For most people, there has been an individual or two that influenced them—who inspire them to take a chance and to try and reach their dreams. From leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, to athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, these people were idolized, and many sought to be just as iconic. In celebration of this year’s black history month, here are two icons to for today’s youth to look up to.
Something many role models have in common is that they speak about the importance of hard work and determination. When looking at the Seattle Seahawks Linebacker Shaquem Griffin, he is someone who embodies hard work and perseverance, on a day to day basis. Shaquem was born on July 20, 1995, shortly after his twin brother, Shaquill. Though Shaquem was born with a condition called amniotic band syndrome, which lead to the amputation of his left hand, sports still consumed most of his time, and he did not allow his condition to hinder him. With the help of their father, Shaquem and his twin brother created a makeshift work out facility in their backyard, so they could practice every day. When it came time for college, scholarship offers flooded their mailbox, except almost all the offers were for Shaquill. Even though Shaquem performed well on the field, many scouts believed that due to him having one hand, he would be too much of a liability for a team to field him confidently. In response, the brothers reached out to all the schools who made an offer to Shaquill and said the brothers come as a package, together or not at all. After turning down many teams, they finally decided to take their talents to UCF. After an unsuccessful first season, Shaquem was demoted to a backup player, and again to a third-string player, but this didn’t scare him away from the sport he loved. He simply worked even harder and put even more time into his game, until a coaching change was made and Shaquem reappeared on the field. After college, the brothers continued to stick by each other’s side and were both ultimately drafted to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 NFL draft. Shaquem’s story is something many people can look at when they feel the odds are stacked against them and think if he can do it, so can I. He serves as a reminder that anything is possible if you put enough time into it, and never give up.
Another iconic person whose story can serve as an influence is Edmonia Lewis. It has been said that she was born on July 4, 1844, in Greenbush, New York. Edmonia was the daughter of an Afro-Haitian father, and a Mississauga Ojibwe and African American mother. Edmonia spent a lot of time learning how to weave and make other goods related to her mother’s Native American heritage. She also had a brother named Samuel from her father’s previous marriage. Unfortunately, by the age of 9, tragedy had already befallen the children when both of their parents died, so they were adopted by her maternal aunts. While living near Niagara Falls, Edmonia began using the weaving skills her mom taught her, to earn extra money. She made baskets, moccasins, and other Ojibwe goods and sold them to tourists passing through the area. Edmonia enrolled at New York Central College in 1856 but transferred to Oberlin College after 3 months. There she majored in art and was one of only 30 students of color, thus making her susceptible to discrimination. One incident that made her an enemy in the town was when she gave a drink to two of her friends, and they later fell violently ill. After this incident, she was not charged for any crime, but the people outside of the school felt that something should have happened. One night, a group of assailants attacked her in a field, beat her and left her for dead. Later local authorities arrested her and charged her for attempting to poison her friends. Fortunately, even with witnesses testifying against her, she was acquitted of any crime. This trial on its own though, opened her up to even more prejudice. Eventually, Edmonia was prohibited from registering for her last term because of an investigation on if she stole another student’s art supplies. She left the school, and subsequently became a sculptor, creating art inspired by civil war heroes, and the experiences she had as a child. Edmonia’s life shows how a person can succeed, even when many people are against you.
Be it an inspiring athlete, or the triumphant life of a Black artist, there are many Black idols for today’s children to look up to. Ultimately, it is important to take time during Black History Month to learn more about the different Black leaders and superstars that live to inspire.