Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for acknowledging their central role in U.S. history. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976 and since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The Black History Month 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” explores the African diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States. As we head into this month, we’re taking time to reflect and recognize the heritage, accomplishments, and culture of African Americans in the United States.

While Black history deserves much more than just a month-long celebration, Black History Month is a time to spread awareness and seek out stories and histories that often go overlooked.

At SimplyFun, we are highlighting a few of the many important individuals who have made a positive and often groundbreaking difference in the world. From poets and teachers to astronauts and mathematicians, we loved learning more about these four impactful individuals who enriched their fields, the country, and the world.

Please join us in commemorating the incredible work of not only these four, but countless Black people before us, and look brightly ahead to the contributions to come.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison – a novelist, poet, editor and college professor, Morrison is one of the most celebrated authors in the world. In addition to her success in writing plays and children’s books, her novels have earned her countless awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. As the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, her work has and continues to inspire. As the first Black woman Senior Editor in the fiction department at Random House, she played a vital role in bringing Black literature into the mainstream. In 2020, the year following her death, Morrison was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Learn more about Toni Morrison’s awe-inspiring life, here.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks – an American poet, author, and teacher, Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She began writing poems at a young age and started submitting them to various publications; at age 13 she published her first poem, “Eventide”, in a children’s magazine, American Childhood. By the age of 16, she had already written and published approximately 75 poems. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950, making her the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize.

A lifelong resident of Chicago, she was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position she held until her death 32 years later. She was also named the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for the 1985–86 term. In 1976, she became the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Learn more about Gwendolyn Brooks’ influential life, here.

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison – an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut, Jemison became the first Black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. She holds degrees in both chemical engineering as well as African and African American studies from Stanford University and earned her medical degree from Cornell University.

Also passionate about dance, Jemison learned several styles of dance in her youth, including ballet, jazz, and modern dance. She joined the Peace Corps in 1983 where she served as a medical officer and worked with the Centers for Disease Control helping research vaccines.

Jemison settled in Los Angeles, California and entered into private practice while also taking graduate level engineering courses. The flights of Sally Ride and Guion Bluford inspired Jemison to apply to the astronaut program and in 1987. She was chosen out of 2,000 applicants to be one of the fifteen people in the NASA Astronaut Group 12. After leaving NASA, she spent time as a college professor and founded a consulting firm. She also wrote several children’s books and launched science camps. Jemison holds several honorary doctorates and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. Learn more about Mae Jemison’s incredible life and career, here.

Annie Easley

Annie Easley – an American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist. Easley was one of the first African Americans to work as a computer scientist at NASA. She was hired as one of four African Americans of about 2500 employees at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. She began her career as a mathematician and computer engineer. Annie continued her education while working for the agency. In 1977 she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Cleveland State University.

Annie developed and implemented computer code that analyzed alternative power technologies and supported the Centaur high-energy upper rocket stage. She determined solar, wind and energy projects, and much more! Annie was a force for employment equality and helped address issues of gender, race and age discrimination in the workplace. She is best known for her determination and discipline, kindness and generosity. Learn more about Annie Easley’s trailblazing career, here.

What are you doing to celebrate and recognize Black History Month this year?