Wisdom//

12 Quotes to Inspire You This Black History Month and Beyond

Wise words from Maya Angelou, Kamala Harris, and other role models who are inspiring us to better ourselves and the world we live in.

Westend61 / Getty Images
Westend61 / Getty Images

In honor of Black History Month, we’re reflecting on the Black role models who have shown us the world through their unique lens. One of our favorites comes from poet Rita Dove, in her poem, Transit. She writes, “While in the midst of horror we fed on beauty — and that, my love, is what sustained us.” Dove’s words remind us that in challenging times, we can choose to surround ourselves with positivity and beauty — and when we take time to hear each others’ stories, we can develop a new understanding of the world and facilitate positive conversations. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their favorite quotes and passages from Black leaders, authors, poets, and artists that bring them joy, peace, and inspiration. Which of these quotes speak to you?

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” —Maya Angelou

“This quote taught me how to trust my instincts. People have an energy about them — trust what you see and feel. It’s a gut feeling. When I read this for the first time, I felt as though I’d been struck by lightning. It was so powerful and clear. In one sentence, Angelou distilled how we can trust and decide who we choose to be in a relationship with. It’s a muscle worth developing, and with time, it will allow you to quickly assess and decide.”

—Sharon Radigan, certified feng shui consultant, Sarasota, FL

“Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people — the beauty within themselves.” —Langston Hughes

“I have always been an artist and as a photographer, I make all my work about the person seeing their beauty that comes from within.” 

—Amy Boyle, photographer, Chicago, IL

“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” —Madam C.J. Walker

“This is always a great reminder when I get scared to send an email or promote myself. It makes me realize that if I want things to happen, I have to go out there, even if it’s scary or if I get rejected thousands of times. It gives me the courage and confidence to keep moving forward, no matter what.”

—Sheena Yap Chan, co-author, Toronto, Canada

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“With the anniversary of George Floyd’s death in May combined with ongoing social and racial unrest, the increased number of COVID cases and deaths, and work pressure, this quote keeps me moving forward when the world seems to be going nuts.”

—Jennefer Witter, speaker, CEO, and author, New York, N.Y.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou

“This quote reminds me that we all have permission to evolve, change, and grow. And that in every moment, we’re simply doing the best with what we know. I often share this quote with clients who are starting their journey releasing diet culture and reclaiming an empowered relationship with their body. It’s easy to get wrapped up in frustration, anger, and grief for the years spent wasting time on the tireless pursuit of ‘perfection.’ Instead, this quote encourages them to step forward and forge a new, more empowered path.”

—Gillian Goerzen, health and fitness coach and intuitive eating counselor, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

“Each person must live life as a model for others.” —Rosa Parks 

“It’s such a simple but powerful statement. It inspires me to always be true to my values, openly live my life according to them, and model the way for my team.” 

—Carrie McEachran, executive cirector, Sarnia, ON, Canada

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.” —Isabel Wilkerson

“Though this quote doesn’t explode with the warm fuzzy feelings of joy and peace, it offers a deep sense of reality as we walk down the road to equality for all. The brutal, cold, and dehumanizing realities in which we live can also be goldmines if we choose to look, listen, learn, and do our part in contributing to the greater whole of our human race. As a privileged white woman born in the South, having grown up in an invisible infrastructure where I am of the dominant ‘caste,’ can do one of two things: paralyze me into complacency or move me into action. And in all honesty, I’ve done both. This quote inspires me to keep awkwardly learning, taking action, and moving forward to do my part by stepping up and speaking out when I see others being mistreated.”

—Fran Benedict, integrative nutrition consultant, Nashville, TN

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” —Maya Angelou

“This quote is a strong reminder that following the ‘norm’ may not offer personal authenticity and growth. We hear variations of this concept, but this quote in particular resonated with me. And as a mom, I now see added wisdom in this passage, to nurture my children’s self-discovery as they unlock their own unique blend of talents, skills, and interests.”

— Janna Cummins, integrated marketing strategist, Portland, ME

“There will be a resistance to your ambition. There will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane,’ because they are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.” —Kamala Harris

“As a driven and motivated Caribbean Black woman with a big vision for myself, I have met resistance to my own ambition. This quote is empowering to me because it reminds me of where my focus and energy should be in the face of resistance. I continue to create with authenticity, passion, and drive.”

—Lleuella Morris, development consultant, Guyana & Trinidad and Tobago

“I always wanted to be someone better the next day than I was the day before.” —Sidney Poitier

“Success isn’t any more difficult than that. This simple inspiration from an incredible man shows that if you can be a little bit better today than you were yesterday, you’re on your way to success.”

—Leah LaCross, strategy consultant, MA

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” —Audre Lorde.

“Too many of us don’t prioritize ourselves and feel guilty and ashamed when we do. Too often, we put ourselves last, especially when we are fighting any kind of injustice or ‘wrong.’ I love Audre’s words because it reminds us that we do need to care for ourselves and that, in fact, we are working for social justice and a better world when we do.”

—Lisa Kohn, author and executive coach, Wayne, PA

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” —Howard Thurman 

“This quote is a constant reminder that each of us is gifted with something that compels us to act, contribute, and leave this world better than we found it. Some call it ‘passion,’ others deem it their ‘purpose.’ If there was ever a time to embrace the notion that the world needs folks who ‘have come alive,’ it’s now. Let’s do this!”

—Gail H. Towns, marketer and writer, Jackson, N.J.

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