We all have heroes in our lives. They can be our fathers, mothers, or siblings; in one way or another, they play an instrumental role in making the characteristics we possess or enhance aspects of us that propel us further to do good things, perhaps great things. In this photo essay, I look into heroes who changed the course of history and, by extension, taught us lessons that have sharpened our moral compass. Above all, the historical icons have instilled responsibilities unto generations to ensure that their struggle out of oppression doesn’t be in vain if history repeats itself. The heroes here are daring and indomitable African Americans who fought the horrid and inhuman laws of slavery and bigotry. Through them, freedom was given to humankind, and American soil became more peaceful and liveable. This essay is not only a tribute to our courageous changemakers but also a reminder that more assignments lie ahead of us in eradicating the menacing policies and actions imposed on minorities in this modern era.
P.S) The images were captured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). While editing, I embellished the portraits with bright colors to evoke feelings of aliveness, presence, and perhaps connection.

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Harriet Tubman

A woman, a hero

An icon of freedom and courage. Tubman was akin to the biblical character Moses; in fact, that name became her alias after the acclamation that she “never lost any passenger”. Harriet orchestrated and executed a plan to free black people from the exploitation of white enslavers throughout the 19th century. Her uncomparable determination led to the emancipation of more than 70 people. She transported all the survivors to safe havens known as Underground Houses. She describes her operation at a suffrage convention in N.Y… “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.” Like many enslaved African Americans, Tubman had a tragic upbringing. She toiled under hostile overseers from a young age. In 1855 she sobbingly recounted to author Benjamin Drew, “I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented.” While working in the white-owned plantations, a harrowing incident adversely changed Tubman’s life. One of the masters inadvertently pelted a heavyweight metal on her head, which was targeted to another enslaved African American on the verge of escaping. This accident deteriorated her health significantly, and she started experiencing vivid and peculiar dreams she interpreted as premonitions from God, a belief which further galvanized her secret travels at night with an unwavering mission of rescuing family and friends in encampments. Tubman led a life that will historically be defined as that of extraordinary resilience and empathy amid unforgivable cruelty. She, like many women abolitionists of her time, reminds humanity of courage and hope as remarked in her prayers, “I said to the Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you, and I know you will see me through.”

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Ida B Wells

A woman- a fearless journalist

Born into slavery, Wells was liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War. She carved a career into journalism, where she continuously wrote and published the horrors African Americans experienced under the rule of whites. Wells largely researched the prevalent lynchings, and injustice blacks suffered, records she promulgated in Southern Horrors (1892) and The Red Record (1895). Her real-time reporting, particularly in her incendiary anti-lynching commentary published in Free Speech newspaper, aroused hate and violence among white supremacists, who later vandalized the newspaper’s office and tampered with its content. The incident only soldiered Wells into her anti-racism campaign, writing extensively on – the mass incarceration of black men accused of raping white women, women suffrage, and the segregation laws. Ida B Wells’s courage in the face of intense vitriol is an epiphany, particularly for journalists to produce reporting geared toward change and impact. Wells advises, “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” She also performed her duties under the mantra “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

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Rosa Parks

A woman, a black revolutionist.

An African American with admirable badges. She is primarily recognized as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom” movement. The picture on the left was shortly taken following Parks’ arrest after failing to relinquish her seat to a white passenger in Montgomery,1955. In a 1992 interview, Parks recalls her motive in the incident, “I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for.It was just time … there was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner… The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Parks became an international icon for contesting the segregation laws and organizing the civil rights movement while collaborating with other Black activists, including Edgar Nixon and Martin Luther King. In 1970, Parks appealed for the freedom of political prisoners in America, particularly in cases of self-defense. She succeeded in some of the cases. Her stupendous effort toward a non-racialized America and the implementation of equal policies continued till her death in 2005. She founded civil rights and educational organizations like Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, all dedicated to empowering Black people.

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Sojourner Truth

A woman, an exemplary Suffragist

Truth’s work can undoubtedly be described as that of a laser-focused feminist who believes in the power of men and women alike and who never hesitated to speak for all Black women oppressed by dominant white men. Truth was born into slavery in New York before escaping and seeking asylum with her children in 1849. In 1851 at an Ohio Woman Rights Convention, she gave a speech titled “And Ain’t I A Woman.” The speech was lamenting how a woman is unfairly disparaged by men and seen as an unworthy commodity. Yet, women can do better than men in physical labor and intellect. She decries, “ I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man.I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?” As a religious activist and abolitionist, Truth incorporated biblical stories in her writings and speeches whenever describing the troubles crippling Black lives and how God’s intervention was what would set Black people free. In one of her many articles, she says, “God will take care of the poor trampled slave, but where will the slaveholder be when eternity begins?

