Black History Month is a time to recognize the contributions of Black historical figures. It’s also an important moment to celebrate Black creators, artists, and leaders who are making history right now, shaping Black culture today, and making an important impact on this generation while inspiring the next. The team at Horowitz Research has assembled a few of our favorite Black voices.
By Tasha Mitchell
In August 1619, the first enslaved Africans arrived on a ship to Virginia and were sold to English colonists. This pivotal moment in history marked the beginning of slavery in America. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of slavery, award-winning reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones launched the 1619 Project in a special edition of The New York Times Magazine. Through a series of essays and written works by authors, professors, and historians, the groundbreaking 1619 Project acknowledges the impact of slavery on Black Americans and recognizes Black history as part of American history. The title of Hannah-Jones’ opening essay states: “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”
The Pulitzer Center, the education partner for the 1619 Project, offers programs and resources for students and educators to explore in the classroom. The ongoing project has since expanded to include a New York Times podcast and two books written by Hannah-Jones: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and Born on the Water, a lyrical picture book co-written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. Most recently, Hulu premiered The 1619 Project docuseries with six episodes focusing on democracy, race, music, capitalism, fear, and justice through the lenses of Black Americans. More than half of Americans (52%) want access to content to help them learn about Black history in the United States, according to data from one of our recent State of Consumer Engagement studies. The robust and eye-opening project is a powerful representation of race relations in the U.S., and this is the type of content on racial diversity that the majority of American consumers, citizens, and students want and need.
Hakeem Jeffries just made history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a major political party in Congress. Preceded by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jeffries won every vote for House Democratic Leader for the 118th Congress. Rep. Jeffries took to the podium to deliver his opening speech: “We will never compromise our principles. House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy. Benevolence over bigotry. The Constitution over the cult. Democracy over demagogues. Economic opportunity over extremism…”
Now known as “the alphabet speech,” Jeffries used the rest of the historic speech to elevate Democratic principles until he reached the letter Z. The Brooklyn-bred lawmaker is a staunch advocate for social justice. Passionate about police reform, Jeffries introduced legislation to ban police chokeholds following Eric Garner’s death, and he sponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Jeffries served as a co-author of the First Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice reform bill passed by Congress that aims to reduce mass incarceration. Frequently compared to former president Barack Obama, Jeffries brings the type of energy that will hopefully inspire young voters.
In our FOCUS Generation Next 2022 study, half (51%) of 13-24 year-old Americans feel negative about the direction of the U.S. Top concerns for Gen Zers include racism and discrimination in this country (65%), as well as where the country is going politically (56%). In the study, only about 4 in 10 Gen Zers said they believe they can make change in the world or felt it was important to vote. Hopefully, the consistent efforts of lawmakers like Jeffries will bring much-needed social change to the U.S. and be a role model for the next generation to be active participants in the political process.
The hit TV show Abbott Elementary has just been renewed for its third season on ABC. The writer and executive producer behind the award-winning comedy series is rising star Quinta Brunson. The premise of Abbott Elementary – an underfunded public school with mostly Black students in Philadelphia – is inspired by Brunson’s own experience growing up with a mom who was a teacher in Philadelphia’s public schools.
In her leading role as second-grade teacher Miss Teagues, Brunson and her colleagues bring to life the unrelenting determination of educators striving to create an enriching learning environment in inner-city schools. Indeed, this show features a Black-led ensemble cast, including the young Black and other kids of color who play the schoolchildren. TV Insider reported in 2022 that “The comedy’s second episode brought in ABC’s highest ratings for a comedy since the series finale of Modern Family in April 2020.” The fact that this show is such a hit is no surprise to us at Horowitz:
Over two in three Black Americans in our recent FOCUS Black: State of Consumer Engagement 2022 report agreed that it appeals to them when shows “feature characters and casts that are Black like me” (64%) and when the story “includes realistic, nuanced portrayals of my culture and community” (68%). Indeed, when it comes to representation, more than half of Black consumers say that they’re seeing more Black actors as lead characters (57%) and positive portrayals of Black characters and communities in scripted TV shows lately (55%). It is in culturally relevant TV shows like Abbott Elementary and characters like Miss Teagues that Black audiences find that kind of positive, nuanced, realistic, and uplifting portrayal. We love what this show portends for Black representation in media moving forward, and we hope that 2023 and beyond give the spotlight to more storytellers like Quinta Brunson.
Las Vegas local Keith Lee (@keith_lee125) uses his TikTok feed – 9.8 million followers and counting – to put the spotlight on locally owned small food businesses in the area and occasionally, in other U.S. markets. This understated foodie shows up at restaurants — many of which are small mom and pop shops and food trucks — and brings the food home to review on video. Then, Lee’s followers get to savor the food vicariously through him as he critiques the food on a 1-10 scale. The influencer’s TikTok videos bring much-needed attention to businesses struggling to get by.
Recently, a pizzeria went from struggling to make ends meet to having lines of patrons snaking out their door and down the street to try their lemon pepper wings and garlic knots after Lee raved about them on TikTok. While he does not exclusively review food from small businesses — for example, Lee and fellow influencer Alexis Frost’s viral videos of a Chipotle Philly cheesesteak hack resulted in Chipotle having to add the item to their menu this coming March — Lee has made it his mission to elevate local businesses (often BIPOC-owned) through his platform. Lee’s commitment to local businesses and the success of his efforts through TikTok also align with data from FOCUS Black: State of Consumer Engagement 2022. Our study finds that almost six in 10 (57%) Black consumers say it’s important to buy from local businesses as often as possible, and four in 10 (41%) have purchased products specifically because they have seen them on social media.
Leaving his mark on jazz music is Los Angeles native Kamasi Washington. The tenor saxophonist was recently nominated for Emmy and Grammy awards for his music composition on the score of Michelle Obama’s documentary, Becoming. Inspired by the arts, anime, and science fiction, Washington creates deeply layered music heavily influenced by jazz legends and his idols, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Pharoah Sanders. The melodic range on The Epic, his riveting three-hour album, is not only an ode to jazz tradition, but it also pushes the boundaries of the genre’s sound.
Washington’s textured experimentation embodies multitudes of Black experiences through music, from the past and present. Music remains a key component of expression throughout Black history and culture, and it continues to influence the next generation of music consumers. This is especially true among younger Black Americans (13-24 year-olds) who say that they listen to Rap (51%), Hip-Hop (45%), and R&B (39%) music every day, as reported in FOCUS Generation Next 2022. And almost 6 in 10 (58%) Black Gen Z consumers prefer to watch music-related content, which includes concerts, music videos, and artist interviews.
For companies in the media industry who are looking to reach Black Americans, it’s important to understand who they are and what they value. We know this is true for Black consumers who care about how their community is represented in the media. Throughout 2023, brands should continue to showcase and provide platforms for Black talent and intellectuals, as well as everyday people with multifaceted identities.
Tasha Mitchell is a Marketing and PR Manager at Horowitz Research. She is passionate about connecting brands with a new generation of tech-savvy consumers.
ABOUT HOROWITZ RESEARCH
Horowitz Research is a leading provider of consumer market research specializing in consumers and their relationships to media, content, and technology with a particular expertise in cultural insights among America’s Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQIA+, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha audiences. The company offers a full suite of à la carte syndicated reports as well as custom quantitative and qualitative consumer research for companies ranging from small start-ups to Fortune 500.