns for Beckman Instruments, Chiat/Day Advertising, and Concord Electronics. Eventually, the agency dissolved as he worked for Botsford Ketchum for eight years and started Archie Boston Graphic Design. During this period, he became the first Black president of the Art Director Club of Los Angeles.

At the same time, Boston was a faculty member at California State University, Long Beach, from 1977 to 2009. Since retirement, he delved into documentary filmmaking with the release of 20 Outstanding Los Angeles Designers and Black Pioneers of the Sunshine City.

Forgotten Black Figures: Dwayne McDuffie

Comics and television writer Dwayne McDuffie changed the comic book world by making it more diverse. McDuffie grew up as the eldest of two sons in a middle-class Black family in Detroit, Michigan. He demonstrated a love for science fiction and comics at an early age. His talent was noticed early on as his parents worked extra shifts to cover his tuition for the private school Roeper School, where he cultivated his artistic talents. He studied at the University of Michigan as a teen.

McDuffie’s love for writing and science saw him return to U of M, where he double majored in English and Physics. Another passion of his – filmmaking – led him to New York, where he attended the Tisch School of the Arts for a brief time. After securing a less-than-desired job in NYC, McDuffie landed a position at Marvel Comics as a special comics editor in 1987. While at Marvel, he spearheaded the first superhero trading cards and the limited series Damage Control.

A few years later, McDuffie became a freelancer, working for various companies like DC and Archie Comics. His knack for storytelling and quest for diversity led him to co-found the multimedia outlet Milestone Media along with Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. He served as editor-in-chief and co-creator of several multicultural characters, including the beloved Static. The success of Milestone opened the writer up to television and film work after Static became the first Black superhero to lead an animated series. His work on the show earned him a Humanitas Prize for the episode “Jimmy.” His work led to writing and producing several animated shows, including the Ben 10 franchise and What’s New, Scooby-Doo?

In his later years, McDuffie returned to the comics world, writing for titles like Justice League of America and Fantastic Four. He released his comic series, Milestone Forever, in 2010. The publisher passed away on February 21, 2011, following complications from emergency heart surgery.

During and after his lifetime, Dwayne McDuffie left the comic book world more diverse than when he came into it. His quest for a multicultural industry spawned a revolution that still reverberates today with the increase in BIPOC writers and characters across multiple universes. His contributions as a writer and creator across different mediums may not get the attention they deserve. So, I say, “Mr. McDuffie, thank you for all you did to create a space for Black and brown voices.”

Milestone Media founder Dwayne McDuffie

You don’t feel as real if you don’t see yourself reflected in the media […] There’s something very powerful about seeing yourself represented.

Dwayne McDuffie

Inspirational Black Writers, You Need to Know

James Baldwin

Author and essayist James Baldwin

Multifaceted writer and civil rights advocate James Baldwin spoke about race relations and intersectionality before it was a hot-button topic. Baldwin was the oldest of nine children growing up in Harlem, New York. He found his passion for writing by studying and reading at local libraries. He started as a preacher and a railroad worker before becoming a freelance writer.

Baldwin found his stride after moving to Paris and Switzerland, where he penned his seminal book, Go Tell It on the Mountain. His initial success led to other important works, including Notes of a Native Son and Another Country. This work during the civil rights movement inspired The Fire Next Time. Following the loss of his friends Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, the writer left America and wrote the classic novel If Beale Street Could Talk.

In his later life, Baldwin continued his writing while teaching young writers. The author passed away on December 1, 1987, after a battle with stomach cancer.

Octavia Butler

Afrofuturism novelist Octavia Butler

Sci-fi novelist Octavia Butler set the tone for the thriving multimedia genre of Afro-futurism. Butler grew up in a strict Baptist household led by her single mother and grandmother. Her love for writing was birthed out of her intense shyness as she found solace at the Pasadena Central Library. She attended and graduated from Pasadena City College while working temporary jobs and on her writing.

Bulter found inspiration in the Black Power Movement to write her seminal work Kindred. She later found success with the revisionist series The Patternists, the sci-fi trilogy Lilith’s Brood, and the Parable series. After a successful run of best-sellers, she became the first sci-fi writer to win the prestigious Macarthur Foundation fellowship in 1995.

In her later years, the author suffered from writer’s block and depression but managed to write a few short stories and her final novel, the vampire-themed Fledgling. The sci-fi novelist passed away on February 24, 2006.

Langston Hughes

Author and playwright Langston Hughes

Renowned writer and activist Langston Hughes served as one of the prominent voices during the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes lived with his grandmother in Missouri before moving to Illinois to live with his mother. Living with his mother and new family in Lincoln jumpstarted his love of poetry. Following his time in the military, the young poet worked a series of odd jobs after one year at Columbia University.

