Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated was founded 108 years ago on the campus of Howard University. As the first of four collegiate sororities for black women, the sorority has produced world changers who are making a difference socially and politically. Here are 20 renowned “Pearls” leading their communities and changing the world. –tiffany pennamon
Michelle Obama is the first African American first lady of the United States. Despite her progressive work advocating for healthy families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education, she says she is first and foremost Malia and Sasha’s mom.
Jada Pinkett-Smith has starred in films including Menace II Society, Set It Off, and The Matrix Reloaded, and has made notable contributions to charity through the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation. She is passionate about youth development, funding for the arts, and the Lupus Foundation of America.
Holly Robinson-Peete was inspired by her father, Matthew Robinson, the producer and character Gordon on “Sesame Street,” to pursue a career in acting. Peete has starred in television series such as “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper”, “For Your Love,” and “21 Jump Street.”
Brandy Norwood is one of the best-selling female artists of all time with over 40 million records sold worldwide. She starred in “Moesha” and was also the first African American to play the role of Cinderella, inspiring other African Americans to pursue acting roles.
Alicia Keys is a 15-time Grammy winner for her collection of music and recordings. In addition to music, Keys is a co-founder and global ambassador of the Keep a Child Alive organization that supports families with HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Phylicia Rashad is known for her influential role as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” Now, she is a stage director with 40 years of acting experience and holds honorary doctorate degrees from Brown University and Spelman College for her background in the arts.
Gladys Knight is an accomplished singer, songwriter and actress who has worked with Elton John, Whitney Houston, Chaka Kahn and other topflight talent. She is known as the “Empress of Soul.”
Ntozake Shange is a Black feminist, playwright and poet. Her most notable work is her theater work for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, which was adapted into a film by Tyler Perry.
Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to travel into space in September 1992. She is an advocate of integrating minorities into science fields, has an extensive background in science, technology, and engineering, and holds nine honorary doctorate degrees.
Ava DuVernay is a self-proclaimed producer, director, and distributor of independent films, and is an advocate for Black female filmmakers. Her works include the films Selma, Middle of Nowhere, and This Is the Life.
Cathy Hughes founded the company Radio One — now TV One — using the theme “Information is Power” in 1980. In doing so, she became the first and only African American woman to own a corporate media company at the time.
Sharon Pratt Kelly was the first African American woman to serve as a mayor of a major U.S. city when she was elected to office in Washington, D.C. in 1991. She currently runs Pratt Consulting, a company that helps with emergency preparation planning.
Alisha Thomas Morgan was the youngest elected politician to serve in the Georgia House of Representatives. Morgan graduated from Spelman College with a sociology degree and was elected at the age of 23 in 2003 and served until 2015.
Yvette Lee Bowser became the first African American woman to produce her own prime-time series with the shows “Half & Half,” “Living Single,” and “A Different World.”
Loretta Devine, star of Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife, started her acting career in 1978. The actress is notable for her powerful persona that has won her a Primetime Emmy Award and several NAACP Image Awards.
Faye Wattleton dedicated her career to family planning, women’s rights, and reproductive health by serving as the youngest and first African American president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. Under her presidency, the organization operated more than 800 health centers.
Mellody Hobson is a prominent financial and investment executive and was selected by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Currently, she is the president of Ariel Investments and Chair of the Board of Directors of DreamWorks Animation.
Nichelle Nichols is most notable for her role as Lieutenant Uhura in the “Star Trek” television series from 1966-1969, a groundbreaking first for an African American actress at the time. After “Star Trek,” Nichols created “Women in Motion” in conjunction with NASA to recruit minorities and women for the space agency.
Lynn Whitfield made a breakout appearance with her portrayal of Josephine Baker in The Josephine Baker Story. Since then, Whitfield has won an Emmy Award and five NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Performances in her 30-year career.
Iyanla Vanzant received the name “Iyanla” meaning “great mother,” after being ordained as a priestess in the Yoruba tradition. She holds a juris doctorate from CUNY School of Law and uses her background to bring hope to those who are trying to overcome difficult situations.