This section is dedicated to the African-American men and women who fought through adversity, discrimination and blatant racism to succeed in their respective career fields and in the process forged a path so that others could follow.
Yolanda Adams - Gospel Greatness
Houston native Yolanda Adams (b. 8/27/1961) is by far the most profound Gospel artist of our time as declared by Billboard Magazine in (2009). Hailed as the Queen of Contemporary Gospel, she helped usher in a new smoother gospel/jazz sound that we all know and love today. As a former model, a singer, mother, child advocate, philanthropist, talk show host and now author, Yolanda Adams has unequivocally proven that she can do it all.
Elizabeth "Bebe" Moore-Campbell born on February 18, 1950 was a distinguished African-American author, journalist and play write. She's best know for her novels, Brothers and Sisters (1994), Singing in the Comeback Choir (1998) and What You Owe Me (2001), all of which were New York Times Bestsellers. Other notables were Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, an NAACP Image Award for Literature recipient (1992). Born in Philadelphia, PA and raised primarily by her mother, a social worker and her maternal grandmother, she flourished in academics and managed to maintain a straight A average. Soon after she was born her parents relocated to North Carolina, where her father originated, and ended up separating when Moore-Campbell was only ten months old. Their split was largely due to the horrific car accident her father was involved in that subsequently rendered him a paraplegic. With her father being unable to work and provide for the family, Moore-Campbell's mother took her daughter and returned back to Philly and moved in with her own mom until she was able to secure a job. Growing up she would often spend summers with her father in North Carolina. Once back home she would write serial stories to send to him; in which he'd quickly respond, in order to keep communication between the two of them going. Her father's enthusiasm and praise of those short stories is what she credits as her sole inspiration to becoming a writer. She expresses candidly this gratitude in her personal memoir entitled Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad, which was published in 1989 and met with favorable reviews.
Frank Eugene Harper born May 17, 1966 is an African-American author, film and television actor. Born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa to parents Harry Harper, a psychiatrist and Marilyn Hill, the first African-American to practice anesthesiology in the U.S. He is known professionally as Hill Harper, a name he took to honor both of his parents. Having attended two Ivy League schools, Harper holds three degrees, one of which is a J. D. from Harvard University. It was there that he met and befriended President Barack Obama during their first year of law school. His belief in his old friend to spark a change in the world led him to become one of the many celebrities to lend their support during his presidential campaign. He presently serves on the Obama for America National Finance Committee. While in college, Harper was apart of the Boston Black Folks Theater Co., a prestigious theater ensemble noted as the oldest and most acclaimed troupe in this country. Although he is highly educated his desire to act steered his move to L.A. to begin his career as an actor.
Mike Tomlin (b. 3/15/1972) made history when he was named as the Pittsburgh Steelers' Head Coach in 2007, making him the youngest at 34 to coach an NFL team. He's also the 10th African-American to hold this position right behind Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy. The son of a former professional football player who once played for the Baltimore Colts, Tomlin appeared to have channeled his father's athletic prowess as soon as his feet touched the field. Born and raised in Hampton, Virginia where in high school he scored an remarkable twenty touchdown passes as a wide receiver all in one season. In 1989, he was recruited by the College of William and Mary and entered on a full athletic scholarship. Despite his talents he never played professional football, although he did have an impressive career as a defensive coordinator for a number of collegiate teams.
Long before any other, Wendy Hilliard with every pike, tuck and roll was proving to the world that a little black girl from the inner city of Detroit could grow up to be a champion gymnast. Due to the lack of proper outlets to channel her teen angst, Wendy found herself spending time at the local gym taking gymnastics. It was there that she discovered a new form of the sport called Rhythmic Gymnastics, a dance like routine accentuated with props. A quick study, she went on to become the first African-American to land a spot on a U.S. National Team in 1978. Hilliard competed in three world championships (1979, 1981 & 1983) and won several gold medals both nationally and internationally. Her 9 years on the team (2 as captain) as well as her 9 year tenure as a coach set a record that got her inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame (2008). She also served as the National Spokesperson for Rhythmic Gymnastics for approximately ten years. As a media commentator for CBS, ESPN & NBC she's covered both rhythmic and artistic gymnastics for numerous high profile competitions, which also include the Summer Olympic games in 1992.
The Temptations are a five member R&B super group that originated in Detroit, MI in the late 1950s. This quintet, known for their syncopated choreography and distinctive harmony, achieved the bulk of their success throughout the 60s and 70s. They rendered such hits as My Girl (1964), Ain't Too Proud To Beg (1966), Just My Imagination (1971) and Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972). The latter two songs were listed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped Rock & Roll.
