Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that all people would one day be treated as equals. Born in 1929, King lived in a time when unfair laws in Southern states segregated, or separated, African Americans from whites.
Inspired by the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, King used peaceful methods to work toward achieving his dream.
Each year, on the third Monday in January, we observe King's birthday as a national holiday. It is a time to remember the life and important work of the civil rights leader. Here, leaders in a variety of fields tell TFK about the figures in African-American history who inspired them.
Keys, 31, has won many awards. Her fifth album, Girl on Fire, came out on November 27.
"African-American history is some of the most powerful history that we have, with so many inspiring people, including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Madame C.J. Walker, who was the first black millionaire, and Harriet Tubman, who led the Underground Railroad. A [musical] inspiration for me was Nina Simone. She was a classical pianist. I studied classical piano. She also did jazz and wrote her own songs. She spoke out about social issues that she felt weren't right. She was a really powerful voice."
Born in North Charleston, South Carolina, Scott, 47, became a U.S. Representative. On January 3, he was sworn in to the Senate. He is the only black U.S. Senator.
"I grew up playing football, and Syracuse's Ernie Davis was someone who inspired me. He was the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy, as well as the first black man to be the first pick of the NFL draft. His legacy has left an incredible impact. He paved the way for many, and his strength and determination have forever left their mark."
GABRIELLE "GABBY" DOUGLAS
At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Douglas, then 16, won gold in both team and all-around events. She is the first African American to do that.
"Martin Luther King inspires me. He stood up for what he believed in, and I really respect that."
Known as the Panda Lady, Stevens was in charge of the giant-panda program at the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., from 1987 to 2011. Stevens, 57, is also a founder of Beads for Education, a group that helps girls in Kenya go to school.
"Two individuals come to mind. The first is Malcolm X. I read his autobiography when I was in high school and found his story to be most compelling in his ability to overcome adversity. The other individual is civil rights leader Dorothy Height, whom I heard speak at a YWCA girls' leadership conference while I was in high school. At a time when there were very few African-American women [leaders], she left a lasting memory of a quiet but strong force for social change."
JAMES E. WEST
In 1962, West coinvented the electret microphone, which is in everything from phones and computers to video cameras and hearing aids. West, 81, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999 and is currently a professor at Johns Hopkins University, in Maryland.
"Granville T. Woods is sometimes referred to as the black Edison. He was born in 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. He is my hero because of the many inventions he made, including a microphone that he sold to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. A microphone like the one Woods invented was in most telephones until the invention of the electret microphone."
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson, 42, came to the U.S. in 1991. He owns restaurants in New York City and Sweden.
"The African-American chefs that inspire me are Leah Chase, Patrick Clark and Sylvia Woods. They opened so many doors for us future chefs. Sylvia Woods bought the restaurant she worked at for so many years, but she never forgot where she came from and [put] the community first. Students from the Careers Through Culinary Arts (CCAP) Program at my restaurant the Red Rooster inspire me to try harder and lead this new generation of chefs. Then, of course, there's Michelle Obama, who is teaching children how to eat better. She has given us a challenge to do better, and that is inspirational."
Nelson, 38, is an award-winning artist. His children's book I Have a Dream came out in October. In it, Nelson illustrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech in order to mark its 50th anniversary in 2013.
"There are so many inspirational historical figures to choose from, but if I had to choose just one, I'd have to say the artist Ernie Barnes. He painted people in a way that made me feel something deep in my soul when I looked at his paintings. Barnes's work profoundly influenced my early work."
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