Legends Who Led the Way: Serena Williams, H.E.R. and More Black Celebs on Trailblazers in Their Fields
Entertainers, innovators and changemakers pay tribute to those who inspired them and continue to light the path for others
GMA's Robin Roberts
"Robin is strong, inspirational, kind — and has opened up so many doors for the little girls who watched her then, hoping to make their own mark, and those who watch her now on Good Morning America." —WNBA star Candace Parker
Actor Sidney Poitier
“He was a trailblazer early in the business, and he paved the way for people like me to exist. He laid the law down early and didn’t take no for an answer, and, at a time when the odds were stacked against him, he persevered." —actor LaKeith Stanfield
Tennis Player Zina Garrison
“[When people ask me who inspired me], I always say Zina Garrison. She was an African-American tennis player and — at the time — one of only a handful of Black people [competing professionally]. Man, I just loved seeing her win!" —tennis star Serena Williams
Food Historian Jessica B. Harris
"Because of her, I started to look at my food very differently — thinking outside of just the South and slaves and soul food, to the Creole Coast, the North and the Western range — a vast and diverse influence that is a big part of American history." —chef Carla Hall
Musician Lauryn Hill
“Lauryn tapped into her own truth and expressed that in a way that nobody else could. She gave voice to the voiceless, which is an inspiration to me because that’s something I also strive to do." —musician H.E.R.
Congressman Andrew Young
"To know that Andrew Young was a friend and counsel to [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] — there’s so much knowledge to gain from heroes like him. He’s an inspiration." —NBA star Chris Paul
Singer Mary Wilson
"Mary was an icon in my house because she epitomized style, taste and class. I met her in person in 2019, and that was a very scary moment. They always say never meet the people you look up to, but I can tell you she lived up to the hype." —Queer Eye's Karamo Brown
Businessman George E. Johnson Sr.
"Because he was willing to use Black law firms, accounting firms, marketing and advertising agencies, he developed the ecosystem, creating true wealth in the Black community, in Chicago and nationally. That’s why he’s my hero: He showed me you can not only create a business built on excellence, but also give back to the community.” —businessman John W. Rogers Jr.
Writer Toni Morrison
“Toni Morrison is the literary mother of every Black writer — we who yearn to be worthy of walking in her shadow, though we know full well that anyone who loves language is her heir, that she belongs to the world far beyond ourselves." —writer Isabel Wilkerson
Singer Charley Pride
"Over the years of me trying to do things I was told I couldn’t or shouldn’t do, I always looked to Charley as a reason to say, ‘Yes, I can.’ When I got a record deal and realized I was going to have a shot, I said to myself, ‘No matter what happens, I can handle it, because it’s nothing compared to what Charley went through.’ " —singer Darius Rucker
Activist Yvonne Lee
"In 1961, at the age of 15, [my grandmother] became the first Black student to integrate Seacrest High School. She went on to become an impactful educator and teacher in our local school system for over 45 years. Her fearlessness is inspiring, her positivity is infectious and her tenacity has taught me to never give up." —tennis star Coco Gauff
Music Manager Clarence Avant
"[My father's] activism was about everybody. He always told me, ‘Don’t you dare talk about justice and equality for women or Black people then not apply it to others [who need it]. There’s no justice and equality in that.’ " —producer Nicole Avant
Boxer Muhammad Ali
"Muhammad Ali was the one who taught me how to work the fans and the media, to have charisma and promote myself. Without him, there would be no Shaquille O’Neal.” —basketball star Shaquille O'Neal
Former First Lady Michelle Obama
"Representation matters—kids looked at her and said, ‘If she can be there, then I can too.’ From the way she pushed boundaries to how she inspired young people to eat better and exercise, she changed so many lives." —gymnast Simone Biles
Lawyer Nina Shaw
"She is at the forefront of some of the biggest issues that are facing women and people of color in our industry. Yet when I’m talking to Nina, it is as if she’s sitting by the phone waiting for my call. She’s guided me, she’s guarded me and she’s a blessing to me." —director Ava DuVernay
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