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5 Notable Contemporary Figures You Need To Know About This Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, here are five notable contemporary figures you need to know about. 

  1. Lonnie G. Johnson  

Lonnie Johnson, age 74, is a former Air Force and NASA engineer, best known for inventing the Super Soaker water gun.  

Johnson holds a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering, an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering, and an honorary PhD in Science from Tuskegee University. He has worked as a research engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and later joined the United States Air Force, where he served as the Acting Chief of the Space Nuclear Power Safety Section at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in New Mexico.  

He also worked as a Senior Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and worked on the Galileo mission to Jupitor. He later returned to the Air Force and worked as an Advanced Space Systems Requirements Officer and the Chief of the Data Management Branch, SAC Test and Evaluation Squadron.  

Johnson also worked on the Mars Observer project for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he specialized in fault protection and ensuring spacecraft failures would not end in loss of the mission.  

He invented the Super Soaker water gun in 1989. Two years later, in 1991, it generated over $200 million in sales, becoming the number one selling toy in America. Johnson has authored several publications on spacecraft systems and is a successful business owner. Two of his companies are working on developing energy technology, including a new generation of rechargeable batteries.  

  1. Mellody Hobson  

Mellody Hobson, aged 54, graduated from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and is the President and Co-CEO of Ariel Investments, a global asset management company founded in 1983.  

As President and Co-CEO, Hobson’s responsibilities include all firm-wide management, such as strategic planning and growth, and research and portfolio management. Before becoming Co-CEO, she served as Ariel’s President for almost two decades. She also serves on the company’s board of trustees.  

Outside of her duties at Ariel Investments, Hobson is known for her work on financial literacy and investor education. She regularly contributes as an analyst to CBS News on finance markets and economic trends. She also provides money tips for the Tom Joyner Morning show and writes a column for Black Enterprise Magazine.  

With a passion for investor education, she is the spokesperson for the Ariel Black Investor Survey and the Ariel/Hewitt Study: 401(k) Plans in Living Color. Both are designed to examine minority investing patterns. 

  1. Ta-Nehishi Coates  

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a distinguished writer and journalist who has significantly influenced the national conversation about race, culture, and social justice. 

He authored the #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Between The World And Me. He also authored the bestselling books The Beautiful Struggle, We Were Eight Years in Power, and The Water Dancer. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2019, the same year that he released his first book, The Water Dancer.  

He also wrote the comic series Marvel’s Black Panther (2016-2021) and Captain America (2018-2021). Black Panther was America’s first mainstream black superhero. He first appeared in a 1996 issue of The Fantastic Four. Fast forward to 2016, Coates paired up with Illustrator Brian Stelfreeze to create a new comic series for the Black Panther. One of his stories, A Nation Under Our Feet, was nominated for a Hugo award for Best Graphic Story.  

Coates has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, working at publications such as The Washington City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice, Time, and The Atlantic. He has also been a guest contributor to The New York Times, O Magazine, and The Washington Monthly. According to Wikipedia, it was reported that as of 2021  he is currently working on a script for the new Superman film by Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films.  

  1. Luvvie Ajayi Jones 

Luvvie Ajayi Jones is known for her impactful work as an author, speaker, and digital strategist. Her commitment to using her platform for social change inspires us to speak out and act for justice. 

She is a four-time New York Times bestselling author, entrepreneur, and speaker on the topics of business, leadership, and culture. Books that she has authored included Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual (2021), Rising Trouble Maker: A Fear-Fighter Manual for Teens (2022), and I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual (2016). She has also released a children’s book titled Little Troublemaker Makes a Mess. It was released in May 2023 and debuted at #5 on the New York Times bestseller list.  

Jones’ success as an author inspired her to launch The Book Academy, a platform that allows others to publish their own books. She also hosts a podcast titled Professional Troublemaker where she speaks with other influential figures who have taken action and caused “good trouble.” Her TED talk, Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable, has been viewed over 9 million times. 

  1. Nikkole Hannah-Jones 

Nikkole Hannah-Jones is an investigative journalist and author. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and African-American studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters of Arts in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter specializing in racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine. Her writings offer a profound re-examination of the legacy of slavery in the United States. She is best known for her work on The 1619 Project, now a Hulu original docuseries. 

The 1619 Project book debuted at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. The ongoing initiative began in August 2019, marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. The goal of the project is to reframe history by placing the consequences of slavery at the center of the national narrative. It’s now a six-part docuseries on Hulu and has won an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.  

Jones is also the co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting at Morehouse College and founder of the 1619 Freedom school in Waterloo, Iowa (her hometown), a free after school literacy program. She also founded the Center for Journalism & Democracy at Howard University where she serves as the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism.  

She currently lectures all over the world on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and its legacy. 

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