Diverse Voices to Elevate Your Events Beyond Black History Month

February is celebrated as Black History Month, serving as a time to pay tribute and respect to the contributions and accomplishments of Black Americans in United States history. Beyond celebration of the countless and invaluable impacts of Black Americans on the societal landscape, the awareness of this month also points to where work still needs to be done to address racial inequalities. Active efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion are necessary in moving society towards a more equal future. 

“No matter when your event is, considering the importance of a diverse program is vital in adding varied perspectives for your audience to consider.”

Many event professionals have already booked speakers for Black History Month and are now preparing for Juneteenth celebrations later this year. Although these particular events indicate times of dedicated awareness of the contributions of Black Americans, the fight towards racial equity is not relegated to certain times of year. No matter when your event is, considering the importance of a diverse program is vital in adding varied perspectives for your audience to consider. Including Black voices will not only elevate and deepen your program’s impact by providing diverse perspectives, but it will also give the much-needed visibility and opportunity for oppressed voices to be heard. Take a look at these popular topics and speakers to educate, motivate, and inspire your audience this Black History Month and beyond.

Black Educators

Having a clear understanding of history and how its affects still perpetuate society today helps to guide us towards a more equitable future for all. Whether speaking on slavery, the civil rights movement, segregation, or other historical attributes, these researchers, authors, and activists can inform your audience on the importance of understanding the past to make way for moving forward.

Angela Davis

Feminist, Social Activist, Professor & Writer

Through her activism and scholarship over the last decades, Angela Yvonne Davis has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice. Her work as an educator, both at the university level and in the larger public sphere, has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice. She is the author of eight books and has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. 

In recent years, a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early ’70s as a person who spent 18 months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. 

She has also conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender, and imprisonment. Her most recent books are “Abolition Democracy” and “Are Prisons Obsolete?” about the abolition of the prison industrial complex, and a new edition of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”

Dr. Harry Edwards

Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, Civic Activist & Author

Harry Edwards is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Berkeley, a race researcher, and diversity consultant. Edwards has a long and storied history of activism focused on developments at the interface of sport, race, and society. The combination of his experiences as an African-American, an athlete in the 1960’s, and his training in the discipline of sociology led Harry to propose that by the late 1960’s America had become very complacent about race issues in sports. He ultimately called for a Black athlete boycott of the United States 1968 Olympic team in large part to dramatize the racial inequities and barriers confronting Blacks in sport and society. The movement resulted in demonstrations by Black athletes across the nation and ultimately at the Mexico City games – a movement commemorated by a 24-foot high statue on the campus at San Jose State University. 

Throughout his career, Edwards has consulted on many issues of diversity in sports, including the MLB, the NBA, and the NFL, and has persisted in efforts to compel the sports establishment to confront and to effectively address issues pertaining to diversity and equal opportunity within its rank. A scholar-activist who became spokesperson for what amounted to a revolution in sports, Edwards is now considered a leading authority on developments at the interface of race, sport, and society, and he was a pioneering scholar in the founding of the sociology of sport as an academic discipline. He has written scores of articles and four books: “The Struggle That Must Be,” “Sociology of Sports,” “Black Students,” “The Revolt of the Black Athlete.”

Clayborne Carson

Scholar, Author, Professor, Civil Rights Historian & Director of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

Clayborne Carson has devoted most of his professional life to the study of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movements King inspired. Since receiving his doctorate from UCLA in 1975, Dr. Carson has taught at Stanford University, where he is now Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of History and Ronnie Lott Founding Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. In 1985, the late Coretta Scott King invited Dr. Carson to direct a long-term project to edit and publish an authoritative edition of King’s speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. 

Under Carson’s direction, the King Papers Project has produced seven volumes of “The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr”. Dr. Carson also served as senior advisor for the award-winning public television series on the civil rights movement, “Eyes on the Prize”. In addition, he has participated in the making of numerous other documentaries, including “Freedom on My Mind”, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1995, “Blacks & Jews”, “Citizen King”, “Have You Heard from Johannesburg?”, “Freedom Riders”, “Black Panther: Vanguard of a Revolution,” and “I Am MLK Jr.”. The audio version of Carson’s edition of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. won a Grammy award in 2000. 

There are many researchers, historians, and activists who have dedicated their lives to providing the education and necessary resources for everyone to be well-versed in the history of Black Americans and the existing implications of history today. No matter what impact you wish to have on your audience, there are experienced Black speakers who can address, inform, and motivate your audience to seek more justice today by understanding the remnants of the past. 

