Black History Month 2024: Celebrating the Power of Black Moms

Black History Month is a time for celebration, recognition, and sharing stories of Black excellence. This year, The Smithsonian’s Black History Month theme is “African Americans and the Arts,” a theme that shines a light on the way art is intertwined with culture. Art tells stories of who we’ve been, who we are, and who we can be — inspiring us to be the heroes of our own tales as we ignite change and charge toward a brighter future.

Just as art tells stories and inspires change, the personal narratives and achievements of Black mothers are presented as equally powerful and transformative. Throughout history, many Black moms have woven incredible personal narratives that have made profound impacts on the world. While it’s important to acknowledge our roots and those who came before us, it’s equally imperative to recognize the icons who are currently contributing to the legacy of exceptional Black mothers.

These Black moms are writing their own life stories, blending the powerful influence of motherhood with determination to achieve their goals — and, in the process, helping define the cultural landscape.

Justice Kyra Harris Bolden, Michigan Supreme Court 

As the first Black Woman to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice Kyra Harris Bolden made history with her inauguration as an associate justice on January 1, 2023. It was her own family’s history that fueled her sense of justice and set her on her career path. She understands the power of representation, so she worked hard to achieve her goal. Still, she acknowledges that her achievements wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the Black women who came before her.

"It's really hard for me to say that I'm the first Black woman because I know a lot of the Black women that have fought so hard for this position." - Kyra Harris Bolden, Justice Across Generations

Becoming a mother inspired Justice Bolden to pursue her career goals. In fact, she accepted the nomination for Michigan Supreme Court only six days after giving birth — making history and serving as an example for her daughter and many others.

Allyson Felix, Track and Field Olympic Athlete and Medalist

Olympian Allyson Felix understands the challenges of balancing a career and motherhood all too well. Getting pregnant in the course of anyone’s career can be challenging; in the track and field world, it is known as the “kiss of death.” When Allyson discovered she was pregnant, she was afraid of what would happen when people found out — to the point where she would wake up early to train to hide her changing body. Realizing this fear inspired her to take action with her teammates — eventually resulting in her former sponsor Nike and other prominent sponsors transforming their stance on maternity protections.

When Allyson signed with her new sponsor, female-led and female-founded Athleta, they worked together to challenge the International Olympic Committee’s childcare policy. Two years after giving birth, she returned to the Olympics and won a gold and a bronze medal, becoming the most decorated American track and field athlete of all time — all while her daughter was watching.

“I was running for so much more than medals or for time on the track. I was running as a representation for women and for mothers and for anybody who had been told that their story was over.” - Allyson Felix, TED Talk

Jennifer McClellan, U.S. House of Representatives, Virginia

Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan (VA-04) is an advocate for Black maternal health. After almost dying in childbirth with a daughter who was born nine weeks prematurely, she made it her mission to address disparities and systemic issues that contribute to bad maternal health, especially for mothers of color.

Jennifer has broken many barriers in the course of her career and is making history as we speak. She was the first member of the House of Delegates to be pregnant while in office, and she is Virginia’s first Black woman member of Congress. 

“It’s poetic justice, thinking about what not only my family has been through, but what our country has been through...To be the first Black woman from Virginia, which was the birthplace of American democracy but also the birthplace of American slavery. And to be someone who…fought my entire adult life to address the lingering impact that slavery and Jim Crow has had on America and on Black communities...To be able to do that on a national scale is an incredible honor.”

As the proud mother of two children, Jennifer helps advance the interests of all mothers. While serving in the Virginia General Assembly, she led the passage of two major acts — the Reproductive Health Protection Act and the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act — playing an integral role in protecting women in Virginia.

Shonda Rhimes, Award Winning TV Producer and Screenwriter

The question of balance often comes up for mothers with a career. Shonda Rhimes, the brilliant mastermind behind some of TV’s most iconic shows, including Grey’s Anatomy and Bridgerton, addressed the issue in her Dartmouth College commencement speech. Her answer to how she does it all? Her answer is simple: she doesn’t. A single mother of three, Shonda gave a heartfelt and honest account of the reality of being pulled in multiple directions.

“If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.” - Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth Commencement Speech, 2014

What makes it all worthwhile? Setting an amazing example for her daughters, making history as the first Black woman to create and executive produce a top 10 network series and the first woman to create three TV dramas that each reached 100 episodes. And because she gets to do what she loves, she is happier and more fulfilled and, as a result, a better mother.

These exceptional Black moms are just a few of the countless others who are working hard to raise children while achieving greatness. We celebrate their achievements not just this month, but every day, as we work to create a better and more equitable future for all moms.

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