Celebrating Black Excellence
Feb 19, 2022 11:54:25 AM • Carly Hanellin
February is Black History Month. It is a time to celebrate Black voices & contributions throughout history into today. To celebrate, we asked all employees to share a Black chef, entrepreneur, artist, etc., who inspires them — take a look at their answers.👇
John F., Production Cook - I have nothing but respect for Rodney Scott in the culinary world. What he has gone through and achieved as an African American from the tiniest of towns and humblest beginnings in my home state SC — His cooking and love that shines through help define what American cuisine brings to the table, and those in tune with food and culture come to know the importance of this. He highlights southern BBQ and shows what it means to be a MASTER at it. I lived about an hour from his first BBQ stop off a road inherited by his parents, and now he's got unmissable restaurants in Charleston, SC; Birmingham, AL; and Atlanta. He's won James beard awards, notoriety in the news, and has one hell of an episode on Chef's Table. It's not just about the cuisine but the culture and credit to those who've built so much of it.
Sarah M., Director of Marketing - I have always loved Netflix CMO Bozoma Saint John. She excelled into an executive position (which is flooded with white males), and she did it by confidently being her whole ass TALENTED self. I aspire to match her energy and humor.
Spencer C., Product Operations Manager - It's Gil Scott-Heron for me! He's a legendary jazz/soul musician, poet, author and is considered to be a pioneer of modern rap. He also had a huge impact on civil rights and overall black empowerment.
Carlos V., CEO - Robert Smith is the CEO of Vista Equity Partners. In 2019, he paid off the student debts for all graduates at Morehouse. For me, it was less about the gift and more about making a statement that there is a financial and educational gap for most Black Americans in this country. What would happen if we came closer to leveling that playing field? He followed up in 2021 with the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), a nonprofit fund that aims to provide financial and career support for HBCU students. Smith contributed $50 million to the fund and it is designed in a way that repayments are paid forward to future students.
Helen L., Production Cook - As most people know about me - I'm pretty passionate about environmental change and recycling. One person I am impressed by is Derin Oyekan from Nigeria, who cofounded REEL paper products. It's made from 100% renewable bamboo shipped in 100% recycled cardboard boxes. Additionally, this company provides individual composting toilets to communities in Africa for each roll of toilet paper or paper towel sold.
Kyla H-Q, COO - Ferrari Shepherd is a Black American Artist. In his own words, he creates art, "celebrating the humanity of Black people in the Americas and within the diaspora." His art (which comes in many formats) is evocative and stunning. His latest painting exhibition is called Positions of Power and highlights those in Black communities that carried the burdens of the War on Drugs. The artist's statement reads, "the work in this show extracts the soft and unguarded moments from decades of tragedy, enshrining them in gold."
Dr. Lulu Nix
Nicole N., Founder & Chief Member Officer - I would like to recognize my husband's grandma, Dr. Lulu Nix. She is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to her commitment to giving back to the community. She co-founded Delaware Adolescent Program Inc. (DAPI), as well as Professional Counseling Resources, Inc., which together have raised over $30 million in federal grants for nonprofit organizations. She was also appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as the first Director of the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she oversaw millions of dollars in federal grants to nonprofit organizations around the country. She is 92 years old, still working, and still writing grants! Her commitment to continuing to make this world a better place for our youth is beyond amazing. I am so grateful for all that she has done and continues to do for our youth.
Tyrique H., Production Chef - Let's not forget the man, the myth, the convict himself: Akon. He's the King of R&B/rap style. He founded the Akon Lighting Africa Organization which teaches Africans is how to properly install and maintain solar panels in multiple countries including Guinea, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, and 13 more. He founded his booming cryptocurrency and coined the name Akoin. Akoin is a Stellar-based cryptocurrency, meaning it is entirely digital and designed to fuel rising entrepreneurs in Africa and beyond. Akoin has become so popular and well regulated that it will be used as a common medium of transfer between Africa's 54 countries (each with its own volatile currency) in hopes of stabilizing the African economy as a whole over the next few decades. Akon has had four songs certified as 3× platinum, three songs certified as 2× platinum, and more than ten songs certified as 1× platinum. He does this while holding the Guinness book of world records for quote "number one selling artist for master ringtones in the world." An absolute king.
Tim M., Corporate Executive Chef - Lewis Hamilton is the Tom Brady of an extremely niche sport: Formula 1 Motor Racing. His accomplishments should inspire anyone who values a strong work ethic, honorable intent, and rigorous excellence. His endeavors to encourage, support, and guide Black children into careers in STEM (so that they can reap the benefits of not just becoming a star race car driver, but being on the extremely important teams that design and build the cars themselves) is a lifetime accomplishment. He funded an almost year-long commission to produce a report on the current state of Black involvement in the motorsport world and design a system of programs to actively support increased access and excite youngsters about the power of engineering. The report is here, and following its publication, he spearheaded the activation of the solutions it outlined with his constant attention through his foundation and 33 million of his own dollars. He is also a champion for Black artists. He gave a talented group of young, Black fashion designers a seat at the table of the Met Gala this year. This is the type of exposure that instantly launches long-lasting careers that will, in turn, inspire future Black leaders to come. On and off the track, he's a true world leader.
Nancy L., People Operations Manager - Madame CJ Walker! She was a black entrepreneur in the early 1900s. She created a hair product line and grew that business to become one of America's first female millionaires. Netflix did a great mini-series on it that I really enjoyed!
Becky S., Project Manager - Lizzo released her first album in 2013 and has since become an icon with a wide range of audiences. Not only is she a talented vocalist, rapper, and songwriter, but she is a classically trained flutist. To me, she is an incredibly inspirational figure in body normativity, self-love, and busting down walls in the entertainment industry.
