As someone who spent many childhood Sundays in the Southern Baptist church, I developed an appreciation for good public speaking at a very young age. Good speakers inspire me, make me cry, make me chuckle, and make me question what I thought I knew. Nothing energizes me more than a well-delivered talk on a topic I’m passionate about.
In my journey as an African American woman, Black women speakers are the ones I crave the most during times of overwhelmedness, fear, and uncertainty. This past year has been nothing if not that, and I am immensely grateful for the voices that have helped get me through it.
Here are five Black women whose words have kept me feeling strong and hopeful over the past year.
International news correspondent
Asher’s words inspired me so much that I referenced her experience in my capstone portfolio. Her story about how the library helped her achieve her journalism dreams is one I will never forget. Her advice to “trust your struggle” is something I remember often during the scary times.
Take a listen: Trust Your Struggle (14 minutes)
“I don’t believe in competing for what I want. I believe in creating what I want.”
Ruha Benjamin, Ph.D.
Sociologist and professor
One of the two phenomenal Spelman grads on this list, Benjamin has joined Safiya Umoja Noble and others in what I call the question-the-algorithms movement. She asserts that to understand the intertwinement of technology and racism, one must understand the psychological impulses and social norms that got our technology to where it is. In Benjamin’s analysis, technology – rather than being simple progressive innovation – is actually an ultra-modern variation on an age-old theme: enslavement.
Take a listen: Racial Bias in Technology (20 minutes)
Memorable quote: “Imagination is a contested field of action…[m]ost people are forced to live inside someone else’s imagination.”
Thema Bryant-Davis, Ph.D. (Dr. Thema)
Clinical psychologist and professor
I have written about Dr. Thema on this blog before, but she deserves an encore. A clinical psychologist par excellence, she conveys sound, life-changing advice in a soothing voice free of judgement and condescension. Her Homecoming Podcast is a healing force; no matter what challenge you are experiencing in your life, there is something in there to help you through it.
Take a listen: The Homecoming Podcast (multiple episodes)
Memorable quote: “There are some bloody pages in my story, but I want you to know something – the blood on my pages is not the end of my story.”
Nnedi Okorafor, Ph.D.
Professor and science fiction author
Nnedi Okorafor saw gaps in the old-school, predominantly white-male authored science fiction stories, so she went ahead and created her own worlds. She had me at the Binti trilogy, the tale of a young Black math genius who defies tradition by leaving everything she has ever known to pursue her destiny. Okorafor’s own early life story (which she goes into detail about in the Full Frame video linked to below) is a trust-your-struggle masterpiece in itself. Her voice is as clear, sure, and wise as her prose – and like her prose, it makes me imagine possibilities I might otherwise not have.
Take a listen:
Full Frame – African Influence with Nnedi Okorafor (23 minutes)
Sci-fi Stories that Imagine a Future Africa (9 minutes)
Memorable quote: “Science fiction is one of the greatest and most effective forms of political writing.”
Politician, lawyer, activist, and author
She’s brilliant, relentless, inspiring, creative, and her name is Stacey – what could make me love her more? Oh, did I mention she is a writer, too? There seems to be little this Spelman grad cannot do, but it is her political doings that have really gotten the world’s attention. She came thisclose to being the first Black woman governor of Georgia, and she is the force of nature behind the epic voter registration drive that turned that state blue. All this after being told as a teenager that she did not even belong in the halls of power. As the haters eat her dust, Abrams just keeps speaking her truth over and over again – and motivating Black women like me to keep speaking our own.
Take a listen: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself About Everything You Do (12 minutes)
Memorable quote: “[F]ear is real. It is paralyzing. It is terrifying. But it can also be energizing, because once you know what you’re afraid of, you can figure out how to get around it.”