MAKERS Celebrates Black History Month: Following Your Heart

We're nearly halfway through February's Black History Month, and we continue with our closer look at the personal histories of some of our African American MAKERS by revisiting the stories of five groundbreaking women who followed their hearts despite skeptical onlookers and went on to pursue incredible careers.

In today's MAKERS playlist, five MAKERS, a college basketball coach, a former Secretary of State, a president of an Ivy League university, a trailblazing publisher, and an NBA referee share stories of personal resilience, career perseverence, and determination.

1. Violet Palmer was not only the first woman to officiate in the NBA, but the first woman to officiate any major U.S. professional sport. Despite initial backlash to her working within the league, Palmer persisted. Today, she is a respected league veteran with a number of playoff games under her belt.

"Not bad being the lone wolf out there."

2. Condoleezza Rice has served as United States National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, but before she made her way to Washington, Rice had planned on being a concert pianist. One class on the Soviet Union and diplomacy as a student at Stanford changed that. She knew what she wanted to do. Despite often being the only woman in the room, Rice proved that following her heart in an unexpected career made her the success she is today.

"I actually had a Russian general say to me once, 'What's a nice girl like you doing in these military affairs?'"

3. Ruth Simmons became the first African American President of an Ivy League university and Brown University's first female president. Simmons talks about how she was the "odd duck" growing up -- always reading instead of playing outside with other kids, which led some parents to believe she had a developmental disorder. This so-called "oddity" led Simmons to her groundbreaking career as a leader in education.

"I found teachers who supported my 'oddity,' and I kept working hard, and I managed to rise to the top of my class in high school."

4. Barbara Smith co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980, the first U.S. publisher of women of color. She talks about why she chose the path she did and why everybody should define for themselves what makes a fulfilling career.

"Think about what really makes your heart sing, and then go for it."

5. Vivian Stringer is the third winningest coach in women's basketball history. Living by the words "work hard and don’t look for excuses and you can achieve anything," Stringer is an example of how following your heart to do what you love can lead to a wonderful outcome: she was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

"Even to this day, I get so excited just sitting down and writing down a practice."


Watch our previous playlist: MAKERS Celebrates Black History Month: What I Learned From My Mother.