Beyoncé's Black History Month Collage Teaches Us A Powerful Lesson

Queen Bey is honoring black icons you didn’t learn about in school.

Beyoncé remains the queen of poignant Black History Month moments. In 2016, she dropped her hit-single-turned-black-anthem “Formation.” In 2017, she revealed her pregnancy with Sir and Rumi Carter. And this year, she surprised us with a creative reminder to recognize the black history happening around us every day, with a photo collage on her website honoring 45 black men and women who have done and are doing amazing work in the black community.

The collage honors some well-known names in black history like Aretha Franklin, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou. It also features famous faces from today like Beyoncé’s sister, Solange; Emmy Award-winning producer Lena Waithe; and activists DeRay Mckesson and Janet Mock. And it features some people who you may not recognize ― but should definitely get to know.

There’s Glory Edim, the creator of Well-Read Black Girl, an online community that encourages literacy among young black women. There’s Kimberly Drew, a former art curator and social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and a style icon in her own right). There’s Iddris Sandu, a 21-year-old tech genius who created the algorithms for Instagram and Snapchat. There’s Mari Copeny, better known as Little Miss Flint ― a middle-schooler advocating for clean water in Flint, Michigan, and justice for American youth.

Not everyone featured in Beyoncé’s collage is a traditional activist. Some are writers like Tomi Adeyemi, author of Children of Blood and Bone, and Angie Thomas, author of the New York Times best-seller The Hate U Give. Some are young people, like 14-year-old actress Marsai Martin and 14-year-old author Marley Dias. Some are artists, like Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler, the creative forces behind the Oscar-nominated “Black Panther,” or chef Bryant Terry, or Brandan Odums, creator and curator of the art museum Studio Be in New Orleans.

A caption on Beyoncé’s website includes the full list of who’s who in the collage:

Pictured: Angie Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Aurielle Marie, Brandan “B-Mike” Odums, Brittany Packnett, Bryant Terry, Dara Cooper, Deray McKesson, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, Dr. Jessica Clemons, Glory Edim, Hannah Beachler, Iddris Sandu, Jackie Aina, James Baldwin, Janet Mock, Johnnetta Cole, Johnetta Elzie, Kenya Barris, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Kimberly Drew, Lena Waithe, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Malcolm X, Mari Copeny, Mariame Kaba, Marley Dias, Marsai Martin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Mickalene Thomas, Nina Shaw, Nina Simone, Pat McGrath, Robert Battle, Rosa Parks, Ruth Carter, Shirley Chisholm, Solange Knowles, Tarana Burke, Tomi Adeyemi, Tristan Walker, Tyler Mitchell, Valencia D. Clay, Yaa Gyasi.

I remember being a kid in school and doing creative projects like this every February, such as memorizing Dr. King’s speech, writing an essay about the progress made since slavery or, yes, making a collage featuring faces from black history.

But Beyoncé’s collage is a little different. She’s not only recognizing and celebrating black history ― she’s elevating people who are contributing to the future of black America.

In dropping this creative surprise, Bey gave us an important Black History Month lesson we seldom get in school: February isn’t just about what happened in the past. It’s about celebrating what’s happening right now.

If you’ve ever wondered how to really celebrate Black History Month, this is it. We should continue to be grateful to Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Dr. King (all of whom are featured in Beyoncé’s collage). And we should also be thankful for new faces and emerging leaders who stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and continue to lead the way to equality.

So do yourself a favor: Look up some of the names featured in Beyoncé’s collage, and find someone new to learn about this Black History Month.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the award Waithe has won. It was an Emmy, not a Golden Globe. This article also misidentified Drew as a current art curator and social media manager for the Met; in fact, she formerly held these roles.

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