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Making History: 10 Incredible Black Women Balancing Career and Motherhood

black celebrities, black mothers, michelle obama, black female role models, powerful black women

10 Incredible Black Women Balancing Career and Motherhood

This is such an incredible time to be an American. Our first black President is in his second term, fighting for – among many things – equal pay and secure reproductive rights for women. Hillary Clinton just completed her tenure as Secretary of State, the third woman to hold that prestigious title. Female leaders like Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren are demanding a new kind of transparency in Washington. And First Lady Michelle Obama is about as perfect a role model as anyone can be, leading the charge for a healthier (and more stylish) America.

I often think about how transcendent Michelle Obama is, about how expert she is at blending her work life with her family life. Yes, she’s a style icon, and I certainly do admire her for her looks as well as her grace, but mostly I’m inspired by how dedicated she is to the protection and support of her husband and daughters. I keep a magnet of the Obama family on my fridge at home, not just because I love my President, but because the Obamas are such an exceptionally lovely family unit. Their genuine affection and respect for one another is so profound and profoundly touching, and being given the chance to observe such a healthy family dynamic in the White House is a tremendous gift to our nation.

While thinking about the power and strength Michelle Obama possesses, I realized that though when it comes to marketing “mom” is the new black, one group of women we almost never hear about in the media is black moms. And unfortunately when black moms are alluded to in the news, they’re still trotted out as the tired stereotype of the welfare queen, the cautionary tale single mother failure. I find that so depressing, and I knew I could rattle off a list of 10 black moms I admired in less than as many seconds. I’ve compiled a slideshow shouting-out these media mogul moms, and I thought I’d share some of their thoughts about career and motherhood with you, in the hopes that not only will they be celebrated, but that we can all glean something from their tenacity, smarts and bravery:


