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HBCU Made: 15 Powerful Changemakers Who’ve Attended HBCUs

Historically Black colleges and universities have always been a space to cultivate talent. Not just in sports or entertainment, but as world figures, thought leaders and revolutionaries. In celebration of Black excellence, we’re spotlighting 15 activists, changemakers and innovators who have made a tremendous impact in our community and the world, and are proud products of HBCUs.

These ground breakers are a testament to the power of an HBCU education and its impact in producing some of the biggest changemakers in American history. After all, when you have the power of an amazing education under your belt — there’s almost nothing that can stop you from shifting culture.

Check out these trailblazers and their amazing accomplishments below.

Kamala Harris, California senator and Howard alumna, made history in 2020 as the first woman of color to run as a VP on a major presidential ticket.

1. Toni Morrison

The legendary author, known for her Pulitzer prize winning novel Beloved and her best selling books, including The Bluest Eye, graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in English.

2. Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King is probably one of the most influential and legendary people on this list and in history. The reverend and activist attended Morehouse College and graduated in 1948.

3. Alice Walker

The poet and actress, known for her novel The Color Purple, attended Spelman College. The book also won her the National Book Award for hardcover fiction as well as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

4. Kamala Harris

California senator Kamala Harris and Howard alumna made history when she accepted the nomination as Joe Biden’s Vice President in the 2020 Presidential election, making her the first woman of color to run as a VP on a major presidential ticket.

5. Oprah Winfrey

The product of Tennessee State University, Oprah Winfrey has broken numerous barriers in the entertainment industry as one of most successful hosts of a syndicated television talk show: the first Black woman to own her own production company, Harpo Productions, as well as the creator of her own television network, OWN.

6. Jesse Jackson

The politician began his career in activism while attending North Carolina A&T. He even participated in marches and boycotts with Dr. Martin Luther King during his college years.

7. Nupol Kiazolu

Nupol Kiazolu is an activist, organizer, and the president of Black Lives Matter Greater New York. A junior at Hampton University, she has dedicated herself and her platform to uplifting the Black community and fighting for justice for those affected by our criminal justice system.

8. John Thompson

Thompson, who currently serves as the chairman of Microsoft, received his bachelors in business from Florida A&M in the early 70’s.

9. Rosalind Brewer

The Sam’s Club CEO is the first Black woman to hold a position at Wal Mart Inc. She earned her bachelor’s in chemistry at Spelman University.

10. Booker T. Washington

The great thinker and educator is one of the most notable alumni that any HBCU could have. He attended Hampton University (then known as Hampton Institute) before graduating in 1875.

11. Thurgood Marshall

Marshall, who made history as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in United States history, attended Lincoln University and Howard University in the late 1920’s. His classmates included historical figures like Langston Hughes and Cab Calloway.

12. Langston Hughes

The famous poet and civil rights activist became the face of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s after his tenure at Lincoln University.

13. Katherine Johnson

The mathematician and computer scientist, who was a part of the all-male flight research division of NASA and famously calculated the flight trajectory for Apollo 11’s moon flight in 1969, attended West Virginia University. Her character was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the film Hidden Figures.

14. Ed Bradley

The television correspondent attended Cheyney State College in Pennsylvania. Bradley became the first Black journalist to cover the White House and went on to win 19 Emmy Awards as a correspondent for 60 Minutes before his death in 2006.

15. Ruth Carter

Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter has led the costume direction for some of the most iconic films, including School Daze, Malcolm X, and Black Panther. The Hampton University alum has also collaborated with major brands like H&M.

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