Black Icons In Their 20s

Thinking that I had to have my entire life figured out in my 20s was one of the first missteps I took before entering this decade. Reading the stories of successful people, who I admire, has helped me see that it is entirely ok to not have it together. Now, more than ever, is the best time to make mistakes in our lives. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to highlight Black icons and where they were at during their 20s. Some were successful and working on the highlights of their legacies, while others were in what some may consider the “rock bottom” of their lives. Either way, we can all learn from their experiences, to work toward whatever vision we have and to never let our positions in life hold us back. Here are what a few Black icons were doing while they were in their 20s.

Image: FILE - 50 Years Since The Assassination Of Malcolm XMalcolm X

During his 20s, Malcolm X was sentenced 8-10 years in prison. During this time, he studied Islam, changed his name from Malcom Little to Malcolm X and became assistant minister of Nation of Islam’s Detroit Temple. At age 29, Malcolm X was promoted to Minister of Nation of Islam’s New York Temple.



During her 20s, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job hosting the 6:00 p.m. news at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. The next year she became a co-host of a local talk show at the age of 24.


Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1954, at age 25, MLK became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery   Alabama. A year later, King accepted the leadership role of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration, the bus boycotts. At the age of 28, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement.

maya_branding-boxMaya Angelou

In her 20s, Maya Angelou, moved to New York to study African dance with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus. Angelou danced and sang calypso in night clubs in San Francisco. After, she toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess she recorded her first album Miss Calypso in 1957.

obama-oval-bwBarack Obama 

At the age of 21, Barack Obama received news that his father, Barack Obama Sr., died in a car accident at the age of 46. During this time, Obama decides to become a community organizer in order to confront issues of race and poverty. During his 20s, he goes on to carry out many successful projects and is eventually accepted into Harvard Law School.


Michelle Obama 

At the age of 21, Michelle Obama attended and graduated from Princeton University. After graduating from Princeton, she would go on to Harvard Law School. Obama graduated in 1988, and worked in marketing and intellectual property law.

images2f1483856142883-1483856067938-angela-davisAngela Davis

In her 20s, Angela Davis studied abroad in Germany and became a doctoral candidate at the University of California, San Diego. In 1968, at the age of 24, she became a member of the Black Panther Party. During this same year, Davis also became a full-fledged member of the Communist Party U.S.A.

03Jesse Owens

At the age of 22, Jesse Owens set the world record for the 22-yard dash, 220-yard low hurdles and the long jump in less than one hour. At the age of 23, Owens participated in the Olympic tryouts, and won all three of his events.


Spike Lee

In his 20s, Spike Lee’s film, ‘Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads’ , became the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln’s Center’s New Directors Film Festival. This film would also go on to win a Student Academy Award.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes 

In 1924, at the age of 22, Langston Hughes was discovered by the poet Vachel Lindsay, and put in touch with editors at Knopf. Two years later, Hughes’ first book entitled The Weary Blues was published by Alfred A. Knopf publishing house. Throughout his twenties, Hughes would go on to have additional works published, and receive his Bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University.


“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.”

-Malcolm X


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