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Inspirational Quotes by Trailblazing African-Americans

from our Optimisticles blog series

By Wes Kilgore, Well Beings

We’re closing out this Black History Month in a motivational mood. With a collection of uplifting quotes by defiant and adventurous African-Americans who stood before systems and institutions that had long denied them entry, and instead of throwing up their hands in resignation and asking “why?”, stepped boldly forward and said, “why not?”

Rita Dove – First African-American Woman Named Poet Laureate of the U.S. 

“Courage has nothing to do with our determination to be great.
It has to do with what we decide in that moment when we are called upon to be more.”


Gordon Parks – First African-American Director of a Major Hollywood Motion Picture

Gordon Parks

“I’ve known both misery and happiness, lived in so many different skins it is impossible for one skin to claim me.
And I have felt like a wayfarer on an alien planet at times – walking, running, wondering about what brought me to this particular place, and why.
But once I was here the dreams started moving in, and I went about devouring them as they devoured me.”


Jocelyn Elders – First African-American Surgeon General of the U.S.

Elbow Asleep In The Back Album Art

“I went to Washington, not to get that job but to do that job.
I wanted to do something about the problems that I saw out there that were happening in our country.
I wanted to do something to make sure that all people had access to health care.
I wanted to do something to reduce teenage pregnancies and begin to address the needs of our adolescents.”


Maurice Ashley – First African-American Grandmaster of Chess

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“Chess is like life.
To succeed in either one takes patience, planning, concentration, the willingness to set goals, and an inclination to see deeply into things.
You have to go for the thing beyond. Chess is about seeing the underlying reality.”


Zaila Avant-garde – Aspiring Professional Basketball Player, and First African-American to Win the Scripps National Spelling Bee

The Beatles Abbey Road Album Cover

“Basketball, I’m not just playing it….I’m really trying to go somewhere with it. Basketball is what I do.
Spelling is really a side thing I do. It’s like a little hors d’oeuvre.
But basketball’s like the main dish.”


Guion Bluford – First African American Astronaut

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“I chased my dreams.
In the end, find what gets you excited
and chase it.”


Barbara Hillary – First known African-American Woman to Reach the North Pole and the South Pole

Dionne Farris Wild See - Wild Flower Album Art

“Wouldn’t it be better to die doing something interesting
than to drop dead in an office and the last thing you see
is someone you don’t like?”


Claudette Colvin – Civil Rights Pioneer Who Was Arrested at Age 15 in 1955 for Resisting Bus Racial Segregation, Nine Months Before Rosa Parks

Claudette Colvin

“Whenever people ask me: ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you?’
I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder.”


About the Author

ee Dunning, author & psychotherapist providing crisis intervention

Wes Kilgore is a writer, musician and bon vivant based in the Washington, DC area, and the proud parent of two disturbingly well-adjusted young women and two borderline sociopathic Corgis.

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