This week in black women: a badass Barbie, Jesmyn Ward, and the video game of your dreams.

Creeps faced a reckoning. Thanksgiving is almost here. And black women had another week of turning everything they touch into gold.

This is the fourth edition of "This week in black women," a weekly column dedicated to signal-boosting the black women who make the world spin.

I've got cheers and shoutouts for a much-needed video game, the mother of black Hollywood, an Olympic fencer turned toy, a Republican (yes, really!), a two-time award-winning author, and so much more. Let's do this!


"Taking care of business": Sen. Jackie Winters and Rep. Karen Bass

  • Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) was selected to serve as the minority leader for the Oregon Senate this week. At 80, she is the second-oldest serving Oregonian legislator. She's also the first black leader of a legislative caucus in the state — and one of the few black women to lead a legislative caucus in any state, period.
  • Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) put Jeff Sessions' feet to the fire during his hearing before the house. It did not end well for him.

"Hail to the Queen": Jenifer Lewis

Many know her only by her current role as Grandma Ruby on "Black-ish," but Jenifer Lewis is a legendary actress, singer, and Broadway performer. This week, Lewis added "author" to her list of accomplishments with the release of her book, "The Mother of Black Hollywood." In addition to providing the inside scoop on her storied career, Lewis gets deeply personal, discussing her battles with sex addiction and undiagnosed bipolar disorder in her 20s.

Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images.

"We've got your back": Angela Wint

Angela Wint was the last athlete to complete the New York City Marathon, coming in 50,624th place in the Nov. 5 event. But despite spending more than seven hours on the course, Wint finished with toughness, heart, and courage. Her body ached and her legs wanted to give in, but she pushed on and earned that coveted medal.

"I’m gonna take [the medal] and wear it, and appreciate every step I took to get to this place. Our journey isn’t for us — it’s for someone else who thinks we can’t do it," she told the New York Post.

"We won't forget": Ruby Bridges and Gwen Ifill

  • 57 years ago this week, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. Bridges bravely entered William Frantz Elementary School escorted by U.S. marshals. White parents refused to have their children in a class with her and all but one teacher refused to instruct her, so she was in a class by herself, taught by Barbara Henry. They sat side by side and went about the business of first grade. Ruby Bridges Hall is now 63 years old and remains a steadfast activist.

Right: Ruby Bridges at Franz Elementary. Photo by Department of Justice/Wikimedia Commons. Left: Ruby Bridges at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Glamour.

  • Intrepid journalist and author Gwen Ifill passed away last year. Simmons College, her alma mater, has announced that it will name its new arts and media program after her. The Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities will launch next fall.

"Go off, sis": Jesmyn Ward and Tiffany Haddish

  • Ward won the National Book Award for Fiction for her book "Sing, Unburied, Sing." Her characters are black, southern, and poor, but clearly the National Book Foundation recognized what we already know: that none of that diminishes the reader's ability to connect with the story. This is Ward's second time winning the award — a first for a woman fiction writer.

Jesmyn Ward attends the 68th National Book Awards. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.

  • Funny lady Tiffany Haddish became the first black female stand-up comedian to host "Saturday Night Live" last week. Yes, the first. In 2017. Here's one of my favorite sketches from the night.

"Hail to the Chief": Tonya Boyd

Boyd is the first black woman to be named deputy chief of the New York City Fire Department. It's lit! 🔥 (Safely, of course.)

"Y'all play too much": Ibtihaj Muhammad and Momo Pixel

Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Glamour.

  • Momo Pixel created this unbelievably fun (and sadly accurate) 8-bit video game called "Hair Nah." In the game, players become a black woman who has to stop curious people from touching her hair as she travels around the world.  It's an addictive way to make the most of an all-too-common microaggression.

Final thought: Brittany Packnett

I'll be back in two weeks with more women to celebrate and support. If you know a black woman I should feature, send me some links!

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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