The Nicholas Brothers were a tap dancing duo who began their career in the early part of the 20th century. Together they showcased remarkable dance skills that were unmatched by any other dancers of their era, which deemed them the greatest tap dancers of their time. What began as two kids showing off for their childhood friends evolved into a routine that earned them a permanent spot on stage at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem, with the likes of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Self taught dancers, Fayard (b. 10/20/1914 - 01/24/2006) and Harold Nicholas (b. 3/17/1921 - 07/03/2000) combined both tap dancing and acrobatics to form a high energy and very stylized type of dance that was unmatched.
Lauren Anderson - Black Ballerina
Houston native Lauren Anderson (b. Feb. 19, 1965) tip toed her way into American history by being the first African-American to be named principal dancer of a major dance company. An only child to educator parents growing up in Houston, TX, she began studying ballet at the age of 7. After graduating from Lamar High School, Anderson joined the Houston Ballet (1983) at a time when there were very few black dancers.
While Diana Ross (lead vocalist of the legendary singing group The Supremes) is a house hold name, her older sister is relatively unknown despite the fact that she's a prominent figure in the medical world. Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee (b.1942) is noted as the first African-American woman to be appointed dean of an American medical school. The eldest of six, Dr. Ross-Lee was raised in the Brewster-Douglas Housing Projects in Detroit, Michigan. Early exposure to the perils of illness and death within her family inspired her decision to pursue a career in medicine. A move she believed would serve the duality of eradicating poverty as well as supply her with the knowledge to help others.
Florence Griffith-Joyner or "Flo Jo" as she's most commonly known, is an African-American Track and Field athlete. Born in California she grew up in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Southern Los Angeles. After high school she attended California State University at Northridge were she was on the track team alongside another future Olympic gold medalist Jeanette Bolden. A few years later she followed her coach and future bother in law, Bob Kersee, to UCLA where she graduated with a degree in Psychology in 1982. She began competing professionally in 1983 where she won her first medal, a silver in the 1984 Summer Olympics. A few years later she married Al Joyner, an Olympic gold recipient in the triple jump category who also coached her through out her Olympic run. She became an iconic figure after consecutively winning 3 gold medals in the 100m, 200m and in the 4x100m relays in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a feat that hadn't been done since Wilma Rudolph in the 1960 Olympics. Dubbed the "fastest woman in the world", largely due to the fact that her race times have never been beaten or significantly challenged, Flo Jo's achievements will forever be cemented in history of Track & Field.
Helen Williams-Jackson (b. 1937) is credited as being the first dark-skinned African-American fashion model featured in mainstream advertising campaigns like Budweiser and Sears. Because of her unique beauty and professionalism, racial barriers were broken down paving the way for other black models to grace the covers of major publications, as well as catwalk down both domestic and international runways. Her introduction into the fashion world came as a stylist in a New York photography studio. While working as a stylist her distinguishing features and regal stature caught the eye of several celebrities such as Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr. who encouraged her to pursue modeling as a career.
Born January 17, 1927 on a cotton plantation in the south, Eartha Mae Keith, known professionally as Eartha Kitt was a world renowned entertainer and activist. Very little is known about her parentage except that her mother was a slave girl of mixed heritage (African-American & Cherokee Indian) and her father was believed to be the white slave owner's son. As a young girl she endured a lot of abuse and at some point was sent to live with a relative in New York City in order to escape the mistreatment. Kitt credits her sense of abandonment and immense suffering during her childhood as the stimulus for all of her professional success.
Dorothy Jean Dandridge, born November 9, 1922 was an African-American night club singer, actress and silver screen siren. In 1954, she made history by being nominated for Best Actress at the 27th Annual Academy Awards for her portrayal as the haughty Carmen Jones. A film version of what was originally an opera, featured an all black cast with Dandridge as the lead, gave way to a unique opportunity for a woman of color's beauty and talent to be illuminated on the big screen. Despite not winning an Oscar, her recognition alone opened the eyes of the studio execs to an untapped source of talent in Hollywood. With more roles being thrown in her direction, the future looked bright for Dandridge when she landed a part in the highly acclaimed film Porgy and Bess (1959) where she played the character of Bess. Sadly, her light was dimmed in the fall of 1965 when she unexpectedly died only hours before she was to leave for a professional engagement in New York. A lot of speculation surrounded the death of the now middle aged beauty. One source deemed it an accidental over dose of anti-depressants while another determined the cause as an embolism that resulted from a fractured foot. Ironically, there was a suicide note found at her home shortly after her passing; however close friends of the star denounce the note stating that it was written months prior during a bout with depression but that she had recently bounced back and was looking forward to many new career opportunities.