For Black History Month, Keke Palmer, Sheryl Lee Ralph and More Honor Living Legends Who Changed Their Lives

Contemporary stars pay tribute to Black icons who are still blazing trails, from Denzel Washington to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the pages of this week's PEOPLE

01 of 12

Angela Bassett

Black History Month rollout
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Which one word should I use? Her "radiance"? Her "brilliance"? Her "longevity"? Her "positivity"? And the fact that she is not only someone who is brilliant with how she works, but she is continuing to give back and uplift and not — as Michelle Obama says — to close the door behind her as she walks through it. She's leaving that door open and not only welcoming but encouraging and pushing younger talent through, and younger girls through, and building them up. — Audra McDonald, six-time Tony winner

02 of 12

Denzel Washington

Black History Month rollout
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I think of Glory. I think of his portrayal of Malcolm X. I think of Man on Fire. There's so many things, all the way to The Equalizer. You see so many different performances and his embodiment of a character and his unwavering resolve to be true to his character and also make an entertaining movie. That's something I absolutely love and I'm grateful to have witnessed. — Jay Ellis, actor, Top Gun: Maverick

03 of 12

Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones

Black History Month rollout
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When it comes to music, I think about people like Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder; people who are a huge influence of mine, who I'm also able to count as friends now in my life, which is a kind of pinch-me moment. These are people I looked up to over the years and idolized over the years. They are mentors to me, but they're also people who have influenced the way I think about who I want to be in the world and how I want to use my celebrity. — John Legend, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner

04 of 12

Whoopi Goldberg

Black History Month rollout

You know Whoopi for her stand-up comedy. You know her from The Color Purple. She can do Jumpin' Jack Flash; she can do her one-woman Broadway piece; she can do Till. She's the jester and the king too — someone who is un-bounded. She's an outlaw woman. As long as she has been a part of Till [she plays Alma Carthan, the mother of Deadwyler's character, Mamie Till], she was behind me. There's an image [in the movie] of Alma putting her hand on Mamie's shoulder. That's who Whoopi has been for me — for everyone. — Danielle Deadwyler, actress, Till

05 of 12

Queen Latifah

Black History Month rollout
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She has made such a personal impact on my life. Knowing her and her encouraging me throughout my career — that has been something I have taken throughout my life. Queen Latifah [inspired me by] talking about her work ethic. She always has said that's the difference. You work for it. You stay consistent, and you give everything you have in everything you do. Sometimes in acting you can get wrapped up in what's trending or how to stay on top or be popular, and it's really not about any of those things. To be an actor, to be an artist, is to do [the work], and I think that has always kept me on track. — Keke Palmer, actress, Nope

06 of 12

Alicia Keys

Black History Month rollout
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She is one of the most inspiring for me because of her musicianship and her bravery, as far as her truths and just being who she is. And [growing up], I didn't see any [other] Black women playing piano and singing, and that was a big deal for me. So yeah, she inspires me even still to this day. [To perform with her] was a dream come true. It's crazy to me because I was singing her songs when I was a little girl. — HER, Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter

07 of 12

Harry Belafonte

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He is still here, still alive, still making a difference, still using his words, his mind, his spirit, his past, his whole essence to continue to encourage young people while leaving a legacy for those who are not born yet. So I say, "Thank you, Harry Belafonte." And he's my daughter's godfather, so we love him! — Sheryl Lee Ralph, Emmy winner, Abbott Elementary

08 of 12

George C. Wolfe

Black History Month rollout

George C. Wolfe is a living archive. He is a cultural commentator when it comes to his work as a playwright, a director for stage and film, and a producer. He curated the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. It was so elegantly, beautifully, voraciously done that by the time I finished the exhibit, I was in a puddle of tears. He leads with his intelligence. He is like a brother to me in this industry, and I know that I'm truly standing on his broad shoulders. — Colman Domingo, Emmy winner, Euphoria

09 of 12

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Barack Obama

Black History Month rollout
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I'm going to start with my [Los Angeles Lakers] teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the things he's done to change the world, to change sports and to change life for minorities.[In addition to his NBA accomplishments, he's written several books on Black history and served as an official U.S. cultural ambassador.] And President Barack Obama with [his community outreach program] My Brother's Keeper, which is making sure that men of color are getting a math and science education and making sure they know how to read and write before the third grade. Because if you don't get them before the third grade, they're in trouble. There's so many people who have touched me and who are helping those who are poor. That's what it's all about. — Magic Johnson, NBA icon

10 of 12

Ben Vereen

Black History Month rollout

He was the original lead in [the 1972 Broadway musical] Pippin, the first production of Pippin I ever saw. That play, that show, made me want to be an actor. I never got to tell him [when he guest-starred on The Good Fight], just like I didn't get to tell [The Good Fight guest star] Louis Gossett Jr. what he meant to me. But there are people who walk into a room, there are certain actors who walk onto a set, and everyone just applauds. And those gentlemen fit that bill. — Michael Boatman, actor, The Good Fight

11 of 12

Jessica B. Harris

Black History Month rollout
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People know her from High on the Hog, the show on Netflix. Jessica has been doing all of this work. [She's written a dozen books, spent decades as a journalist, and taught at New York City's Queens College.] We start celebrating people in the industry at like 90 or 95, or when we lose them, after their lives are over. Jessica Harris is somebody we have to celebrate while she's here, to get that knowledge and experience to talk about food and travel and the Afro Caribbean culture. — Carla Hall, chef and TV personality

12 of 12

Andre Braugher

Andre Braugher
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I've spent time with him on [The Good Fight] set and then off set and talked to him about acting, talked to him about life, talked about storytelling, the creative process. I learned so much from him. I learned to keep asking questions until you find what is the key center of the scene. And that's been amazing for me. And then to watch his work back? He's incredible. His sense of humor, his professionalism, all of those things. I look at him as somebody who I hope, as I continue to grow in this business, to have half the career of a man like this. It's been a blessing. — Nyambi Nyambi, actor, The Good Fight

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