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21 Black American Women You Should Know

In honor of Black History Month 2022, we wanted to share a few Black women who have made history that you might not know about..

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) represented Texas in the US House of Representatives from 1972-78 and was the first Black congresswoman from the Deep South. In 1976, she became the first Black women to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was the vice-chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, as well as a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which organized the Freedom Summer voter registration drives.

Angela Davis (1944-) is a Black feminist activist and academic, known for her affiliation with the Communist Party. She is a professor at the University of California – Ssanta Cruz and is an author of over ten books on class, feminism, race, and the US prison system.

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) Congress is more diverse now than it’s ever been. However, when Chisholm was attempting to shatter the glass ceiling, the same couldn’t be said. During the racially contentious period in the late ’60s, she became the first Black woman elected to Congress. She represented New York’s 12th District from 1969 to 1983, and in 1972, she became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Her campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed” rings even louder today. Senator Kamala Harris recently paid tribute to Chisholm in her presidential campaign announcement by using a similar logo to Chisholm’s.

Carol Moseley Braun (1947-) was elected in 1992 to represent Illinois in the US Senate. She was the first Black women elected to the US Senate, the first Black US Senator from the Democratic Party, the first woman to defeat an incumbent US Senator in an election, and the first female US Senator from Illinois.

Claudette Colvin (1939-)

Before Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, there was a brave 15-year-old who chose not to sit at the back of the bus. That young girl was Colvin. Touting her constitutional rights to remain seated near the middle of the vehicle, Colvin challenged the driver and was subsequently arrested. She was the first woman to be detained for her resistance. However, her story isn’t nearly as well-known as Parks’.

Annie Lee Cooper (1910 – 2010)

The Selma, Alabama, native played a crucial part in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement. But it wasn’t until Oprah played her in the 2014 Oscar-nominated film, Selma, that people really took notice of Cooper’s activism. She is lauded for punching Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark in the face, but she really deserves to be celebrated for fighting to restore and protect voting rights.

 Dorothy Height (1912 – 2010)

Hailed the “godmother of the women’s movement,” Height used her background in education and social work to advance women’s rights. She was a leader in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for more than 40 years. She was also among the few women present at the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Bessie Coleman (1892 -1926)

Despite being the first licensed Black pilot in the world, Coleman wasn’t recognized as a pioneer in aviation until after her death. Though history has favored Amelia Earhart or the Wright brothers, Coleman—who went to flight school in France in 1919—paved the way for a new generation of diverse fliers like the Tuskegee airmen, Blackbirds, and Flying Hobos.

Ethel Waters (1896 – 1977)

Waters first entered the entertainment business in the 1920s as a blues singer, but she made history for her work in television. In addition to becoming the first African American to star in her own TV show in 1939, The Ethel Waters Show, she was nominated for her first Emmy in 1962.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

Today, Brooks is considered to be one of the most revered poets of the 20th century. She was the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for Annie Allenand she served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, becoming the first Black woman to hold that position. She was also the poet laureate of the State of Illinois, and many of her works reflected the political and social landscape of the 1960s, including the civil rights movement and the economic climate.

Alice Coachman (1923 – 2014)

Growing up in Albany, Georgia, the soon-to-be track star got an early start running on dirt roads and jumping over makeshift hurdles. She became the first African American woman from any country to win an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. She set the record for the high jump at the Games, leaping to 5 feet and 6 1/8 inches. Throughout her athletic career, she won 34 national titles—10 of which were in the high jump. She was officially inducted into the National Track-and-Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame

Jane Bolin (1908 – 2007)

A pioneer in law, Jane Bolin was the first Black woman to attend Yale Law School in 1931. In 1939, she became the first Black female judge in the United States, where she served for 10 years. One of her significant contributions throughout her career was working with private employers to hire people based on their skills, as opposed to discriminating against them because of their race. She also served on the boards of the NAACP, Child Welfare League of America, and the Neighborhood Children’s Center.

Maria P. Williams (1866 – 1932)

Thanks to the early accomplishments of Williams, as the first Black woman to produce, write, and act in her own movie in 1923, The Flames of Wrath, we have female directors and producers like Oprah, Ava DuVernay, and Shonda Rhimes. Beyond film, the former Kansas City teacher was also an activist, and detailed her leadership skills in the book she authored, My Work and Public Sentiment in 1916.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945 – 1992)

Before the Netflix documentary brought Johnson’s story to life with the documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson by David France, many people were unfamiliar with the influential role she had on drag and queer culture. Johnson, a Black transwoman and activist, was at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. In addition to being the co-founder of STAR, an organization that housed homeless queer youth, Johnson also fought for equality through the Gay Liberation Front.

