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Meet the Black History Month figures who inspire Bank of America Merchant Services employees

To celebrate Black History Month, Bank of America Merchant Services asked employees to share the historical figures who have inspired them in their lives and careers.

Our employees responded, with submissions ranging from scientist Mary Jackson to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Check out this list of groundbreaking figures in black history. Who would you add to the list?

Langston Hughes (1902-1967), poet
During times of adversity, Langston used his passion and gift of words to unite a world so intent on dividing American culture. “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly,” Hughes wrote in his poem “Dreams.” I believe in conveying genuine love and concern as the main tools for helping others to reach new heights.

– Derius Skinner, Florida

Katherine Johnson receives an award at the Hidden Figures Award ceremony in December 2016.

Katherine Johnson (1918- ), NASA mathematician
Katherine Johnson is a figure in history that is very inspiring. She was a NASA mathematician that helped the first American in space project.

– Berica Askew-Breier, New York

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), writer
Zora Neale Hurston inspires me because despite being born into a segregated world with few resources, she went on to become one of the greatest folklorists and writers of the 20th century. A child of former slaves, Hurston attended Howard University for her Associate’s degree and earned a scholarship to Barnard College. She was a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance and uniquely incorporated research into fictional writing. 

Although she didn’t garner much attention or recognition in mainstream literary circles, she didn’t let that keep her from producing powerful literature, much of which was focused on the experience of the African American woman. Her most famous book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was one of my favorite pieces of “required reading” as a teenager because she is a master storyteller. I also admire that Hurston not only wrote, but she educated others about the arts, establishing a drama school and working as a drama teacher. She was also on staff at the Library of Congress. 

When Hurston passed away in 1960, she had published more books than any other black woman in America, albeit with little acclaim. Interestingly, just last year (and eight decades after the manuscript was written), Harper Collins published Hurston’s “Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo.’” It was a New York Times Bestseller, Amazon’s Best History Book of the Year, and TIME Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2018. How wonderful that Zora Neale Hurston continues to reach new audiences long after her time on Earth.

– Antoinette Walters, North Carolina

Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights march in Washington D.C.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), civil rights leader
Martin Luther King Jr. reigns in history as a leader of integrity and change. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” Dr. King once said. I encourage employees to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do for our clients and Bank of America Merchant Services. “Be successful on purpose” is a key phrase I like to use.

– Renessa Wilkes, Texas

Mary Jackson (1921-2005), NASA engineer
Mary Jackson was a brilliant scientist who became NASA’s first black female engineer. Her tenacity, grit and intelligence caused her to fight for special permission from the city to attend a required engineering program that at the time was only offered at a segregated school in Hampton, Virginia.

What inspires me the most is that she didn’t view that as a roadblock but rather an opportunity. She fought, and she won. She didn’t want notoriety or fame either. It was her love of science and confidence in her abilities that motivated her to do what no one had ever done before. She was known to have a feisty yet gentle spirit. She loved people and she loved science. She also graduated from my alma mater, Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia, which makes her even more special and makes me even more proud of the woman she was and the legacy she left behind.

– Jaquelyn Jackson, Georgia

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