Hughes’ work eventually found its way into major early 20th-century publications like The Crisis and The Nation. After years of publishing his poetry, he ventured into fields like novels, essays, short stories, plays, and operas. The writer founded several playgroups and outfits, including The Skyloft Players in New York and the Golden Stair Press. He also began teaching at a few colleges at the same time.

The 1950s and 1960s saw his influence wane over differing opinions with young writers, but he still mentored young talent like Alice Walker. The writer passed away on May 22, 1967, following complications from abdominal surgery. His final work, Panther and the Lash was published posthumously.

Walter Dean Myers

Young adult and children's author Walter Dean Myers

Children and young adult author Walter Dean Myers managed to merge Black youth culture with literature. Myers was raised in New York by his foster parents, which revolved around his neighborhood and church. He found a love for writing after a teacher suggested he channel his frustration about his speech impediment. He kept up this practice until he joined the military.

After working several odd jobs, Myers began writing for various publications before winning a contest, which birthed his first children’s book. His initial success led to multiple best-sellers, including Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and StuffFallen AngelsMonsterHoops, and Scorpions. His contributions to children’s literature and YA led him to become the first Black National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

In his later years, Myers continued writing books with illustrations by his son Christopher. He passed away on July 1, 2014, after a brief illness. Following his death, there were several posthumous releases, including Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History and “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston served as one of the Harlem Renaissance’s prominent voices. Hughes grew up as the fifth of eight children in Florida to a preacher father and an educator mother. Following her mother’s death, she worked menial jobs while trying to complete her education.

After graduating from Brandard College in 1928, Hurston found success as a writer in Harlem. She had published several short stories and two books – Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Mules and Men – by 1935. The writer found her most notable success in the late 1930s and early 1940s with the release of seminal works Their Eyes Were Watching GodTell My Horse, and Moses, Man of the Mountain. At the same time, she continued her anthropology work while writing for multiple publications.

She published two final works – Dust on the Tracks and Serpah on the Suwanee – before moving back to Florida, where she worked menial jobs. Hurston passed away on January 28, 1960, following a severe stroke. Following her death, multiple unpublished works, including Barracoon and Every Tongue Got to Confess, were released.

Enjoy These Blassics for Christmas

Much like Thanksgiving, this year Christmas is hitting a little different. Dad, Grandpas, and Uncles screaming at the same football game over Zoom. Mama, Grandmas, and Aunties are fixing dinners just for their families as everyone is social distancing. All the kids are Facetiming each other to the latest TikTok dances and doing Insta Videos on the Gram.

This doesn’t mean people are tossing aside the holiday festivities (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa). Having a small circle of (COVID-free) friends or immediate family over is still a slim possibility with social distancing and Zoom.

This year, you can tap into the Black experience by enjoying times where family and friends could gather before social distancing. So, here are some Christmas Blassics for you to enjoy this holiday season.

This Christmas

This recent Christmas Blassic is based on the classic Donny Hathaway song of the same name. The film centers on the Whitfield family as the eldest son (played by Idris Elba) comes home for the first time in four years. But he’s return is only the tip of the iceberg as the family has to overcome secrets as Christmas approaches. Along with Elba, the film stars acting legends Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo and Regina King as well as Lauren London, Chris Brown, Sharon Leal, Columbus Short and Laz Alonso.

Almost Christmas

Just like This Christmas, this modern Christmas Blassic centers on a dysfunctional family coming together during the Christmas season. The film follows the Meyers family as they come together for the first time since losing their matriarch. As Christmas approaches, secrets are revealed and hijinks ensue just in time for the holidays. The film stars Kimberly Elise, Mo’Nique, Nicole Ari Parker, Gabrielle Union, Keri Hilson, Jessie Usher, Danny Glover, Omar Epps, John Michael Higgins, D. C. Young Fly, and Romany Malco.

The Best Man Holiday

The Christmas Blassic reunites the cast of another Blassic The Best Man over a decade later. The film sees the gang back together again as Mia Sullivan (played by Monica Calhoun) sends the letters asking them to spend Christmas with her and her husband Lance. New and old issues come up between the friends as a tragic secret looms over the gathering. Along with Calhoun, the film stars Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, and Melissa De Sousa

Black Nativity

This modern Christmas Blassic is based on a stage musical retelling of the Nativity by celebrated Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. The film follows a teenaged boy (played by Jacob Latimore) as he is reunited with his estranged pastor grandparents. Through a series of musical numbers and Christmas festivities, the two generations comes together in the holiday spirit. Along with Latimore, the film stars acting legends Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as well as Tyrese Gibson, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, and Nas.

The Preacher’s Wife

This 1996 Christmas Blassic is remake of the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife. The film follows an angel Dudley (played by Oscar winner Denzel Washington) as he tries to help a struggling pastor save his church as well as his family. Conflict ensues as Dudley begins getting closer to and falling for the pastor’s wife (played by the late Whitney Houston). Along with Washington and Houston, the film stars Courtney B. Vance, Loretta Devine, Gregory Hines, and Jenifer Lewis.

