This year, we are honoring Black History Month by sharing the stories of both contemporary and historical figures who are changing the course of history. The ways in which we teach our history have often left out the full story. By uplifting these individuals and their work, we hope to add to the fullness of our history and shift the narratives to include the pioneers across all walks of life whose contributions help us imagine a better world.
Vice President, Social and Content Strategy for iOne Digital, an Urban One Company
“Lanae Spruce is an award-winning digital strategist and creative with over twelve years of experience producing conversation-worthy stories on the internet.
She is currently the Vice President, Social and Content Strategy for iOne Digital, an Urban One company, where she leads social editorial for eight niche tech and media brands.
Spruce was globally lauded during her time as a public servant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, including recognition by the Webby Awards, the American Alliance of Museums, D.C. Mayor’s Office, and the Shorty Awards.
She focuses on using storytelling and an impactful creative strategy to build brand recognition and authentic community engagement for Black and multicultural audiences.”- Lana Spruce’s website.
While in D.C . she spent her time “creating virtual learning experiences that put Black History at the fingertips of over 100k followers, every day. With hashtags like #HiddenHerstory and #APeoplesJourney, Lanae and her team [were] committed to broadening the depth of knowledge about the African American experience and the many historical events and figures that are consistently bypassed in the tales of American history.”- 5 Black Women and Nonbinary Femmes Making History Today (The Riveter).
Blues Pianist, Singer, Performer, and Drag King Pioneer
Gladys Bentley was a performer during the Harlem Renaissance. Early in her life, she moved from Philadelphia to New York City and began performing in Harlem speakeasies and clubs, including the Clam House, a notorious gay speakeasy, and the Ubangi Club. She would sing in her signature tuxedo and top hat, accompanied by a chorus of drag queens.
The New York Times published a belated obituary for Bentley, who died in 1960 at the age of 52, which said she was “Harlem’s most famous lesbian” in the 1930s and “among the best-known black entertainers in the United States.”- 16 queer black pioneers who made history (NBC News).
- The Great Blues Singer Gladys Bentley Broke All the Rules
- Gladys Bentley – National Museum of African American History & Culture
- Gladys Bentley – The Legacy Project
Jeremy O. Harris
Playwright and Actor
Jeremy O. Harris is best known for his plays Daddy and Slave Play, which received the most Tony nominations for a non-musical play. He wrote and produced Slave Play while pursuing his MFA at Yale before it began its off-Broadway run. In 2018, he received the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, including a residency at the off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Harris was named one of Queerty’s Pride50 “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance, and dignity for all queer people.”
- A Playwright Who Won’t Let Anyone Off the Hook
- Jeremy O. Harris Is One of the Most Promising Playwrights of His Generation
- The Audacity of Jeremy O. Harris
- More about Jeremy O. Harris
Award-Winning Writer, Media Strategist, and Transgender Rights Activist
“Raquel Willis is a Black transgender activist, writer, media strategist, and speaker dedicated to inspiring and elevating marginalized individuals. She has held ground-breaking posts throughout her career including as director of communications for the Ms. Foundation, executive editor of Out magazine and national organizer for Transgender Law Center (TLC). She’s also a part of Echoing Ida, a national Black women and nonbinary writers’ collective.
In 2018, she was named an Open Society Foundations Soros Equality Fellow. She founded Black Trans Circles, a project of TLC, focused on developing the leadership of Black trans women in the South and Midwest by creating healing justice spaces to work through oppression-based trauma and incubating community organizing efforts to address anti-trans murder and violence. That year, she was also named a Jack Jones Literary Arts Sylvia Rivera Fellow.” (from her website linked below)
She is a storyteller and “thought leader on gender, race, and intersectionality.”- Raquel Willis’ website.