Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Three African-American Leaders Everyone Should Know



This past October, I got to attend Culture Shifting Weekend in New York City, thanks to the support of the Undergraduate Professional Accelerator Fund. The gathering is organized by Culture Shift Labs, which was founded by Andrea Hoffman. They have a great mission.

“It’s the only convening in the United States that gathers a curated group of accomplished African and African American C-Suite executives, entrepreneurs, tech trailblazers, business influencers and thought leaders who attend in order to celebrate, collaborate, deal make and tap into the social currency, intellectual and financial capital among leaders of the old and new economies.”

In the event, I was reminded of the amazing accomplishments of the African-American community, and how many of these stories are often not told. Though they are many that can be featured, here are three individuals that certainly struck me as African American leaders that everyone should know.

Lonnie Johnson

Do you have any memories playing with a Nerf Gun or perhaps getting wet with a Super Soaker? For that, we must thank Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of these two iconic toys. The Super Soaker has ranked among the world’s top 20 best-selling toys each year since its release. Hasbro has noted that the Super Soaker is approaching near $1 billion dollars in sales, so not only is it a lot of fun, but it is also making a lot of money. Yet, it does not end there, Lonnie Johnson’s inventions account for 6% of all U.S. patent applications.


Lonnie Johnson being interviewed by Andrea Hoffman at Culture Shifting Weekend 2016: Silicon Alley

Dr. Patricia Bath

The Nerf Gun has changed lives, but the Laserphaco Probe has saved them. Dr. Patricia Bath’s patent for the device, made her the first African-American female doctor to receive an official patent for a medical purpose. The Laserphaco Probe helps fight cancer by improving on the use of lasers to remove cataracts. Made available in 1988, Dr. Bath’s ground-breaking innovation, has helped an innumerable amount of people restore their vision.


Dr. Patricia Bath speaking at Culture Shifting Weekend 2016: Silicon Alley

Captain Barrington

Our next leader is also a captain. In 2007, Barrington Irving (or known more appropriately as Captain Barrington), was the youngest person to solo pilot a plane around the world. He was also the first African American to accomplish the feat. Talk about frequent flyer miles. Capitan Barrington built his plane using $300,000 worth of donated parts. Deservingly so, the United States House of Representatives made House Resolution 601 in his honor. Today, he is giving back with his non-profit, the Flying Classroom.


Captain Barrington speaking at Culture Shifting Weekend 2016: Silicon Alley

These three great leaders, speak to the amazing and trailblazing contributions that African Americans have made in the United States. With that said, there is still a need to build even more of these success stories. The United States population is 30% Black, Latinx or Native American, while this group of the population represents 3% of senior leadership positions (as noted by Management Leaders of Tomorrow).

This means that there is a lot of work to do. It is one of the reasons I co-founded Project 99 with Yulkendy Valdez. While they are many things that need to happen to diversify leadership – Lonnie Johnson, Dr. Patricia Bath and Captain Barrington’s stories are a source of inspiration, where we see what is possible when we bridge the leadership gap.