Chicago based non-profit, The HistoryMakers, recently organized classroom visits from influential African Americans across the country to schools across the nation. Designed to showcase a model for success among African-Americans, more than 400 “HistoryMakers” encouraged and empowered D.C. students to aggressively reach for their goals.

History Maker standouts community leader Peggy
Cooper (left), and public relations guru Priscilla Clarke (right). (Courtesy Photos)

Industry standouts like community leader Peggy Cooper Cafritz, civil rights icon Ernest Green, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who spoke at a Baltimore school on Oct. 6, and public relations guru Priscilla Clarke were among the September 29 HistoryMakers opening the Back to School day of service.

The HistoryMakers’ Founder and Executive Director Julieanna Richardson told the AFRO that if the need to motivate and channel Black youth is not taken seriously, it could prove critical for society. “Our goal at The HistoryMakers is to be part of the solution, not the problem. We are committed to the notion that our nation’s youth, both minority and non-minority, will benefit from the stories of real world African-American high achievers who have overcome obstacles in their path to success,” Richardson said.

Particularly for African-American girls, the role of mentors and role models drastically reshapes career paths, life goals, and self-awareness. According to The Office of Juvenile Justice Programs, 87 percent of young women who attended mentoring programs went to college within two years of high school graduation; 52 percent were less likely to become pregnant during their teenage years; and 46 percent were less likely to use illegal drugs and alcohol.

HistoryMakers, in its promotion of resilient, intellectually savvy, and principled Black female leaders, according to Woodrow Wilson High School student Liana Ewell, has given voice to the accomplishments of Black women in the scheme of racial uplift that is often overlooked.

“When you think of Black history a lot of the focus is male and when you think of American women, the focus tends to be White, so the stories of Black women and girls – which don’t necessarily fit into either space – go unheard,” Ewell told the AFRO. “It’s important that we see ourselves represented fully in American history and I think having so many powerful Black women share their stories resets the boundaries for a lot of us . . . it shows that we can do it too.”

For HistoryMaker Priscilla Clarke, who spoke to students at Ward 8’s Anacostia Senior High, the goal was to inspire students to dream and introduce them to real people from diverse backgrounds and who have faced various challenges.

“I am honored to be a part of this platform that informs and educates our youth to achieve their goals. I am also extremely excited about the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the resources and historical knowledge it provides that can be shared with all generations,” Clarke told the AFRO. “I shared with the students how proud it makes you walking thru our doors of history at the national mall.”

Many of the barriers to Black female academic and economic success, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund and the National Women’s Law Center joint research “Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls,” are facilitated by longstanding structural barriers, but also by not being able to see the success they desire surrounding them. HistoryMakers answers that deficit past and present.

“Our girls need role models. They need to know that in every area of endeavor the Black women have achieved,” Richardson told the AFRO. “There is so much about the lived Black history experience that we still need to know about. The memories in The HistoryMakers Collection go back to the 1700s.”