Respect the Past, Celebrate the Present & Envision the Future: Black History Plus

February 28, 2020


For many people, Black History Month can be complicated. What’s the ideal balance between honoring history and uplifting today’s trailblazers, acknowledging past hardships and looking ahead to (hopefully) brighter days? There is no right answer, for this movement or likely for others. That said, the exercise of taking a thoughtful look at the way our framing of history impacts our outlook on individuals and efforts today is an important task, and one we’re committed to upholding when looking at race in our culture, conversations, and Purpose projects. 

In celebrating Black History Month in the US, Purpose’s Equity team created a concept called BH+, a celebration focused on contemporary black thought leaders. While Black History Month was designed to uplift the past, BH+ is a modern take that highlights progress to respect the past, celebrate the present, and envision the future. 

Working together across Strategy, Campaigns, Creative, Project Management, and People, Culture & Operations, Purpose’s teams put together a (non-exhaustive) selection of black leaders who inspire them in their work as they revolutionize their fields. 



First in our BH+ series, our Creative team highlighted contemporary black leaders who inspire them with their innovation, artistry, and creative expertise:

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Shannon Washington is a force in the creative industry working for inclusivity both with her work and by building internal culture. 

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Savanah Leaf is a director, photographer, creative & Olympian who sheds light on racial and social struggles throughout her work.

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Critically acclaimed author Marlon James focuses on representation and stories that need to be told, often with themes of religion, the supernatural, sexuality, violence and colonialism in his work.

Tré Seals’ internationally renowned typeface and branding design work has been industry-shattering and a huge source of inspiration for our team. 



Next, Purpose’s Strategy team shared a selection of black leaders whose work they admire. As thought leaders, agents of change, strategists, and creatives, these black leaders are revolutionizing their industries:

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NYC-based poet, writer and speaker, Saeed Jones commonly incorporates themes of identity, race, and intimacy in his work, and pushes cultural conversations forward as the executive editor for culture at Buzzfeed.

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A recognized thought leader on the national stage, HeatherMcGhee is former president and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, advancing the vision of an equal say and an equal chance through her writing, public speaking and media appearances, as well as the internal racial equity transformation she led while at Demos.

Man headshotDean Baquet serves in the highest ranked position in The Times’s newsroom and has been a leader in talking about the future of journalism and fake news.

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Chocquibtown is the first Afro-Colombian band to have international recognition and they inspire as master storytellers and advocates for social change in racism, feminism, and corruption.



Purpose’s Campaigns team highlights a selection of black leaders who inspire them as expert activists, organizers, advocates, and innovators:

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Kolbassia Haoussou leads Survivors Speak Out as a survivor of torture from central Africa, and has been a critical voice in bringing torture survivors into Government anti-torture policy conversation.

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Vic Barrett is a climate activist and one of the youth plaintiffs in the Juliana vs US litigation who advocates for the global climate crisis through the lens of his identities as a transgender, first-generation, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx person.

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Jerron Herman is an interdisciplinary artist who has performed around the globe as principal dancer and development director with Heidi Latsky Dance and is an advocate for disabled athletes and performers.

Cida Bento is a psychologist and founder of CEERT who inspires as a leader in the fight for gender and race equality in education, the labor market, and the justice system.


Project Management & People, Culture & Operations: 

Finally, Purpose’s Project Management and People, Culture, Operations teams chose a selection of black leaders who inspire them by building inclusive communities, being masterful entrepreneurs, and pushing for progress within their teams and the workplace:

As a digital strategist, writer, influencer, co-founder of Tech LadyMafia, and co-host of Call Your Girlfriend, Aminatou Sow writes and speaks about dignity in work, equitable pay, and being thoughtful about the work environments that work for you.

Diedra Nelson  is CFO of The Wing, where she has been instrumental in building the infrastructure to scale from 200 to 8,000 members and in closing a $75 million Series C funding round, one of the largest rounds raised by an all-women team in recent history.

Brittany Packnett inspires us with her expert use of digital media to organize and advocate for critical issues like equal pay, voting rights, racial justice, education, and intersectional activism.

Yvette Pegues is a Disability & Diversity Consultant and a sought-after keynote speaker who has a doctorate, plays lacrosse, is a pageant queen, and focuses her work on empowering, equipping, and including people with disabilities through advocacy, policy, collaboration of corporate/community organization.


These, and so many other black trailblazers are an essential part of highlighting progress and envisioning a future that acknowledges the contributions of black people in how we live, work, and create.  Looking at these leaders alongside historical figures can give us a balanced perspective to honor history, celebrate progress, and look forward to more greatness ahead.

We invite you to think about which black thought leaders are inspiring you, in Black History Month and beyond.

Catherine Addo Strategy Director & Equity Team Chair