Language is powerful. A great line has the ability to affirm, challenge, and inspire — and many from history’s rhetorical giants have done just that.
To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve compiled a list of 15 quotes by Black pioneers, old and new, to help you get through these days a little better.
While we know there’s plenty of room to celebrate these words year-round, this month is as good a time as any to indulge in some wise words by some of the greats and see just how applicable their words are today.
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
– Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist
Today’s application: Growth is messy. Nowadays, social media has created a warped perception of people’s success. If you ever feel insecure or inadequate while looking at other people’s highlight reels online, this quote is for you. Everyone grows at their own pace so don’t be discouraged by other people’s wins. You’re growing in your own season, and you’re right on time.
Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch — what make you go beyond the norm.
– Cicely Tyson, actress and fashion model
Today’s application: Sometimes, challenges are good, and overcoming them is even better. Stretching yourself and trying new things keeps life both exciting and interesting. Taking calculated risks may even help you discover new things about yourself and prove just how strong and adaptable you are.
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
– Audre Lorde, writer, feminist, and civil rights activist
Today’s application: We all experience fear. Sometimes, fear may even derail us from living our lives to the fullest. Here, Lorde offers a different perspective. If you’re living authentically and acting in a way that serves your highest good, the possibility of fear and failure doesn’t seem so all-consuming. When you walk in your truth, it becomes irrelevant.
Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
– Toni Morrison, novelist
Today’s application: Becoming self-assured and confident is an uphill battle, but not impossible. This quote shows that self-care and healing are never done. We must always find ways to own our individuality and remain authentically ourselves.
I don’t think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it’s a decision that has to be made for survival.
– Lizzo, singer
Today’s application: Self-love can be quite difficult sometimes, but this quote reminds us that it’s a priority. In order to survive, we need to practice self-care and treat our minds and our bodies with kindness.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
– James Baldwin, novelist, poet, and activist
Today’s application: It’s super easy to sweep things under the rug and pretend they’re not happening, but that can only last for so long. Nothing can be changed until you confront the issue head-on. Procrastination may allow you to deal in the moment, but you’ll thank yourself for putting your needs first.
The new dawn blooms as we free it / For there is always light, / if only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it.
– Amanda Gorman, poet, first to be named National Youth Poet Laureate
Today’s application: Being brave enough to “be the light” is an important step in anyone’s journey toward self-compassion. These days, negativity is as loud as ever and it’s easy to succumb to the dark and depressing news cycle. But, what if you remained light, positive, and carefree instead?
I don’t have any time to stay up all night worrying about what someone who doesn’t love me has to say about me.
– Viola Davis, actress and producer
Today’s application: Worrying about the opinions and critiques of people who do not have your best interest at heart is not only counterproductive, it’s a waste of time. By only paying attention to people whose opinions you truly value, you block out a lot of other excess noise.
I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.
– Muhammad Ali, professional boxer and activist
Today’s application: Believing, and even verbalizing, that you’re the shit is the first step to embodying that feeling. Positive self-talk throughout the day can help alleviate negative thoughts. You have to act like you’re worthy of feeling good, even when you don’t feel like you are.
We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
– Assata Shakur, activist
Today’s application: Having a reliable community that you can fall back on is so important, especially during a pandemic. Great friends and family have the ability to affirm you and make you feel less alone. As Assata Shakur so eloquently puts it, having love and support for each other is a necessity. There’s nothing to lose and there’s no other way to be.
You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.
– Oprah Winfrey, host, producer, author, and philanthropist
Today’s application: Asking for, and even demanding, what you want can be terrifying. If you’re used to having your thoughts and feelings sidelined, this can be especially excruciating. Though it can be hard, having the courage to advocate for yourself in either a professional or personal setting will make all the difference.
How do we divest ourselves from the need to make ourselves extraordinary?
– Kathleen Collins, poet, writer, filmmaker, and civil rights activist
Today’s application: You may feel pressure to be “extraordinary” in work or in life, but sometimes it’s ok to just be. If you’re a person of color, the expectation of consistent excellence can be draining. So, it’s important to prioritize rest and rid yourself of the idea that you need to be exceptional all the time.
I need to see my own beauty and to continue to be reminded that I am enough, that I am worthy of love without effort, that I am beautiful, that the texture of my hair and that the shape of my curves, the size of my lips, the color of my skin, and the feelings that I have are all worthy and okay.
– Tracee Ellis Ross, actress, singer, producer, and director
Today’s application: Validating and affirming your own feelings is important. Loving your features and openly speaking kindly to yourself can do wonders for your self-esteem and confidence.
You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.
– Nina Simone, singer-songwriter
Today’s application: Walking away from things that no longer serve you is key. Recognizing your own self-worth and making note of what you deserve will make this process much easier. Whether it’s a toxic job, relationship, or a toxic parent that’s making you feel unloved or unfulfilled, it’s time to leave the table.
Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.
– Janelle Monáe, singer-songwriter and actress
Today’s application: Living life on your own terms is one of the most rewarding things that you can do for yourself. Whether you recite body-positive mantras to yourself every day or develop a skin care routine that you adore, it’s imperative that you love yourself, regardless of how that love makes other people feel.