Black Entertainers

The importance of racial diversity, equity, and inclusion shows up in big ways through the content and entertainment that one has access to and engages with. These Black entertainers fight for representation by getting their voices out there and inspiring the younger generation to believe they can be whatever they want to be, regardless of their race. Many Black actors and comedians in particular use their platforms to advocate for social change and racial equity.

Issa Rae

Actress, Writer, Director & Producer; Star and Creator of HBO’s “Insecure”

Issa Rae is an actress, writer, and producer. With her own unique flare and infectious sense of humor, Rae first garnered attention for her award-winning web series and the accompanying New York Times best-seller, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” She created and stars in the hit HBO show, “Insecure,” for which she received an Emmy® nomination and two Golden Globe nominations. Rae made her film debut in the acclaimed drama, “The Hate U Give,” and most recently starred in the romantic comedy, “The Lovebirds.”

Baratunde Thurston

Futurist Comedian, Writer & Cultural Critic

Baratunde Thurston is a futurist comedian, writer, and cultural critic who helped re-launch “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”, co-founded the “Cultivated Wit and the About Race” podcast, and wrote the New York Times bestseller “How To Be Black.” Thurston is a highly sought-after public speaker, television personality, and thought leader who has been part of the gentrification of Brooklyn, New York as well noteworthy institutions such as Fast Company, TED, the MIT Media Lab, and The Onion.

His creative and inquisitive mind, forged by his mother’s guidance and polished by a philosophy degree from Harvard, have found expression in the pages of Fast Company, the screens of HBO, Comedy Central, CNN, MSNBC, BBC, the sound waves of NPR, and several podcasts, including “Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race”, which he co-founded. The Root named him to its list of 100 Most Influential African Americans, and Fast Company listed him as one of the 100 Most Creative People In Business. He has advised the Obama White House and serves on the National Board of BUILD, an organization that uses entrepreneurship-based experiential learning to propel underserved youth through high school and onto college and career success. He also serves as a mayoral appointee to the Brooklyn Public Library board of trustees.

Yara Shahidi

Actress, Youth Advocate & Voting Activist

Yara Shahidi is an American actress, model, and activist. She gained recognition for her starring role as the oldest daughter Zoey Johnson on the sitcom “Black-ish” and its spin-off series “Grown-ish”. Her film credits include “Imagine That,” “Smallfoot,” and the lead role in “The Sun Is Also a Star”. Shahidi has won an NAACP Image Award in the category of ‘Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy’ and has been included on “The 30 Most Influential Teens” list by Time magazine. In 2020 Shahidi and her business partner launched their production company 7th Sun and signed a deal with ABC Studios to produce shows.

Black actors and comedians being able to take up space in a previously restricted industry opens up the door to a more inclusive future. Whether they be artists, actors, comedians, writers or producers, these Black entertainers have unique and inspiring stories to share that will motivate your audience to reflect on the invaluable contributions of Black people in the entertainment industry.

Black Authors

Black Authors are crucial in increasing visibility and representation of Black people and their experiences, no matter the subject material. Whether they write memoirs, biographies, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, or a mix of literary genres, the works of Black authors have an impact on the publishing industry by telling the stories that need to be told. These best-selling Black authors will provide your audience with invaluable insight on creativity, racial issues, social inequality, and the importance of diversity.

Sonia Sanchez

Renowned Scholar, Poet, Playwright & Activist

Sonia Sanchez is a renowned scholar, poet, playwright, and activist who has been an influential force in African American literary and political culture for over three decades. One of the most important writers of the Black Arts Movement, Sanchez is the author of sixteen books including “Homecoming,” “We a BaddDDD People,” “I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems,” and “Shake Loose My Skin.” 

She is the recipient of the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry, the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry. Sanchez was also in the forefront of the Black studies movement and taught the country’s first ever course on Black Women. She held the Laura Carnell Chair in English and Women’s Studies at Temple University, where she was also the first Presidential Fellow. To this day, Sanchez addresses issues related to the African American experience, women, literature, and culture.

Michael Arceneaux

Best-Selling Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus”

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of “I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé.” Additionally, he is a regular contributor to Esquire, Elle, Essence, NBC News’ THINK, and MTV News, among others. Arceneaux has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, Complex, Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, Wired, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, them., Time Ideas, New York magazine’s Vulture, Salon, The Atlantic, NPR, Comedy Central Online, and numerous other outlets. His work has been referenced everywhere from The Weekly Standard to Jezebel to MSNBC and even been deemed required reading for courses at Harvard University. Michael has also been featured on various radio interviews on nationally syndicated programs.

