As we close out Black History Month and usher in Women’s History Month two beautiful women that impacted our lives recently made their transition and are no longer with us. Barbara Elaine Smith also known as B. Smith and Katherine Johnson, better known to some as the star of the movie Hidden Figures. March 8th is the day we celebrate International Women’s Day, so I wanted to celebrate these two firsts. Ms. Smith and Ms. Johnson left their stamp in very different ways, but both of these beautiful ladies made an impact not only here in the United States, but internationally.
Barbara Elaine Smith was best known as a restaurateur, lifestyle guru, and was one of the first African American models to be featured on the cover of “Mademoiselle” magazine. She helped break through barriers that helped open doors for other women of color working in the modeling industry. She was our Martha Stewart. I remember when I learned about who she was I was attracted to her beautiful smile and I had to visit her restaurant in Manhattan called, B. Smith’s. Later when I visited Sag Harbor I went to her restaurant there as well. Although I never met her personally, she touched me in such a way that showed me a role model who accomplished some of the things I tried and wanted to do. So, as you can imagine it was sad when I learned that she not only suffered with Alzheimer’s, but that at the still young age of 70 she succumbed to the disease. Before her death she collaborated on a book, “Before I Forget,” to share her fight against the disease and to provide practical advice for families and loved ones who may also suffer.
Katherine Johnson was the NASA mathematician who helped send the first United States astronauts into orbit and later to the moon. She lived over a century and now she is resting above the stars. She was known as a trailblazer in the quest for racial equality and for her work in the math and science world. She served as the inspiration for the lead character in “Hidden Figures” and has made many little girls of color seek an interest in the field of math and science. When she was making history, I was just being born. Her life and work have touched me personally because I have two very dear friends who have worked with her and have helped her story come to light. Because of the life and work of Ms. Johnson my childhood friend Dr. Yvonne Cagle became an astronaut and will speak at her memorial. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor and last year a NASA facility in West Virginia was renamed in her honor. Ms. Johnson happened to also be the first African American woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University so how appropriate. It warms my heart that she was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority where I am also a member.
The question I would ask is how do the lives and accomplishments of both Katherine Johnson and Barbara Elaine Smith help motivate you? I read that the two most important days of our lives are the day we were born and the day we come to learn why we were born. It is evident by their fruit that both of these ladies understood why they existed, and they lived their lives to the fullest. Let’s honor them and all women who came before us and helped pave the way by not wasting our lives. After all we have the next generation coming behind us that are looking to us as their example. This coming Sunday, March 8thlet’s celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women everywhere!
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