Bee M., Fulfilment Associate - bell hooks! Her work had such a huge impact on my studies and inspired me to minor in Gender and Women's studies in college. Though she passed in December, her words and legacy will live on forever.
Keri F., Member Engagement Manager - Megan Thee Stallion kills it for me. Besides just having finished her bachelor's degree in health administration, she partnered with Amazon Music to award two women of color pursuing an associate, bachelor, or post-grad degree in any field with a $10,000 scholarship. She also gave away 1 million dollars to support women-led businesses and organizations, with one of the recipients being the YWCA in her hometown of Houston. She's all about giving back, especially to her community.
Rudy B., Delivery Driver - Christiana Bannister was a local trailblazer for the homeless and enslaved in this area. Her name and legacy still mean a lot to people who have been on the streets and started over.
Erika R., Production Cook - John Africa is the founder of MOVE. The core belief was that all life was to be valued and cared for, including our own. MOVE created their own schools that practiced natural living, farming, and holistic medicine. In 1985, Philadelphia saw this as a dangerous group of revolutionaries and bombed their place of residence, killing 11 men, women, and children. I met the survivors at the 25 year anniversary and memorial. In the end, a few of us cooked and ate, and that's the first time I learned about veganism.
NaKeisha L., Member Services Specialist - This is my grandfather, Ray McDonald. He played two seasons in the NFL for the Washington Commanders (67-68). He was let go from the NFL after being outed as queer. He moved down to TX to live with family and spent the rest of his life as a middle school music teacher. He passed away in 1993 from complications from AIDS. His nickname was Thunder Ray, for his "thunder thighs and voice with a lightning smile." My middle name is Raychel, and it is truly an honor to carry on his name.
Ken T., Production Cook - Someone I've always found amazing and courageous was a 6-year-old little girl named Ruby Bridges. On November 14, 1960, flanked by US Marshalls, she broke New Orleans school segregation amid crowds of hateful protest and slurs. She inspired a Norman Rockwell painting, and she still fights for civil rights today.
John S., Delivery Driver - Viola Davis! Growing up in Central Falls, she was an inspiration to me & my high school peers. Great to see someone from the same city make it & achieve success.
Jeremey F., Fulfillment Supervisor - Rhode Island's own Viola Davis! A true icon!
Rosie S., Operations Manager - Althea Gibson was a total badass in paving the way for black females in the sports world. Her accomplishments on the court are inspiring. Not only was she the first black female to win Wimbledon, but she was also the first black woman to be on the LPGA tour.
James K., Digital Content Editor - I would have to say Kobe. Growing up a sports fan, I looked up to a number of athletes. However, Kobe personified work ethic and competitiveness more than anyone else. He was the ultimate competitor. He was someone who reached the apex of his career on sheer drive and discipline. He sustained that same career by adapting to the inevitabilities of age. He showed us that hard work and determination will always produce positive results throughout life's varying challenges. RIP Mamba.
Rob G., Chef de Cuisine - I love Reggae because of Bob Marley. Not only did he bring Reggae's music to a whole other level, but the lyrics of his songs meant a lot. He changed music as a whole. He used his music as a movement. He brought love and peace to all of his music and performances. He faced racism from both Black and white folks because he was British and Jamaican. The Jamaican did not accept him because he was not one of them. He took that hate and turned it into love and great music.
Thomas S., Fulfillment Associate - Berry Gordy founder of Motown records...for bringing some much-needed soul to popular music - a universal language.
Carly H., Content Manager - Janelle Monae's a woman of many talents and uses them SO well. She's a singer, songwriter, producer, activist, and actress. Most of her music concepts reinforce the idea that we can break down racism and the patriarchy AND do it while being badass women making a mark in the world. She also decided to create her own record company called Wondaland records. In her own words, this is why she started it, "After seeing there was a big absence of female entrepreneurs in the music industry who understand how to develop and market innovative artists, artists who truly care about the community, and redefining the creative waters in the music industry." Also, if you haven't seen Antebellum, this was her first major role in a movie, and she does a fantastic job! I love everything about her and definitely feel inspired by her work.
Toni P., Garde Manger - Gordon Parks was an author and a well-known photographer. His work is best remembered and respected for showcasing the lives of impoverished Black Americans in the 1940s. These were taken for a federal government project. He bought his first camera for $12.50 out of a pawnshop and taught himself how to take photos. One of the several books he wrote was titled "A Choice of Weapons." Meaning his camera was the ticket out of the ghetto and a way to expose the racial injustices of those segregated times.
Antonio F., Digital Content Producer - Roberto Clemente, still considered one of the best baseball players in history, was so much more than an athlete. He was the first Puerto Rican inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; his charity work outside of the field truly put him in the spotlight as someone who cared about his community and those around him.
In December 1972, a massive earthquake hit Nicaragua's capital city, and Roberto Clemente immediately started arranging emergency relief flights to aid those affected. He decided to accompany the fourth relief flight leaving from Puerto Rico on New Year's Day. Unfortunately, this flight never made it to its destination, and Clemente's body never recovered. However, his skills on the baseball field granted him many accolades. He had over 300 batting average and 3,000 hits during his MLB career. He also was the only documented walk-off inside-the-park grand slam in modern baseball history. His philanthropic ventures still live on in the many charities he helped set up. There's a Roberto Clemente Award (originally the Commissioner's Award), which was renamed after Clemente's death. It's a way to acknowledge players who show tremendous skill in the sport and go beyond the boundaries of sportsmanship into community involvement and contributions to charity and philanthropic work.