  • Soledad O’Brien 1 of 10
    Soledad O'Brien
    Soledad O'Brien is an Emmy-winning journalist and mother of four children. She hosted CNN's American Morning from 2003-2007 and has hosted several "In America" documentaries for the network, including "Black in America." She and all of her siblings have degrees from Harvard University. O'Brien speaks about motherhood with great candor, and shared with Women on the Fence that she doesn't really believe in balancing career and motherhood. She says, "I don't know that balance is a word I use. I think it's more about prioritizing. Sometimes my work falls first. During a hurricane or a tsunami, for example, my job comes first during these particular times. If it's the first week of school, my children come first, and I'm all about binders, labeling and hearing about new teachers. For me, it's all about prioritizing your life in the right way. Not about balance." Whatever she's doing, it's clearly working for her. O'Brien was honored with an NAACP President's Award and an award created in her name by the Morehouse School of Medicine that recognizes outstanding catalysts for social change.
  • Wendy Williams 2 of 10
    Wendy Williams
    Hilarious TV talk show host Wendy Williams has been a hero of mine ever since I started listening to her radio show on WBLS years ago. Williams is the proud mother of one son, Kevin, who she loves to mention to her viewers. Williams told Mom Logic in a 2010 interview that she "grew up wanting a career and wanting a family." She says, "It's hard to figure out how to balance both, and you need a lot of cooperation from everyone. I try to get my pajamas on by the time it gets dark. We hang out in the kitchen, the heart of the home, and I make dinner while my son Kevin does his homework." Williams says she hopes her son will "marry a smart girl like his mother."
  • Viola Davis 3 of 10
    Viola Davis
    Viola Davis is an Oscar-nominated actress for her roles in Doubt and The Help and the mother of three children, one adopted and two step. She recently told The Telegraph, "I always wanted a child but acting is a very self-focused profession. We're late getting married, late having children, all of a sudden you stop for five minutes and think, ‘What have I been missing?'" She joked, "My grandmother had 18 children. Can you imagine? Even with one, I feel I'm always on survival mode, just trying to get through each day. I never thought that I could feel like such a failure but, at the same time, I'm amazed at how much I feel like the greatest hero alive." Davis was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. The 47-year-old Juilliard grad is currently playing Amma in Beautiful Creatures, a combination of two characters from the fantasy novel on which the film is based: the housekeeper and the librarian. She says, "I am more the librarian than the housekeeper. I told Richard LaGravenese [the director] that I don't want to clean houses in this movie. I don't want to have a sponge in my hand and I don't want to wear an apron," adding, "Putting my foot down is a progression for me. I've always been an actor for hire and to some extent I still am. But I knew I did not want to play a housekeeper." Davis grew up in extreme poverty in a small town in Rhode Island where she was bullied for being black. She says, "At school they would put us in a line to drink from the water fountain after recess and if I was first or second in line, then that was it. The whole line would refuse to drink .... When I see myself as a little girl in a rat-infested, condemned building in Central Falls, rummaging for food, it's absolutely unbelievable that I've come this far. I have achieved more than I could ever have dreamt. I feel like I really have a blessed life."
  • Beyonce Knowles 4 of 10
    Beyonce Knowles
    Beyonce Knowles needs no introduction. She's one of the most powerful women in the world and is currently on the cover of Vogue. During an interview with the magazine, Knowles said of motherhood, "Right now, after giving birth, I really understand the power of my body. I just feel my body means something completely different. I feel a lot more confident about it. Even being heavier, thinner, whatever. I feel a lot more like a woman. More feminine, more sensual. And no shame .... I feel like I have something that has grounded me so much more. Family has always been important. I've always had my mother and my father and my husband. But it's just. . . . Life is so much more than. . . It's not defined by any of this." "This," of course, referring to her illustrious career, which she chronicles in her self-directed HBO documentary that debuted this weekend, Life Is But a Dream. Knowles shares lots of great career advice during the film, and says, "Women have to work much harder to make it in this world. It really pisses me off that women don't get the same opportunities as men do, or money for that matter. Because lets face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what's sexy and what's feminine and that's bullshit. At the end of the day, it's not about equal rights, it's about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves .... Power's not given to you. You have to take it."
  • Sherri Shepherd 5 of 10
    Sherri Shepherd
    Sherri Shepherd is a stand-up comedian, actress and co-host of The View who has this to say about making career sacrifices for motherhood: "There was a time when I really had to give something up and that was when my son was born prematurely. He was born at five and a half months. That was a time that was so scary for me because my son Jeffrey almost died and I realized that I couldn't give everything I had in helping to take care of him. So I had to give myself permission to take the actress Sherri, the stand-up comedian Sherri, put them on the shelf with the fine china and focus on being a mom. It was the best thing I did because when I see my son Jeffrey who's six years old and when the doctors predicted that he'd never walk and be mentally challenged. I gave everything I had to being a mother and when I see him running to the door going ‘Mommy you're gorgeous,' I go ‘yeah it was all worth it.'" - Via BlackCelebKids
  • Mariah Carey 6 of 10
    Mariah Carey
    Mariah Carey is a Grammy-winning pop singer, American Idol judge and the founder of the Fresh Air Fund's Camp Mariah. She had a miscarriage before giving birth to twins at 41 with husband Nick Cannon who is 10 years her junior. Carey told In Touch magazine, "I never thought I'd experience motherhood. My career was my life... When you find the right person, you go through it." Carey shares pictures of her twins, Monroe and Moroccan, at the site dembabies.com.
  • Jennifer Hudson 7 of 10
    Jennifer Hudson
    Jennifer Hudson is an Oscar- and Grammy-winning performer who is engaged to wrestler David Otunga. They have one son, 2-year-old David Jr. Hudson told Parade magazine, motherhood "made me realize how much my mom loved me and how much patience it takes. I think of the things my mom did for me and so I have to do it for my son. Now that I have a child, I get it. I get the example she set. It's not always easy but it's for love. You realize how much you can love and how much you give up for your child as a parent. I'm learning that through him." Hudson says her son inspires her musically, too. "Because he is so creative and so into music in every way, I see myself through him. It teaches me to be more present and to see what I can really bring out."
  • Halle Berry 8 of 10
    Halle Berry
    Sure, some might not consider Oscar-winner Halle Berry Mother of the Year because of the contentious nature of her lengthy custody battle with ex-husband Gabriel Aubry, but one of the reasons I like her is because she is dealing as best she can with the reality of parenting through divorce. Berry says of her ex, "You realize you are not meant to go the distance with everybody. We were meant to bring this amazing little person into the world. And I think that's why we came together." Berry's daughter, Nahla, is 4. Berry had words with paparazzi in May when they were hunkered down outside her daughter's school, proving what a Mama Bear she is. Regarding the "Oscar curse," Berry says, "People win Oscars, and then it seems like they fall off the planet. And that's partly because a huge expectation walks in the room and sits right down on top of your head. The moment I won the Oscar, I felt the teardown the very next day. I thought, If I'm going down, I'm going down taking chances and daring to risk. Hence...Catwoman." Berry was on the cover of the September issue of Vogue and will star in the film The Call.
  • Alicia Keys 9 of 10
    Alicia Keys
    Alicia Keys is a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who recorded the song Speechless for her son Egypt when he was born in 2010. "Being a parent has made me more open, more connected to myself, more happy, and more creative," Keys says in the current issue of Scholastic Parent & Child. "I'm more discerning in what I do and how I do it. It's just made me a better person all the way around," she adds.
  • Phylicia Rashad 10 of 10
    Phylicia Rashad
    Rashad is known for playing one of the most iconic moms in television history, Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show. In real life, Rashad is the mother of two adult children. Her daughter Condola is 26 and is currently starring on Broadway in "Stick Fly." When asked if she was pleased that her daughter followed in her footsteps, Rashad recently told The LA Times, "What I was most pleased about was that at the age of 3, she asked for instruction. She sat at the piano and said, "Mommy, I need a piano teacher, a reading teacher and a dancing teacher. Can you get me those things?" At 3. So that is what I'm most pleased about, and I'm also very pleased that she is so grounded in her work. You couldn't ask for more than that." Rashad's mother is the Pulitzer-nominated poet Vivian Ayers, and her sister is actress/dancer/director Debbie Allen. Rashad says of growing up, "There were a lot of books, and artists frequented our home. And as children we were privy to great intellectual and artistic debates. My mother included us in everything that she did, and I mean everything. I remember as a child collating pages for her second book. It was wonderful."

Main photo via Flickr user Barack Obama. All other photos via Pacific Coast News, except the still of Phylicia Rashad as Clair Huxtable via moviestarmakeover.com.

***

More from Carolyn on Babble:

Pretty Girls Making Ugly Faces (Photos)

Adoptive Mom Makes 13-Year-Old Son’s Wish for Baby Pictures Come True

If Oprah Were Pope

In Celebration of Love’s Greatest Gift: The Kiss

Learn more about Carolyn at her blog.

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