At TomboyX, we believe black history should be honored all year long as an integral part of history as a whole. The contributions and achievements of black people have helped build our modern society in invaluable ways, and the momentum is nowhere near slowing down. It’s for that reason that today we want to honor not just the past, but also the future, of black excellence. We asked three powerful and influential voices who are leaders for the next generation to tell us about a black historical figure that inspires or motivates them as they move through the world today.
Karamo Brown - Bayard Rustin
Television star, writer, producer, activist, and father Karamo Brown is probably most recognizable from his work as the resident life coach on Netflix’s Emmy Award-winning series, Queer Eye. A passionate philanthropist, Karamo is a licensed psychotherapist and social worker, which informs the conversations he initiates on the show that open powerful doors of personal investigation. His talent for finding common ground and connecting people through their own humanity has made Karamo a strong leader in advocacy for self-care and good mental health.
“There are many [black historical figures that inspire me] but at the top of my list is Bayard Rustin. He was critical in the Civil Rights movement and helped write the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. He was black and gay and used this intersection to inspire and educate. Bayard reminds me that I can never check my identities and that it is my job to use my intelligence, voice and drive to inspire change in the world.”
Jari Jones - Miss Major
Jari Jones is a black transgender actress, curve model, activist and creative. She’s recently been featured on FX’s Pose, wrapped filming on a Martin Scorsese movie, and is one of the new faces of Universal Standard, making her the first transgender model of the brand. Jari has publically shared, with radical vulnerability, everything from her relationship with fellow trans femme Corey Kempster to a body positive takedown of Victoria’s Secret’s archaic viewpoints in the context of their fashion show. After a successful career as a fashion and editorial photographer, Jari primarily finds herself on the other side of the camera these days, paving the way for visibility and representation in the new generation of fashion influencers.
“Miss Major is one of our black trans pioneers who is still fiercely living from the Stonewall Riot era. She is, what we call in the POC queer community, legendary and/or ICONIC. Major, even in her elder years, is still providing guidance and is nurturing queer folks of color from all walks of life while also protecting the community from anyone trying to attack us. She’s not only been the matriarch of the trans/queer liberation of our time but also a mother to so many LGBTQ youth, especially POC LGBTQ youth, who’ve experienced homelessness and incarceration.
In this, I dedicate my work and my visibility to the uplifting of LGBTQ youth in the media industry. Whether it’s in film and TV or modeling and visual art, I’ve really made it a point to center queer youth of color and their stories, making sure they are being sufficiently compensated for their work and labor. It is my mission that queer kids see quality representation of people like them providing a blueprint to a life of content and joy instead of trauma and hiding, while also providing a sense of relief that their lives can be full of and are worthy of love, respect, and success.”
Ambers Closet - Maxine Waters + Lena Waithe
Actress, activist, and YouTube sensation Amber Whittington started her channel six years ago as an outlet for exploring identity, breaking stereotypes, and, of course, talking about style. Now at 687K subscriptions, it’s Amber’s glowing authenticity that draws people in as she discusses everything from coming out tips and how to handle online trolls to period hacks. Threaded together with light-hearted challenges and frank discussions with fellow YouTubers such as Ari Fitz, Ambers Closet is a testament to the potential for building community through self-exploration.
“I feel like I get inspiration depending on what I'm doing or what I'm trying to accomplish. Nowadays, I’d say Maxine Waters and Lena Waithe. Lena is making so much noise and making a path for black queer women more than anyone's ever been able to do—it's just so beautiful. And then Maxine, she's just never been scared to say her opinion as one of the only women of color doing what she does.
I haven't stayed silent, like other social media influencers have, on certain subjects. I'm not afraid to speak my mind. Being a YouTuber and being someone that's in the public eye, I've always had people give me their advice and tell me to stop doing that. Be quiet. Don't speak up about that. Don't be controversial. And I've just never been that person. It's important to see these two, in completely different realms, not care about any of those guidelines or anything that anybody would say about them. Maxine was the only woman of color in the room a lot of times. She was not afraid to stand out, which is great. And then same with Lena.”
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Who are the black historical figures that inspire and motivate you? Let us know in the comments below.