Inspired By: Matt Baker And Jackie Ormes

I grew up reading DC and Marvel, watching animated series about Batman and the X-Men,  and rushing to the theater for each new incarnation of my favorite heroes. I’ve even gone as far as cosplaying with my family at the San Diego Comic Con (which was a blast)! There’s an air of encouragement that comes along with reading about heroes and in many ways they are our modern mythologies; each time they succeed, I feel challenged to find ways to be the heroine of my own story, or to push myself beyond my limits.

The 91st Academy Awards aired last night, and I was elated to see comic book films were able to claim trophies  in several categories, with wins in Best Animated Feature (Into the Spider-Verse), as well as Costume Design/Production Design and Best Original Score (Black Panther). The women who won for Black Panther – Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler –  were the first Black women to win in their categories, and Peter Ramsey – one of the directors of Spider-Verse – was the first Black director to win in the category.

In honor of the historic wins last night, and of the books I love so much, today I want to honor two people who broke barriers in the field. Enjoy!

Jackie Ormes

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Jackie Ormes was the first Black woman to become a comic illustrator. Born in 1911 as Zelda Mavin Jackson, Ormes would become famous for creating the Torchy Brown comic strip and Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Jackie initially worked as a journalist for the Black-owned Pittsburgh Courier newspaper before making the transition to comic illustrator and writer in 1937 with the Torchy comic. Jackie was prolific artist, who worked until retirement in 1956.

What I love about Jackie is her dedication to confronting racism, sexuality, and environmental issues. She became so outspoken that she was eventually investigated by the FBI. In 2014, Jackie Ormes was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Hall of Fame in 2018.

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Matt Baker

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Matt Baker is known today as the first Black man to become a comic book illustrator. He was born ten years after Jackie, in 1921, and eventually moved to her stomping ground of Pittsburgh as well. Baker was sought out and hired for his beautiful drawings of buxom women, who were heroines and adventurers.  He is most widely known, however, for Phantom Lady.  I love that Baker drew her, and other women, as strong, brave and formidable, within a realm that usually presented women as solely sexual objects.

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Additionally, Baker is credited with the creation of the first Black hero in the comic realm, known as Voodah.

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Inspired By: Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

Every Wednesday of Black History Month I will be featuring stories of everyday heroism that have helped to reshape the world. Whether they be writers, activists, or people who were just fed up, these icons are people I hope you’ll never forget. 

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t learn Marsha P. Johnson’s story until recently. In fact, I hadn’t heard about the Stonewall Riots, nor did I know nearly enough about the battles the LGBTQIA Community has had to fight for the basic rights afforded to straight, cis-gendered society. Yet, now that I know her name and  have learned of her work, I will never forget her story.

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Marsha P. Johnson was a New York City-based trans woman, drag queen, and sex worker who, in June 1969, fought back against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a bar where the LGBTQIA community could gather without fear of persecution. At the time is was illegal for them to be served, but the Stonewall Inn became their safe haven. When the police came, they decided to stand their ground and assert their human rights. Marsha  infamously shouted “I know my rights!” as she threw a shot glass and shattered a mirror. For two two nights Marsha, her friends, and other bar goers resisted.

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Following the riots, Marsha and others led gay liberation demonstrations throughout the city. In honor of their work, Pride Week is celebrated in June.

With the aid of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha founded STAR – Street Transvestite* Action Revolutionaries – to protect and house the trans youth, sex workers, and gender non-conforming youth of lower Manhattan. Johnson’s activism would last until her untimely death in 1992. Her case was originally ruled a suicide without further investigation, but in 2012 her death was re-opened to be investigated as a homicide.

Trans women have an average life expectancy of 35. Thirty-five. That means middle age hits at 17, going on 18. The stakes are even higher if you are a trans woman of color, especially a Black woman. Marsha exceeded the average by 12 years, but I can only imagine what she could have accomplished – beyond the magic she struck in her short life – had she been afforded the same opportunities as the rest of us.

I am not trans. In fact, I am a cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied woman from a middle class family. I went to college. I have privileges that make my life much more comfortable than many others, but I look at Marsha and read her story, and feel a fire. It’s our responsibility as humans to feel that burn, to know her name, to know the struggle and to fight on her behalf. I hope you’ll stand up where you can.

If you would like to learn more about Marsha’s remarkable life and cruel end, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is available to stream on Netflix.


*Transvestite is an out-of-date term, but was included for accuracy. The correct term today is Trans or Transgender.

Friday Media Prep: It’s All About The Details

Every Friday we will feature the inspiring books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art you have to check out. Please share your suggestions below!

Good morrow and happy Friday! Today I wanted to share a trio of articles that have me feeling all kinds of things. Aliens? Possibly. Gender-defying historical shocks? For sure. Love and relationships? You betcha. Today’s list is all of the things, and I loved diving into each topic. I hope you do, too. The list is below.


