At Boys & Girls Clubs of America, we are proud to celebrate Black History Month and recognize the past contributions of Black people, as well as the future Black leaders, innovators, artists and advocates we see every day at our Clubs. Learning about Black history is incredibly important. We believe open and transparent conversations with youth about the impact of race and systemic racism will not only create space for healing, but also help empower the next generation of leaders to create a world where everyone can thrive. Clubs provide positive role models and programs that empower young people to reach their full potential. And when young people learn about Black icons and leaders, they’re inspired to dream big.
When the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County supported youth in staying safe and peacefully participating in protests, they learned that their state capitol lacked representation of people of color – and took on making this change for Wisconsin youth today and generations to come.
Through the Illinois Freedom Project, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Illinois teens learn the importance of Black history (and how it’s told) by touring historic sites, getting in-person experiences and having open conversations about strength and resiliency.
When raising and supporting young people, you can infuse the principles of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to build welcoming, safe places where all belong.
Savage, Carter Julian. “‘In the Interest of the Colored Boys’: Christopher J. Atkinson, William T. Coleman, and the Extension of Boys' Clubs Services to African–American Communities, 1906–1931.” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 4, 2011, pp. 486–518. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41303898. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.
Founded in 1903 by Quaker philanthropist, John T. Emlen, the Wissahickon Boys’ Club is the oldest Club to serve an entirely African American community. It was also one of the founding 53 organizations in the original Boys’ Club Federation. Under the leadership of the Club’s Superintendent, William T. Coleman, the Club grew from a small facility to a three-story building and a gymnasium. The Wissahickon Boys’ Club consistently won national recognition for program excellence.
The first African American to win multiple Academy Awards
Before Denzel Washington became known for his blockbuster movies, he was a kid attending the Boys & Girls Club of Mount Vernon. At the Club, Denzel was mentored by Billy Thomas and learned several life-long lessons. Denzel fervently pursued his love for acting, earning some 60 acting credits. Denzel Washington has received several accolades for his work, including Academy Awards for best supporting actor (Glory) and best actor (Training Day), making Denzel the first African American to win two Academy Awards. “Everything you’ve seen or heard about me began with lessons I learned to live by at the Club."
The first African American USTA Chairman, CEO and President
Katrina Adams became the first African American to become NCAA doubles champion. She went on to play 12 years on the Women’s Tennis Association tour, capturing 20 career doubles titles as a professional. Adams served on the USTA Board of Directors for ten years. She made history as the first African American and the first former pro tennis player to serve as USTA Chairman, CEO, and President.
The first African American to lead an Ohio City Fire Department
Raised and educated in Toledo, Michael P. Bell has devoted his entire 30-year career in public service to his hometown. In 1990, he was named chief of the Toledo Fire Department at 35, making him the youngest chief in the country and the first African American to lead an Ohio city fire department. He was elected mayor of Toledo in 2009. The mayor’s office isn’t far from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo, where he says his success began. “The Club made you feel you could do anything if you put your mind to it,” recalls Mayor Bell. “It helped make me who I am today.”
The first African American to lead an officiating crew in a Super Bowl
NFL referee Mike Carey is respected throughout the league for his professionalism, preparation and sense of fair play – values made real at the William J. Oakes Boys Club, which he joined at the age of 8. Beginning his officiating career with Pop Warner games in 1972, Mike was hired by the NFL in 1990. In 2008, he was selected to officiate Super Bowl XLII, becoming the first African American to referee the Super Bowl. In addition to his NFL career, Mike co-owns Seirus Innovation, a snow sports accessories company he founded with his wife, Wendy.
The first African American to win an Academy Award for Costume Design
Drawing pictures was one of many activities Ruth E. Carter enjoyed while attending The Springfield Family Center Boys & Girls Club. Ruth’s love of art led her to discover her passion for costume design. She honed her skills and eventually landed an opportunity to work with award-winning director, Spike Lee. Ruth has worked on some 40 films. She has been nominated for two Academy Awards, making her the first African American to be nominated for best costume design. In 2019, Ruth became the first African American to win an Academy Award for costume design for her work on Black Panther.
The first African American Major League Baseball Players Association, executive director
Tony Clark grew up in the San Diego area where he attended Encanto Branch Boys & Girls Club, along with his brothers. He quickly became known for his baseball and basketball skills where he was eventually drafted by the Detroit Tigers. After a stellar MLB career, Tony retired from playing baseball and joined the Major League Baseball Players Association as director of player relations. In 2013, players unanimously elected him executive Major League Baseball Players Association executive director. Tony became the first former player, and first African American, to hold one of baseball’s most powerful positions, representing some 1,200 baseball players.
American Ballet Theatre’s first African American principal dancer
Misty Copeland was 13-years-old when she took her first ballet class at San Pedro Boys & Girls Club. Her newfound passion led her to take to ballet quickly and in just four short years, she joined the American Ballet Theatre. Through hard work and dedication, Copeland was promoted as the American Ballet Theatre’s first African American principal dancer.
The first African American and only four-time heavyweight boxing champion
Four-time world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield first stepped into the ring at the Warren Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta when he was 8 years old. Three years later, he qualified to compete in his first Junior Olympics. Through an honorary membership, he continued to box at the Club until making the 1984 U.S. Olympic team at age 21. Through wins and losses, Holyfield never forgot the lessons he learned at the Club.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s first African American National Youth of the Year
The National Youth of the Year program is Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s most prestigious leadership program that recognizes the nation’s most inspiring teens and their incredible journey. These amazing young people represent the voice and spirit of hope for America. In 1969, Perry became the first African American Youth of the Year. He was selected over 1,000 finalists to represent thousands of youth served by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America at that time. Today, Perry is the author of several business books including, Profit Building: Cutting Costs without Cutting People. He is the former CEO and co-owner of Cutting Edge Pizza LLC, a franchise operator for Little Caesars Pizza. He also served as president of US Autoglas, Chief Operating Officer for Environmental Systems Products and Divisional Vice President for PepsiCo Inc.
The first African American NBA Head Coach
NBA legend Bill Russell wasn’t always the basketball star we know him to be today. In fact, he was cut from his high school team. However, his coach saw something in him and sent him to the Oakland Boys & Girls Club to hone his basketball skills. In 13 seasons, the dominating center led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships, including two as player-coach, the first African American coach in NBA History. In 1975, Bill Russell was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2010, Bill Russell was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his Civil Rights work.
The first African American Mayor of Minneapolis
Mayor of Minneapolis from 1994 to 2001, Sharon Sayles Belton, the city’s first African American and first female to hold the post, brought citizens and government together to clean up neighborhoods, fight crime, and develop local business and industry. As a community leader and activist, she has advocated for children’s and women’s issues, leading efforts to improve services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. As a senior fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Sayles Belton works on anti-racism initiatives and improving information sharing between community organizations and research institutions.
The first African American to serve as Chair of the Linn County Board of Supervisors
Stacey Walker was a standout Boys & Girls Clubs of the Corridor (formerly Boys & Girls Clubs of Cedar Rapids) member. He was a mentor to his peers, using the Passport to Manhood program to help others see they could achieve a bright future. In 2006, Stacey was named Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth of the Year, a prestigious leadership program that recognizes outstanding and inspiring teens. Stacey attributes the National Youth of the Year program for opening doors and providing resources, including a college scholarship. In 2019, Stacey made history as the first African American to be elected to the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Linn County is the second-largest county in Iowa. Recently, Stacey was named an advisor on a Criminal Justice Reform Policy Task Force, one of several policy Task Forces created by President Biden.