Staceyann Chin

Spoken Word Poet, Performing Artist & LGBTQ+ Rights Political Activist

Staceyann Chin is a spoken word poet, performing artist, and LGBTQ rights political activist. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Pittsburgh Daily, and has been featured on 60 Minutes. In 2007, Chin shared her struggles of growing up gay in Jamaica on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and has been an “out poet and political activist” ever since. 

In addition to speaking candidly about her life, she performed in and co-wrote the Tony-nominated Russell Simmons “Def Poetry Jam” on Broadway, as well as several Off-Broadway one-woman shows. In 2015, Chin’s groundbreaking one-woman show “MotherStruck!” pierced the hearts of female theatergoers. Directed by Cynthia Nixon, and produced by Rosie O’Donnell, the production follows the true story of how Chin navigated a quest for motherhood as an over-30 lesbian immigrant of color. It has since been adapted into a series premiering to acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2019 to acclaim and continuing to entertain audiences across the festival circuit. 

As a spoken word poet, Chin’s poetry can be found in her first chapbook, “Wildcat Woman”, as well as “Stories Surrounding My Coming”, and numerous anthologies, including “Skyscrapers, Taxis and Tampons.” Chin published her autobiographical novel, “The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir” in 2009 and released her first book “Crossfire: A Litany for Survival” in 2019.

Poets, playwrights, authors, and artists all have a unique role to play in society, telling and creating stories that impact fans around the world. Popular Black authors will not only entertain your audience through meaningful prose, but their works also show insight into the day-to-day challenges and triumphs of being Black in America.

Black Business Leaders

The dynamics of diversity, equity, and inclusion are often studied and reflected in the workplace. Top Black business leaders and speakers have a wide array of experiences in the work force and stories on how they have pioneered systemic change in organizations and businesses by creating an inclusive and accepting environment for all races and backgrounds.

Sheila C. Johnson

Entrepreneur, CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, President of WNBA’s Washington Mystics & Co-founder of BET

Sheila Crump Johnson is an American businesswoman, co-founder of BET, CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, and the first Black woman to attain a net worth of at least one billion dollars. She is the first African-American woman to be an owner or partner in three professional sports franchises: the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA), and the Washington Mystics (WNBA). 

As CEO of Salamander Hospitality, a company she founded in 2005, Johnson oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties. In 2006, Johnson was named global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty by empowering women with the necessary tools to make sustainable income because they have the unique power to help entire communities escape poverty.

Johnson has long been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry as a film producer and a founding partner of BET (Black Entertainment Television). In partnership with other investors, her first film, “Kicking It,” premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT. She executive produced films like “A Powerful Noise,” “She Is The Matador,” and her latest film, “The Other City,” about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington DC..

Daymond John

“Shark Tank” Investor; Founder & CEO of FUBU; Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship

An entrepreneur in every sense of the word, Daymond John has come a long way from taking out a $100,000 mortgage on his mother’s house and moving his operation into the basement. John is CEO and Founder of FUBU, a much-celebrated global lifestyle brand, and a pioneer in the fashion industry with over $6 billion in product sales. He is an award-winning entrepreneur, and he has received over 35 awards, including the Brandweek Marketer of the Year, Advertising Age Marketing 1000 Award for Outstanding Ad Campaign, and Ernst & Young’s New York Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 

His marketing strategies and ability to build successful brands have made him a highly influential consultant and the popular motivational speaker he is today. His marketing firm, The Shark Group, offers advice on how to effectively communicate with consumers through innovative means and connects brands with the world’s top celebrities for everything from endorsements to product extensions. John is the author of four best-selling books, including the New York Times best-sellers “The Power of Broke” and “Rise and Grind.”

Bernard Coleman

Head of Employee Engagement at Gusto, Former Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Uber

Bernard is the Head of Employee Engagement at Gusto, leading the diversity, equity and inclusion, employee relations, and people integrity/governance/compliance functions. Prior to Gusto, Bernard led diversity efforts at Uber, and the diversity and human resources initiatives at the Hillary Clinton for America campaign as the first ever Chief Diversity and Human Resources Officer in United States history — for any presidential campaign and for either political party. Coleman helped to assess strategic diversity indicators and standards that ensure responsibility and accountability for achieving diversity, multiculturalism, and cultural competence within the diversity and inclusion matrix. In addition, Coleman has written for Forbes, Catalyst, and the Society for Human Resource Management. His insights have appeared in media outlets such as The New York Times, Nasdaq Government Clearinghouse, Time Magazine, USA Today, TechCrunch, and the Huffington Post.

