Toni Blackman is the U.S. State Department’s first official hip-hop ambassador working under their Cultural Diplomacy Program. Blackman has a long history in music, from freestyling and rapping as a child to starting her own organization in Washington D.C. called the Freestyling Cipher Workshop. Through her work with the government, she’s traveled to countries like Senegal to work with the hip-hop community and to Guyana to work with art teachers. Blackman has used art as a way to prevent violence against women in the Congo and other war-torn countries.
One of the ways she brings diverse artist together is by using ciphers, a gathering of creative artists in a circle to make beats together and express themselves through music. Blackman’s tireless work has also led her to Ghana, Botswana, and Swaziland. She’s performed with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, The Roots, the Wu-Tang Clan, Guru, Me’Shell NdegeoCello, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and more and has collaborated with Craig Harris, James “Blood” Ulmer, Vernon Reid, Jay Rodriguez and master kora players Papa Susso and Yacouba.
Blackman is a graduate of Howard University, where she started the Hip Hop Arts Movement (HHAM) in 1992. In 2003, Blackman released her first book, Inner-Course. She was named by Essence magazine as one of “30 Women to Watch” and has been a highlight of various national and international publications and news outlets, including NHK-Global Japan Television. Blackman is also a creative consultant for the Sesame Workshop’s The New Electric Company and an in-demand speaker whose themes include women in hip-hop, hip-hop education, hip-hop and spirituality and the international impact of hip-hop culture.
(Photo: Toni Blackman official website)
A Tribute to Famous Firsts - Part II
50 photos Launch gallery
1. 1983: American Hero: Emily Perez was born this day. She was the first female African American Cadet Command Sergeant Major in the history of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She was the first female graduate of West Point to die in the Iraq War, the first West Point graduate of the "Class of 9/11" to die in combat, and the first female African-American officer to die in combat. She was 23. (Photo: AP)
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2. 1986: First African-American Formula One racecar driver: Willy T. Ribbs
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3. 1986: First African-American to die in spaceflight: Ronald McNair.
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4. 1987: First African-American woman, and first woman, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Aretha Franklin.
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5. 1988: First African American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics (a bronze in figure skating): Debi Thomas.
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6. 1988: First African-American woman elected to a U.S. judgeship, and first appointed to a state supreme court: Juanita Kidd Stout.
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7. 1988: First African-American candidate for President of the United States to obtain ballot access in all 50 states: Lenora Fulani.
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8. 1988: First African-American quarterback to start (and win) in the Super Bowl: Doug Williams.
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9. 1988: First African-American NFL referee: Johnny Grier.
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10. 1989: First African-American mayor of New York City: David Dinkins.
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11. 1989: First African-American NFL coach of the modern era: Art Shell, Los Angeles Raiders.
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12. 1989: First African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell.
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13. 1989: First African-American woman, and first woman, ordained bishop in the Episcopal Church: Barbara Clementine Harris.
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14. 1989: First African-American Chairman of the Democratic National Committee AND in 1993: the First African American U.S. Secretary of Commerce: Ron Brown
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15. 1990: First African American elected president of the Harvard Law Review: Barack Obama.
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16. 1990: First African-American Miss USA: Carole Gist.
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17. 1990: First African-American Playboy Playmate of the Year: Renee Tenison.
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18. 1990: First all African-American band to win the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance: "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour.
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19. 1991: First African American nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood.
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20. 1991: First African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 auto race: Willy T. Ribbs.
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21. 1991: First African-American woman mayor of Washington, D.C.: Sharon Pratt Kelly.
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22. 1991: First African-American NBA Coach of the Year: Don Chaney (Houston Rockets).
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23. 1992: First African-American woman astronaut: Dr. Mae Jemison (Space Shuttle Endeavour).
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24. 1992: First African-American woman elected to U.S. Senate: Carol Moseley Braun (Democrat; Illinois).
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25. 1992: First African-American Major League Baseball manager to reach (and win) the World Series: Cito Gaston (Toronto Blue Jays) 1992 World Series.
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26. 1992: First African-American woman to moderate a Presidential debate: Carole Simpson (second debate of 1992 campaign)
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27. 1993: First African American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature: Toni Morrison.
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28. 1993: First African-American woman named Poet Laureate of the United States: Rita Dove; also the youngest person named to that position.
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29. 1993: First black woman to recite a poem at an inauguration, President Bill Clinton‘s in 1993: Maya Angelou.
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30. 1993: First African American appointed Surgeon General of the United States: Joycelyn Elders.
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31. 1993: First African American appointed Director of the National Drug Control Policy: Lee P. Brown
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32. 1994: First African-American woman director of a major-studio movie: Darnell Martin (Columbia Pictures' I Like It Like That).
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33. 1994: First African American to win the United States Amateur Championship: Tiger Woods.
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34. 1995: First African-American inductee to the Radio Hall of Fame: Hal Jackson.
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35. 1995: First African-American Sergeant Major of the Army: Gene C. McKinney.
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36. 1995: First African-American Miss Universe: Chelsi Smith.
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37. 1996: First African-American U.S. Navy four-star admiral: J. Paul Reason.
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38. 1996: First African-American MLB general manager to win the World Series: Bob Watson (New York Yankees), 1996 World Series.
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39. 1997: First African-American model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: Tyra Banks.
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40. 1997: First African-American UFC champion: Maurice Smith.
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41. 1997: First African-American actor to star in the lead role in a comic-book adaptation movie (Spawn): Michael Jai White.
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42. 1997: First African-American Director of the National Park Service: Robert Stanton.
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43. 1998: First African American appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor: Alexis Herman.
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44. 1998: First African-American woman to hold the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy: Lillian Fishburne.
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45. 1998: First African-American Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard: Vincent W. Patton III.
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46. 1998: First African American to play in the Presidents Cup: Tiger Woods.
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47. 1999: First African American to be awarded the International Grandmaster title in chess: Maurice Ashley.
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48. 1999: First African-American Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps: Alford L. McMichael.
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49. 1999: First African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company: Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae.
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50. 2001: First African-American woman to win the ASCAP Pop Music Songwriter of the Year award: Beyoncé Knowles.
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