In Honor of Black History Month, 25 Inspiring Quotes from Leaders Who've Helped Change the World

These men and women have inspired the world one accomplishment at a time

01 of 25
Oprah Winfrey, Soweto, South Africa - 29 Nov 2018
Themba Hadebe/AP/REX/Shutterstock

"Every time you state what you want or believe, you're the first to hear it. It's a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don't put a ceiling on yourself."

Oprah Winfrey

02 of 25
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

03 of 25
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

"When we're talking about diversity, it's not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us."

— Ava DuVernay

04 of 25
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

"Don't aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference."

— Denzel Washington

05 of 25
Tennis French Open, Paris, France - 29 May 2018

"I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger."

Serena Williams

06 of 25
'First Step Act' press conference, Washington DC, USA - 19 Dec 2018

"Go out there and swear to this world your oath, not with your words, but with what you do. Not with your hand over your heart, but with your hand outstretched to a world that desperately needs your hand, your help, your insights, your creativity, your honor, your courage. It needs you."

— Senator Cory Booker

07 of 25
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

"As Black women, we're always given these seemingly devastating experiences — experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as Black women is take the worst situations and create from that point."

— Viola Davis

08 of 25
Malcolm X
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time."

— Malcolm X

09 of 25
Shonda Rhimes
Teresa Kroeger/FilmMagic

"Dreams are lovely but they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

— Shonda Rhimes

10 of 25
Space Jam Premiere

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed."

— Michael Jordan

11 of 25
Toni Morrison Poses In Manhattan Apartment
Jean-Christian Bourcart/Getty

"Being a Black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn't limit my imagination; it expands it. It's richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I've experienced more."

— Toni Morrison

12 of 25
Premiere Of HBO's "The Defiant Ones" - Arrivals
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

"We never go backward. That's the plight of the human species, but also our privilege. So as always, a new equation will emerge, and that will be led by the artists and likely powered by them as well."

— Pharrell Williams

13 of 25
International Day of the Girl on NBC's Today Show, New York, USA - 11 Oct 2018
Michelle Obama. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

"When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed."

Michelle Obama

14 of 25
MLB Photos Archive
Photo File/MLB Photos/Getty

"Life is not a spectator sport. If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life."

— Jackie Robinson

15 of 25
Shirley Chisholm
Hulton Archive/Getty

"If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."

— Shirley Chisholm

16 of 25
Joe Pugliese/Netflix

"I'm hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter. That's what this world is about. You look at someone like Gandhi, and he glowed. Martin Luther King glowed. Muhammad Ali glows. I think that's from being bright all the time, and trying to be brighter."


17 of 25
20th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 20 Feb 2018
Jim Smeal/REX/Shutterstock

"I don't decide to play the characters I play as a political choice. Yet the characters I play often do become political statements. Because having your story told as a woman, as a person of color, as a lesbian, or as a trans person or as any member of any disenfranchised community is sadly often still a radical idea. There is so much power in storytelling and there is enormous power in inclusive storytelling and inclusive representations."

— Kerry Washington

18 of 25
James Baldwin

"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

— James Baldwin

19 of 25
70th Primetime Emmy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2018

"Humans have a light side and a dark side, and it's up to us to choose which way we're going to live our lives. Even if you start out on the dark side, it doesn't mean you have to continue your journey that way. You always have time to turn it around."

— Taraji P. Henson

20 of 25
AP Photo/Bill Ingraham

"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

— Muhammad Ali

21 of 25
34th Annual AWRT Gracie Awards Gala - Show
Jemal Countess/Getty

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

— Maya Angelou

22 of 25

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

— Colin Kaepernick

23 of 25
Aretha Franklin Performs At The Fox Theatre
Rick Diamond/Getty. Rick Diamond/Getty

"We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or white. It's our basic human right."

— Aretha Franklin

24 of 25
40th Kennedy Center Honors
Paul Morigi/Getty

"Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old shared a little of what he is good at doing."

— Quincy Jones

25 of 25
Photo Session with Comedian Richard Pryor
Bob Riha Jr/WireImage

"Two things people throughout history have had in common are hatred and humour. I am proud that I have been able to use humour to lessen people's hatred."

— Richard Pryor

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