Minnie Riperton (1947 – 1979)

Mariah Carey is heralded for her whistle register, which is the highest the human voice is capable of reaching. But Riperton perfected the singing technique years before and was best known for her five-octave vocal range. The whistling can be heard on her biggest hit to date, “Lovin’ You.” The infectious ballad was originally created as an ode to her daughter, Maya Rudolph, of Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live fame. However, before she could become a household name, she died in 1979 at the age of 31 from breast cancer.

Mae Jemison (1956 – )

Mae Jemison wasn’t just the first African American woman who orbited into space aboard the shuttle Endeavour. She’s also a physician, teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer, and president of tech company, the Jemison Group. She continues to work towards the advancement of young women of color getting more involved in technology, engineering, and math careers.

Rose Marie McCoy (1922 – 2015)

McCoy’s name may not be instantly recognizable, but she wrote and produced some of the biggest pop songs in the 1950s. In an industry dominated by white males, McCoy was able to make her mark through her pen, even if she couldn’t through her own voice. Her songs, “After All” and “Gabbin’ Blues” never quite took off on the charts, but she was courted by music labels to write for other artists, including hit singles for Big Maybelle, Elvis Presley, and Big Joe Turner. So now when you hear Presley’s “Trying to Get You,” you’ll remember the name of the African American woman who wrote it.

Ella Baker (1903-1986)

Baker was an essential activist during the civil rights movement. She was a field secretary and branch director for the NAACP and also co-founded an organization that raised money to fight Jim Crow Laws. Additionally, Baker was a key organizer for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). But what was perhaps her biggest contribution to the movement was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which prioritized nonviolent protest, assisted in organizing the 1961 Freedom Rides, and aided in registering Black voters. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights exists today to carry on her legacy

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)

After being diagnosed with cervical cancer at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951, a sample of Lacks’s cancer cells were taken without her consent by a researcher. And though she succumbed to the disease at the age of 31 that same year, her cells would go on to advance medical research for years to come, as they had the unique ability to double every 20-24 hours. “They have been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and played a crucial role in the development of the polio vaccine,” Johns Hopkins said.

In 2017, Oprah starred in and executive produced HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, adapted from the book by Rebecca Skloot.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black female doctor in the United States. After attending the prestigious Massachusetts private school West-Newton English and Classical School, she worked as a nurse for eight years until applying to medical school in 1860 at the New England Female Medical College. She was accepted and would go on to graduate four years later. Though little is known of her career, PBS reported that she worked as a physician for the Freedman’s Bureau for the State of Virginia. She later practiced in Boston’s predominantly Black neighborhood at the time, Beacon Hill, and published A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts.

Ethical Holiday Shopping

Emily Wegenke, MSW Intern

When the holiday season rolls around, we often rush to big box stores to purchase gifts or turn to Amazon for the quick gift. This holiday season let’s try to support companies that are dedicated to making the world a better place. The provided list included companies who create products that support non-profits or leave a small carbon footprint. 


Looking for a stocking stuffer that gives back? This company’s mission is to breakdown shame around bodies and reproductive health. Each purchase works towards equity for bodies who have periods. The company works to address discriminatory policies for menstruation. 


Happy Earth 

Has someone in your life expressed interest in helping the environment? As a Certified B company, they meet the highest standards of social and environmental impact. They put the earth first and donate back their profits to fight climate change, planting trees, and cleaning up trash from the ocean. You can purchase reusable silverware and straws! 



This is a great place to shop for the fashion lover in your life. A clothing company that is dedicated to utilizing safe factories that pay their workers living wages. The company only occupies factories that receive a 90% rating or higher for safety. Avoiding fast fashion is their goal which is why they include a cost breakdown of their products on the website. 



This is a perfect gift to someone who enjoys comfy clothes and giving back. As a Certified B company, they are dedicated to upholding their one-to-one policy. This means that for every product purchased a product is donated. The company has created 3,5000+ partnerships across the country. This has led them to donate over 50 million items for people facing homelessness. 



