Black History Month means looking at Black contributions throughout American history while also acknowledging and uplifting the Black Excellence of the future. Black leaders in media, communications, and advertising have jumped incredible hurdles throughout history. While the video above shares many more examples of Black excellence, the Black creatives below are shaping the industry in meaningful ways. These trailblazers of both past and present deserve amplification for their contributions, and we’ve compiled the stories of some powerful leaders below.
Dr. Jesse J. Lewis, Sr.
Dr. Jesse J. Lewis, Sr. has made history more than once, and continues to still at 97 years old. While perhaps most well-known for opening one of the first black-owned advertising agencies in the United States in 1954, he is also a World War II Veteran, College President, Author, Advertising Executive, and Newspaper Publisher. The agency Dr. Lewis founded, Jesse J. Lewis and Associates, was quickly followed by the founding of The Birmingham Times in 1963, a weekly, black-oriented newspaper that still exists to this day. Dr. Jesse J. Lewis’ entrepreneurial spirit has continued to serve him through many successful ventures throughout his life and continues to amplify Black voices nationwide.
With a career spanning more than seven decades, there are few who haven’t heard of this entertainment icon. Della Reese was an American jazz and gospel singer, actress, and ordained minister, who was not only one of the first Black talk show hosts, but also the first Black woman to host a national television variety-talk show in history when starring on The Tonight Show. Della Reese passed away in 2017, but her legacy as a top Billboard artist, TV star, and entertainer lives on.
Robert L. Johnson & Sheila Johnson
In the last 40 years, Black Entertainment Television (BET) has gained national recognition as the first TV station “that allowed Black people to see themselves, their stories, and their culture on television,” according to BET President Scott Mills. Since its foundation, BET has honored the rich contributions made by Black people throughout the generations by elevating and uplifting Black voices, talent, and excellence. As of 2015, more than 75% of American households receive the channel.
As potentially the most well-loved talk show host of all time, Oprah Winfrey needs no introduction. Despite an incredibly challenging upbringing, Oprah Winfrey has been named the most influential woman in the world, the richest Black woman of the 20th century, and a beloved household figure to millions. She has won many accolades throughout her decades-long career, and continues to inspire Black voices across the world.
Rashida Jones is not only the first Black woman to run a cable news network in history, but also well known for her award winning journalism, being an Emmy-award winner, and having been named one of the “Most Powerful People in New York Media”, in addition to a multitude of other awards. Rashida Jones is definitely a woman to watch in coming years as she excels in her media career.
Matterkind is committed to uplifting Black voices and amplifying under-represented groups. IMPACT, our employee led organization, works to promote and represent inclusion and diversity in our community. By addressing the challenges and opportunities for under-represented groups, through the lens of the adtech industry, we are determined to change today’s statistics and realize a truly diverse and inclusive world. Learn more about IMPACT here.