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Frederick Douglass

An African American Social reformer

A cerebral writer, orator, and statesman. His intellect even caught white people in disbelief who were under the assumption that a black man is not and shouldn’t be wise or creative. Douglass became a noteworthy national abolitionist and suffragist after his daring escape from slavery in Maryland. He became a famous and respectable national leader following his explosive writings on racism, bigotry, and unjust laws. Douglass courageous spirit of fighting for a free America led to the Emancipation Proclamation that President Lincoln issued in 1863. He also organized campaigns calling for the enfranchisement of black people. In 1872 he became the first African American nominated for the United States Vice President position on the Equal Rights Party ticket. Douglass’s political activism in the Reconstruction Era made him the president of Freedman’s Savings Bank, whose mission was to provide financial support to the newly emancipated African Americans. In one of his moving and powerful autobiographies, he urges the Black community to stick together, never put their guard down, and believe they are humans worthy of an equal share of opportunities conferred unto white men. He bristles, “In a composite nation like ours, as before the law, there should be no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no white, no black, but common country, common citizenship, equal rights, and a common destiny.”

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W.E.B Du Bois

A charismatic Pan-Africanist

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a Ghanian American socialist, historian, activist, writer, and editor. He is said to be the pioneer of Black education. As the first black man to earn a doctorate, he dedicated his life to enlightening African Americans on the need to acquire knowledge as a crucial step toward understanding and challenging the subservient laws imposed by white supremacists. He came up with the term Talented Tenth for intellectually elite African Americans at a time when educated Blacks were motivated to seek new identities under the concept of Racial Uplift. According to Du Bois, ignorance of fundamental political rights, like voting, will not bring civility to humanity. In his manuscript Of the Ruling of Men (1920), he asserts, “We say easily, for instance, ‘The ignorant ought not to vote.’ We would say, ‘No civilized state should have citizens too ignorant to participate in government,’ and this statement is but a step to the fact: that no state is civilized which has citizens too ignorant to help rule it.” Du Bois was a leader of African American social unions like the Niagara Movement, whose members were Black activists fighting for equal rights. His polemics were centered on the lynchings of black men, discrimination, Jim Crow laws, and the independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois also supported and acknowledged the involvement of black women in the civil rights movements saying, “But what of Black women?… I most sincerely doubt if any other race of women could have brought its fineness up through so devilish a fire.”
***Many African American leaders played a pivotal role in the liberation of Black people, and all deserve equal honor and recognition. They are the Faces of Freedom, and without their admirable intellectual and physical efforts, Black people would not have seen the joy in swiftly standing on their own feet, eating what they yearn, drinking when parched- the simplest descriptors of emancipation. Other remarkable social activists include William Lloyd Garrison, Booker Washington, Frances Harper, Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, Susan Anthony, and many more.

What it takes…

To end racism, bigotry, inequality, and discrimination is to end the pain and sorrow of humanity.

To end the pain and sorrow of humanity is to birth justice and equality, thus bringing change.

Change is a dream we all behold but can only be manifested through actions and persistence.

It takes a leader, a group, and an individual to cooperate and eradicate biases that have devoured the human flesh and soul for a long time.

Here are images that provide a glimpse of the importance of unionizing, leading, denouncing unjust laws, and the fruits our struggles can bear.

😉 The visuals are the ultimate ‘Faces of Freedom” in action!

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Dr. King addresses African Americans in an anti-war demonstration in 1963.MLK took up as a vanguard of Black’s autonomy. King declared, “we’re going to stand up amid anything they can muster up, letting the world know that we are determined to be free.”

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A protest orchestrated by young African Americans at the beginning of the civil rights movement. All were chanting “We want Freedom”…”We shall overcome”…” Freedom to All”.The picture is a harbinger that the youth have a significant position in identifying and rejecting partisan laws.

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The iconic “I am a man” signs screamed at the Memphis Sanitation workers’ strike in February 1968. Memphis was a largely segregated city, with 86 percent of men receiving a meager wage. The campaign would later follow the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968.

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A dissatisfied crowd of more than 250,000 people marched in Washington in August 1963. Women took charge of the rally, with signs condemning the discriminatory rules confronting African-Americans. The campaign was set to illuminate the political, social, and economic challenges beleaguering Blacks that thwarted a post-racial America.