For the person in your life who is always cold or loves to be outside. A luxury brand that is committed to protecting the earth. This company made numerous pledges to support the environment and has openly objected politicians who support the use of fossil fuels. On their website they have a section where shoppers can purchase previously owned clothes to reduce clothing waste. They have also made videos to explain how to repair different products to prolong their life. 


Steeped Coffee

The perfect gift for the coffee lover in your life. A simple cup of coffee just needs a hot cup of water, and the coffee bag is added to the cup. Their products are created so the next generation of coffee drinkers won’t see the effects on the planet. Biodegradable coffee bags and no additional appliances simplifies the morning routine for coffee lovers. They ethically source their coffee products using the minimum Fair-Trade minimums. 


Self-Care is for Everyone

This is a great gift for the person in your life who needs a reminder to take time for themselves. Self-care isn’t selfish, but often hard to do in our society. The company does not keep back stock of their products. To reduce their footprint, they make the product when it is ordered online. Their website also has ideas for self-care and journal prompts. 10% of net profits are donated to prevent suicide. When purchasing products from their suicide line, 100% of net profits are donated to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 


This post is not sponsored by any of the above companies.

Coping with the holidays

The holidays are an exciting time of good cheer, warm family traditions, and spending time with friends. Or, are they?

The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands — cooking meals, shopping, baking, grief, being with family who have differing beliefs, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. And with COVID-19, you may be feeling additional stress, or you may be worrying about your and your loved ones’ health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Something sets you off, and before long, you feel stuck in an endless loop of intrusive thoughts, anger, or being overwhelmed. Your body tenses, your breathing quickens, and you can hear your heartbeat pounding in your ears.

When you feel anxiety kick in like this, it’s time to calm yourself down. The first step is awareness. It’s a good idea to learn to recognize the first signs of anxiety and get to work right away before experiencing an episode.

Some of these strategies may feel difficult the first few times you try them, but with some practice, they can offer a quick path to relief from your feelings of anxiety.


One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. It may sound basic, but basic is great when managing anxiety symptoms.

Breathing deeply and slowly is key to experiencing the full benefits of it. It’s also a good idea to focus your thoughts on breathing and nothing else.

When we draw our attention to our breathing and really focus on it, the thoughts that trigger the anxiety start to become more distant, our heart rate slows, and we start to calm.

Some people find 4-6-8 breathing particularly effective.

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 6 seconds.
  • Exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel calmer.

Name what you’re feeling

When you’re experiencing an anxious episode, you may not realize what’s going on until you’re really in the thick of it.

Recognizing anxiety for what it is may help you calm down quicker.

Name that this is anxiety — not reality — and that it will pass. When you are in a heightened state of anxiety, you want to disrupt that cycle, and for some people, thought-stopping techniques are effective and as simple as saying ‘stop’ to the internalized messaging that heightens anxiety.

In other words, consider recognizing that what you’re feeling is anxiety and talking yourself through it.

Embrace absolute truths. Tell yourself “I will get through this — one way or another.”

Naming your sensations and feelings may help you step away from them. This is anxiety, it is not you and it won’t last forever.

Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique

When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety, the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique could help calm your thoughts down.

Here’s how it works:

  • Five. Look around the room, then name five things you see around you. These can be objects, spots on the wall, or a bird flying outside. The key is to count down those five things.
  • Four. Next, name four things you can touch. This can be the ground beneath your feet, the chair you’re sitting in, or your hair that you run your fingers through.
  • Three. Listen quietly, then acknowledge three things you can hear. These can be external sounds, like a fan in the room, or internal sounds, like the sound of your breathing.
  • Two. Note two things you can smell. Maybe that’s the perfume you’re wearing or the pencil you’re holding.
  • One. Notice something you can taste inside your mouth. Maybe that’s the lipgloss you’re wearing.

This technique works best if you pair it with deep, slow breathing.

Try the “File It” mind exercise

The “File It” technique works particularly well if you’re lying awake at night thinking of all the things you have to do or haven’t done, or if you’re rehashing something that happened during the day.

These are the steps for performing this exercise:

  1. Close your eyes and imagine a table with file folders and a file cabinet on it.
  2. Imagine yourself picking up each file and writing down the name of a thought that’s racing through your mind — for example, the fight you had with your spouse, the presentation you have to give tomorrow at work, or the fear you have of getting sick with COVID-19.
  3. Once the name is on the file, take a moment to acknowledge the thought and how important it is to you. Then, file it away.
  4. Repeat this process with every thought that pops into your head until you start to feel calmer (or sleepy.)