“Scientists Identify a Medieval Artist by the Blue Gemstone in Her Teeth” by Becky Ferreira for Motherboard

Magnified view of ultramarine in dental calculus. Image: Monica Tromp

As a history buff with a taste for the medieval this article tickled my fancy right away! For background: illuminated manuscripts and bibles were incredibly popular in the Middle Ages. Scribes working in monasteries produced texts that mystify viewers to this day. It’s long been believed that only men, or monks, were allowed to undertake this task. However, this new discovery has scholars rethinking just who the artists were and how they had access to such rare goods. It’s quite the find! I love how long-held beliefs can be changed in an instant by the simplest of realizations.

You can read the full article {here}

“Repeated Radio Signals Coming From Galaxy 1.5 Billion Light Years Away, Scientists Announce” by Andrew Griffin for the Independent

A second mysterious repeating fast radio burst has been detected in space

Depending on how you feel about space, this is rather exciting! Scientists believe the radio signals could be transmitting from an alien source, which could be cool, or they could be the result of the death of a star. Either way, the phenomenon certainly deserves our acknowledgement.

You can read the full article {here}

“Serena: The Power of Unapologetic Greatness” by  Ashley C. Ford for Allure

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Allure Magazine

In this profile by Ashley C. Ford, Serena opens up about her marriage, modeling strength of character and body to her daughter, and finding the path to greatness that most aligns with her beliefs. I really love anything to do with Serena, so I just had to share it here. Her vulnerability and candor are so refreshing.

You can read the full article {here}

That’s it for this week! See ya with the next one.

A Lesson From Emma Dupree and the Granny Women Who Endure

Every week I will feature the kind of everyday heroes I look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. I hope you’ll learn as much from them as I have!

Emma Dupree was born in the summer of 1897, on the Fourth of July, in North Carolina. She remained their for the rest of her life until her death in 1996. The child of slaves, Emma – like most African-Americans in her vicinity- was a farmer with her husband Austin Dupree Jr. However, from a young age Emma was pulled to a different vocation, one that was equally invaluable to those she aided: herbalism. Emma – known as a “granny woman” or healer – could look at a wound and know what plant would stop the spread of infection, she could ease the symptoms of a cold with a tonic. Paige Williams, who interviewed Emma in 1992,  wrote:

“Before her came African root doctors and Indian medicine men. People believed their mystical potions could cure body and soul and sometimes they could. Some modern medicines still use herbal derivatives.”

Emma said she was called to the woods at an early age, determined to learn from nature. I can’t say I have the same desire, (I hate bugs) but I admire her, nonetheless. She gave in to the knowledge of the natural world, carried on the lessons her ancestors passed down, and went about making others well. Emma was strong enough to do good in her community, without a degree or prestige, simply because it had to be done. Paige wrote that Emma was still lively during the interview, moving about with pep, stretching, and anxious to get to work. In reading, it’s hard to sense any worry for the end in Emma, only concern about the next batch of tonic.

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In reading about Emma I was reminded of a woman who has become something of a myth to me over the years. My grandmother, one of the great ones whose pictures are in sepia tones, lived well past 100 years. In fact, she was born a slave, but was still around to babysit my father. Can you imagine putting up with the nonsense of life for that long? Watching babies grow, leaders come in and out of fashion, laws being made and undone, people loving then marrying; I truly feel jealousy to think of the wonders she must have encountered. That jealousy is tempered by the knowledge she surely encountered hardship as well.

Her name was Edith, or Grandma Summerville, as my father calls her. He said he was afraid of her at first, because with a long nose and mole she resembled the evil queen in Disney’s Snow White. She was small, tiny even, standing around five feet. Luckily, his fears were unfounded, because she was the personification of kindness. She held my father when he was ill, told him stories to make him smile and maintained the stoic goodness of a warrior through tribulations. Edith raised her son – my great-great-grandfather – then his daughters when he and his wife Clara were taken by murder and childbirth. My great-grandmother Mary was one of those daughters. Mary’s daughter is my grandmother,and from her there’s my father. So many people Edith loved and cared for, with little more than the grit in her soul. I began re-evaluating whom I admire once I learned about the little lady who looked like a witch, but was kinder than an angel.

I started researching herbalism in the pursuit of gaining a better understanding of wellness and how we take care of one another. History is present in the ways we heal, who we turn to, and what we choose to take with us from the lesson. Learning of Emma got me thinking about what survives us, what’s left when all that was is dust. It’s our intentions and the outcome of our actions, however small, that will endure. I never met Edith or Emma, however the feeling of adoration is overwhelming. Two black women separated from us by time and space, who nevertheless inspire the strength to get on with the healing. Two little ladies who had no business being so unbreakable, so noble and good in a world designed to obstruct their survival. They did it; they lived and watched others do it, too.

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” – Seneca

As you learn and grow today, remember Emma and maybe even think about my grandmother. Then, take heart that you can make it. Better yet? You deserve to.

Stay strong out there.