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The image (left) shows the Emancipation Day Parade in Richmond, Virginia, in April 1905. The parade marked the fall of Richmond and not the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a well-organized crowd with devoted and pragmatic leaders who stood in lines and music bands playing freedom songs. The parade cheered “Dixie,” a nickname for the Southern United States, a place ravaged by ostracism and brutality.

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The 2009 Inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama

The appointment of a black man to the highest rung of leadership in America came as a “pinch me” moment. Many African Americans were emotionally overwhelmed, Africans worldwide felt a sense of relief and new beginnings, minority groups became optimistic in their struggle of fighting for inclusion. Many Blacks braced for a post-racial and democratic America. The ascension of Barack Obama to power truly felt like a treasure that for a long time had been fought for, and now it was time to hold onto it and make better use of its components.

Dismantling Inequity through Empathy and Engagement (now and forever)

Empathy is acknowledging the troubles of a bereaved group, understanding the profundity of their pain and how much it would mean if you were in their shoes. However, “Empathy is not sympathy,” as Wilkerson writes in her eye-opening book Caste, “Sympathy is looking across at someone and feeling sorrow, often in times of loss. Empathy is not pity. Pity is looking down from above and feeling a distant sadness for another in their misfortune. Empathy is commonly viewed as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how you would feel “

In a world where the lives of minority groups are raptured, we need an even more advanced, more vigorous, and heartfelt empathy. Radical Empathy. This means “Putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel,” Wilkerson advises. But how can empathy be imposed? And is empathy a feeling or an action? Empathy comes from a place of love and compassion, a genuine love for humanity. All humanity. Black, brown, red, yellow, white, no one is an exception. Having empathy means you have the spirit of discerning what is morally right and wrong based on the treatment of a racialized society. It is having that stubborn prinkling that precludes you from witnessing injustice and hate shrouding minority groups. Empathy is how a mother fails to hold herself together when her child is in pain, sometimes wishing whatever was ailing the child to be transferred to her. There is no step-by-step process to how we can develop empathy. Still, there is a way to be radical empathizers by first going through some self-introspection, developing sensitivity toward every humanity we face in our daily interactions, understanding the privileges you hold, and putting yourself into the task of righting the wrong. Privilege also doesn’t come from being white and male. “Privilege” here is the mere ability to write, orate, be generous, kind, and humanitarian. I wouldn’t imagine there is somebody lacking at least a minute piece of these gifts or who would fail to achieve any of them. In other words, empathy can be manifested in an array of ways; you only need to first find it in your heart and soul!

Another potent equalizer of any form of discrimination is Engagement. The willingness to be an active participant in the contestation of unequal policies and power. The unionization of people, with one voice and principles under the umbrella of disrupting stereotypes, is the most potent thing that instills fear even among those who have constructed the policies of hierarchy and bigotry. Engagement is mustering the strength to organize protests and counter reprehensible sociopolitical ideologies. It is through engagement that humanity is set free in mind and spirit before getting the actual tangible freedom. Engagement typically transcends inaction and staves off cultural assimilation. Also, while fighting for a free and fair world, do it with the purest of hearts. Don’t go to a protest just to feel better and convince yourself that you are more antiracist than those who didn’t show up in a rally. That will be blatantly lying to yourself and thus lying to the entire passionate activism displayed in the slavery era and the recent palpable efforts; it will be an act so treacherous as being a racist or a sexist or antisemitic or ageist and ethnicist. In Ibram Kendi’s groundbreaking book, How To Be An Antiracist, he asks, “What if instead of a feelings advocacy we had outcome advocacy that put equitable outcomes before our guilt and anguish? What if we focused our human and fiscal resources on changing power and policy to actually make society, not just our feelings better?”

As a final point, we should face the reality that dismantling anything is often laborious and time-consuming and sometimes it feels unachievable. But the only way we can measure the viability of our efforts is through trying. In giving things a chance, there is an element of hope and faith that something good will come out of the heart-wrenching disruption process.

🙂 To dismantle the structures of systematic inequality is also to read Ibram Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, and this shouldn’t mean I’m endorsing one book over another. Because that will be biased, and I don’t intend to. Perhaps, I’m implying that such overarching books are a simple outlet toward the journey of disruption. The book’s contents help us to be enlightened and educate us on how we can Fight the Good Fight.


Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The origins of our discontents.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. New York, NY: One World, 2019.Nov 23, 2021

“National Museum of African American History & Culture.” 2022. A People's Journey, A Nation's Story | National Museum of African American History and Culture.