Whether through employee engagement, diversity training, or just setting an example for being able to overcome societal discrimination and succeed in business, these Black business leaders are able to offer motivational support and advice on how to achieve one’s dreams.

Black LGBTQ+ Advocates

Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing people’s overlapping identities to understand the complexity of the prejudices they face. When celebrating Black Americans during Black History Month, it is equally important to reflect on the other attributes such as gender and sexuality that contribute to a person’s identity. These Black LGBTQ+ activists and speakers advocate on behalf of gender and sexual expression, aiming to decrease the biases and oppression that create challenges in many lives.

Kye Allums

First Openly Transgender NCAA Division I College Athlete

Kye Allums is a former college basketball player at for the George Washington Colonials women’s basketball team of George Washington University (GWU) and a transgender pioneer. He is now a transgender advocate, public speaker, artist, and mentor to LGBT youth. In 2010, Allums, a trans man, became the first openly transgender NCAA Division I college athlete. Allums graduated from Centennial High School in Circle Pines, Minnesota. He played three seasons as a guard on the women’s team at GWU. In May 2011, it was reported that Allums decided to leave the GWU basketball team.

Amiyah Scott

Actress, Model, Author & LGBTQ Advocate

Amiyah Scott is an actress, model, author, and LGBTQ advocate, best known for her role as Cotton on Lee Daniel’s “Star” on Fox. With this role, Amiyah broke history as the first transgender actress to play a transgender character on a major network television series. In just a short time, Amiyah’s trailblazing brand in beauty, modeling, and acting has garnered immense popularity among the trans community and beyond. Amiyah struggled with bullying and acceptance throughout her life, but she never let that deter her drive, ambition, or goals. VH1 crowned her king, reporting that Scott “is the first transgender model to amass a large social media following on Instagram.” 

In addition to modeling and acting, Scott is a proud advocate of the LGBTQ community and has centralized her focus on giving a voice to transgender females. Consequently, she has started a foundation called Transgender Empowerment of America (TEA). Amiyah desires to be not only an inspiration to the LGBTQ community, but to be an inspiration to anyone who has a dream. Her hope is that her story will motivate others to go after what they desire most, regardless of adversity, and to never lose sight of their goals.

Janet Mock

Author, Feminist, Transgender Rights Activist, TV Host & Founder of #GirlsLikeUs

Janet Mock is a writer, director and producer, whose memoir “Redefining Realness” debuted on the New York Times bestsellers list in 2014. Her second book, “Surpassing Certainty,” a memoir about her twenties, was released in 2017. She is a sought-after speaker, an advocate for trans rights, and the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. Mock made television history as the first trans woman of color to write, direct and produce for a series on Ryan Murphy’s FX drama “Pose,” which has assembled the largest cast of trans actors in regular roles ever for a scripted series and has received six Emmy nominations. Mock has a number of additional groundbreaking TV projects in the works, and her historic multi-million dollar deal with Netflix has made her the first trans woman of color to secure an overall deal with a major studio. TIME called Janet one of “12 new faces of black leadership” and one of “the most influential people on the Internet” while Fast Company named her one of 2015’s “most creative people in business.” She’s appeared on the covers of Entertainment Weekly, Paper, Out, and Riposte magazines, and she’s been interviewed on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Wendy Williams, Desus & Mero and “Real Time with Bill Maher”. 

Considering intersectionality in the discussion around race is necessary in understanding that it takes a variety of experiences to constitute true equality. Black LGBTQ+ speakers advocate through writing, non-profit efforts, entertainment, and generally bringing more awareness and visibility to LGBTQ+ experiences.

Black History Month is a time of reflection, celebration, and finding ways in which we can all continue to do better in working towards genuine racial equity for all. Now and in the future, we must all work to ensure that the impact of Black voices goes far beyond February. No matter the type of audience you create, incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion speakers into your event will add much-needed perspective and representation. Whether you are hoping to entertain your audience with a comedian, inform your audience with an educator, or inspire your audience with a business owner, these prominent Black voices will help to further the dialogue on race in a productive way. 

Lucy Marr: Lucy is a freelance writer for AAE. A self-proclaimed pop culture addict, Lucy loves keeping up with current events, the entertainment industry and finding exciting new talent to feature in her articles. In her free time, she loves traveling, going to the movies, trying out new recipes, and doing improv comedy.
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