The idea with this exercise is that you’re taking a moment to name your triggers, examine them, and then consciously put them aside with a deadline to tackle them later. In other words, you’re validating your own feelings and making a plan to deal with them, one by one, when it’s a better time.

Hopefully these tips will help you through the upcoming holiday season!

As always, counseling is available at the Women’s Center. Please call 517-372-9163 to schedule an appointment.

Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

October 25, 2021

Chocolate is something we all crave and love, but just like most things in life, it comes with a price. This tasty treat is highly calorific, making it something we must eat in moderation to avoid any health concerns.

If you’re looking for an excuse to enjoy a sweet snack today, you’re in the right place. Although still highly calorific, dark chocolate is considered the ‘healthier’ type of chocolate. Read on to discover a few proven health benefits of dark chocolate.  

1. It May Improve Blood Circulation

In a study reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), it has been found that the consumption of dark chocolate may improve blood circulation. This is because the cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate help to maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation, which contributes to normal blood flow.

Although studies show that cocoa flavanols may improve blood circulation, the effects are usually mild, so don’t expect life-changing results after eating some dark chocolate. As great as that would be, the process is unfortunately a whole lot more complicated.

2. It Contains Magnesium

Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which is a mineral that your body needs for various different functions. Magnesium is most commonly known for contributing to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue and helping to maintain normal bones. It also plays an important role in metabolism, making it good for muscle function.

As you can see, magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs. You can meet your magnesium intake through a variety of different foods including leafy greens and fruit, but when you fancy a treat, dark chocolate provides the solution.

Some people choose to take magnesium supplements alongside a balanced diet to ensure they are reaching their daily magnesium intake. In the EU, the recommended daily intake for magnesium is 375mg, but this may differ outside of the EU.

3. Many Other Nutrients!

There’s a reason as to why dark chocolate is labelled ‘healthier’, and that’s because it contains quite a few different nutrients. As well as magnesium, dark chocolate contains zinc. Zinc is required for the normal functioning of your immune system. It also supports normal skin, hair and nails, which is why it is found in many cosmetic products.

Eat Dark Chocolate!

Extensive research has shown that dark chocolate has more health benefits than alternative sweet treats. But, while it does contain some health positives, it’s important to remember that dark chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Dark chocolate sold on the market is stacked with sugar, making it just as unhealthy as other chocolate treats. It’s wise to limit yourself to a small bit of chocolate every now and then, rather than over-indulging every single day.

To end this guide, here’s a top tip for you. When shopping for dark chocolate, look out for the cocoa content. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain. We recommend looking for anything above 70% cocoa content. Although it might be slightly more expensive, you can take comfort in knowing its chocolate of the best quality.

Inclusion Matters in Breast Cancer

By Emily Wegenke, MSW Intern

All people are at risk for being diagnosed with breast cancer, that is why an inclusive breast cancer awareness month is critical. Women of color have a heightened risk for being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, n.d.). Although white women are diagnosed at higher rates than women in the BIPOC community, Black women have a 31% mortality rate, this is the highest mortality rate of any racial group (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, n.d.). Why you may be asking? One reason is that BIPOC women are not screened as early as white women. This may be a result of lack of access to quality insurance or not knowing family history.

When a patient has a family history of breast cancer it is recommended that preventative screening starts five to ten years prior to the cancer diagnosis of a family member (Azu, 2019). For people who were adopted or do not know members of their family are unable to voice this concern to their medical team. Leading to women being diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages making treatment options more difficult. Utilizing universal screening earlier than the recommended age of 40 is a step to ensure that individuals malignant tumors are found at a treatable stage.

It can feel overwhelming to read about the barriers the BIPOC community faces for breast cancer. Take a deep breath. Advocating for yourself within a medical setting is the first step to ensuring early prevention for a possible cancer diagnosis. If your doctor is not willing to hear your concerns, it’s okay to ask to be referred to someone knew. Ultimately, you must feel comfortable when working with your oncology team.

For more information about the impacts of breast cancer on black women check out the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners website: https://www.bcpp.org/resource/african-american-women-and-breast-cancer/

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