‘You Are the Foundation Upon Which I Stand’: 30 Black Women on Their Role Models


I wouldn’t be the smart, sassy, and super ambitious woman I am without my mother, Mary Ann Wilson. That trifecta of qualities was then recognized and uplifted by a handful of Black women in the media industry, including the incomparable Jacklyn Monk, who is currently the managing editor at the Wall Street Journal Magazine. Her impact on my career is immeasurable, but she has also been a guiding light in my personal life. For that, and so much more, I’m grateful. —Julee Wilson, beauty director at Cosmopolitan Magazine

Amber: Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images
Alicia: Steve Granitz/Getty Images 

The first woman outside of my family who I remember admiring for her beauty, grace, and authenticity is Alicia Keys. Her piano talents moved me, her genuine personality inspired me, and her simply being a Black woman who looked like me made me realize that I too had a lot to love about myself as a Black girl. —Amber Stevens West, actress, who will star in Run the World on Starz this spring

Channing: Ernesto Distefano/Getty Images
Opal: Don Photography

The heroine that I am spotlighting is Mrs. Opal Lee, who is a civil rights icon from Texas. At 94 years young, she has spent her life in service of others. She has been the lifeblood of creating awareness about Juneteenth, which commemorates the day that enslaved people in Texas finally found out that they were free—two and a half long years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Opal Lee was a part of the fabric of my childhood, and she always felt larger than life when I would see her proudly walking at the head of the annual Juneteenth parade, leading it through the streets of Fort Worth. She is the reason that I was able to attend the Miss Juneteenth pageant, a scholastic beauty pageant for young Black women that my film is based on. It created an opportunity for the community to invest in these young women’s futures and inspired me by celebrating young women that looked like me with hope and optimism for their futures on their faces. Juneteenth is American history, and Opal Lee continues to work tirelessly in her mission to make Juneteenth a national holiday. —Channing Godfrey Peoples, writer, director, and producer of her feature film directorial debut, Miss Juneteenth

Andra: Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Billie: Bettmann/Getty Images 

Billie Holiday is one of the women who helped me to step into my potential. Hearing “Sugar” for the first time changed my very limited idea of what a great singer is and allowed me to eventually own my own voice and style. Hearing “Strange Fruit” for the first time stopped me in my tracks and helped me realize the power I’ve been endowed with as a black woman. —Andra Day, singer, songwriter, and actress starring in the lead role in The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Ego: NBC/Getty Images
Chinyere: Courtesy of Subject

My big sister, Chinyere, has always been an inspiration to me. Growing up in the same Nigerian American household, she made bold and unique choices that showed me just how endless my options truly were. An M.D. with an MBA and an MFA, she is a brave, brilliant woman who empowers those around her to walk in their own truth and pursue their passions unapologetically. —Ego Nwodim, actress and comedian on the cast of Saturday Night Live


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