At One Equal World, we seek to strengthen the conversation around human rights, and to champion those individuals who have worked tirelessly to promote these rights for all people. Black History Month, celebrated in the United States each February, is an excellent occasion to honor those who have done so much to promote equality within the African American community. Here are some of the most prolific activists, scholars, artists, and writers striving to create a more equal world: 

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Audre Lorde, American feminist, scholar, and author
Image: Blaise Freeman via Flickr CC

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is one of the most revered feminists within the American second wave, known for her poetry, essays, and scholarly approach to issues that impacted both women of color and LGBT people. The Caribbean-American writer was actively involved in the gay culture of NYC’s Greenwich Village, as well as in civil rights activism, reports The Huffington Post. Lorde’s writings have deeply influenced her feminist contemporaries; her written work has been instrumental in helping to bring nuance to conversations about race, sexuality, and the female experience.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an inspiring transgender activist and actress, best known for her role as Sophia Burset on the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black. The self-described “possibility model” has quickly become one of the most influential figures in the LGBT community, and represents not only transgender women, but trans individuals of color, an intersection which she constantly emphasizes the social significance of. Fearless, proud, and eloquent, Cox has used her fame to amplify the struggle of other marginalized people.

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Frank Ocean, openly gay hip-hop artist
Image: Aktiv I Oslo via Flickr CC

Frank Ocean

According to The Huffington Post, “No mainstream black male hip-hop artist had ever come out until Frank Ocean did in July 2012, just before he debuted his first solo album, ‘Channel Orange.’” Since then, Ocean has courageously navigated the mainstream hip-hop industry, a space that is notoriously homophobic, with an inspiring amount of self-respect and character. Ocean singlehandedly smashed stereotypes about what hip-hop artists are supposed to be, and remains one of the only openly gay artists in his genre.

Bayard Rustin

Not only was Bayard Rustin a black civil rights activist, he was also an ardent supporter of gay rights. He is quoted as having made comparisons between the struggles of African Americans and LGBTs, calling gay people “the new barometer for social change.” As Martin Luther King Jr.’s advisor and personal secretary, Rustin was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at perhaps its most pinnacle moment, and was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. Sometimes overshadowed by MLK during Black History Month, it is critical to remember all of the people whose roles helped shape the civil rights movement.


Janet Mock, transgender activist and author

Janet Mock

Transgender author and advocate Janet Mock has become one of the most visible contemporary trans media icons, using her story as a way to inspire and educate others. The activist, whose words are her most powerful tool for change, recently released a so-far memoir called Redefining Realness, and has helped to broaden conversations surrounding transgender identities and rights.

Patrik Ian Polk

Patrik Ian Polk is an openly gay film director who is acclaimed for bringing African American and LGBT issues to the forefront. Contemporary media often misrepresents or underrepresents black LGBT characters, but Polk is committed to giving these characters a voice, and has done so in films such as Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom.

Who else would you add to this list? What influential figures do you most associate with Black History Month?