The Kid Who Loved Christmas

This 1990 TV film follows an adoptive father and son who fight to stay together during the Christmas season. The small family is torn apart after the tragic death of the adoptive mother. The entire family gathers to support them as the father fights Social Services to keep the little boy. The film stars Cicely Tyson, Michael Warren, Sammy Davis Jr. Sideman, Gilbert Lewis, Charles Q. Murphy, Ken Page, Ray Parker Jr., Della Reese, Esther Rolle, Ben Vereen. and Vanessa Williams.

While eating your dinner this holiday season, why not watch and reminisce over these amazing films.

Black Media and Creatives to Get Into This Thanksgiving

With so many looking for entertainment centered on the Black experience, here are some content to watch by yourself or with the fam over the Thanksgiving weekend.

For those who love big-screen visuals and great storytelling that touch on the Black experience, here’s a list of films to watch:

Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy (starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx) – inspired by Bryan Stevenson’s memoir

Ava DuVernay’s Selma (starring David Oyelowo) – based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s trek from Selma to Montgomery

Raoul Peck-directed documentary I Am Not Your Negro – based on the words and thoughts of writer James Baldwin

Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters – based on the Wiley College debate team’s victory over USC

Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures – based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly

Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing – a hot Summer day in New York culminates in a tragic end fueled by racial tensions

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (starring Denzel Washington) – based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight – based on a play by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney

Stefan Bristol’s See You Yesterday – a young girl travels back in time to save her slain brother

GeorgeTillman Jr’s The Hate You (starring Amandla Stenberg) – based on the book of the same name by Angie Thomas

Jordan Peele’s Get Out (starring Daniel Kaluuya) – a psychological examination of racism in the U.S.

Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse  an animated action adventure following the exploits of beloved Afro-Latino high schooler Miles Morales

Matthew A. Cherry-directed Hair Love – an animated short showcasing a father-daughter relationship dealing with Black hair

Reginald Hudlin-produced BeBe’s Kids (starring the late Robert Harris) – an animated family comedy highlighting a date turned family outing

For those looking for great visual and realistic storytelling on a weekly basis, here’s a list of television series to watch:

Ava DuVernay-produced miniseries When They See Us – based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case

The landmark miniseries Roots (1977 and 2016 versions) – the original is a classic while the new version taps into today’s issues

Cheo Hodari Coker-based Netflix series Luke Cage – based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name

Salim Akil-developed CW series Black Lightning – based on the DC Comics series of the same name

Milestone Media-created Warner Bros. animated series Static Shock – based on the Milestone Media/DC Comics series Static

April Blair-created CW series All American – inspired by the life of former professional football player Spencer Paysinger

Issa Rae-created HBO series Insecure – a comedic yet realistic portrayal of the Black female experience in the U.S.

Donald Glover-created FX series Atlanta – inspired by the career and life of multi-tainer Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino)

ABC sitcom Black-ish – an exploration of the middle-class Black family experience in suburban America 

Cartoon Network animated series Craig of the Creek – an animated series centered on a young Black boy’s imaginative exploits and his family

Aaron MacGruder’s The Boondocks – an adult animated series focused on skewering the low brow-end of Black culture

HBO animated anthology Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child – an animated series centered on retelling and reinventing classic fairytales with a Black or Latin spin

Disney animated family sitcom The Proud Family – an animated series about a young Black girl Penny Proud, friends, and family

Don Cornelius-centered biopic drama American Soul – a serialized telling of the rise of the Soul Train impresario through the decades

Justin Siemen-produced Netflix series Dear White People – a serialized version of the creator’s 2014 film centered on Black students at a PWI

Lena Waithe and Halle Berry-produced BET series Boomerang – a Millennial comedic retelling of the 1992 Eddie Murphy-led film

Michael B. Jordan-produced Netflix series Raising Dion – an action-adventure about a young Black boy discovering his powers

Misha Green-developed HBO series Lovecraft Country – a dramatic sci-fi retelling centered on Black travelers during Jim Crow-era America

Michaela Coel-created HBO series I May Destory You – a comedic take on a young Black writer dealing with the after effects of a night out

Robin Thede-headlined HBO series A Black Lady Sketch Show – a comedic sketch series centered on the Black female experience with an all-star cast

Netflix sketch series Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show – a sketch comedy series based on the exploits of the all-Black comedy troupe Astronomy Club

Hulu series Woke – a live-action-animated comedy centered on the different mishaps and everyday struggle of a rising Black cartoonists

Tracy Oliver-produced BET+ series The First Wives Club – a comedy reimagining of the 1996 film centered on Black female friends

Hopefully, this content by Black creators will not only entertain you but inform and provoke you to seek out other creators to champion and support.

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