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
"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
"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.
“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
"Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference."
— Denzel Washington
"I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger."
— Serena Williams
“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
"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
“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
"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
“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
“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
"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
"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
"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
"If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."
— Shirley Chisholm
"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."
“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
“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
— James Baldwin
"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
“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
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
— Maya Angelou
“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
“We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or white. It’s our basic human right.”
— Aretha Franklin
"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
"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