As I went through the incredible images for our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most pivotal years (see page 124), I was struck yet again by the level of sacrifice so many of us have had to make to gain our basic rights—and by how striking it remains when one of us transcends circumstance to break ground and achieve something significant. My mother, Marguerite Ross Barnett, used to tell me that even though I wouldn’t have to go through what she did during the ’50s and ’60s, there was plenty of work to be done. I had so many advantages, so it was my job to champion those who have not, and I needed to think about how I was going to make an impact on the world.

I listened to her because I respected her perspective. My mother had gotten her head cracked open during a Chicago demonstration led by Martin Luther King in 1965. She then went on to become the first Black person to get a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. As the president of the University of Houston, she entered the history books as the first Black woman to run a major research institution. She knew about hard work and sacrifice, and she passed the lessons on to me, her only child. I went on to become the first Black woman in the country to run a major mainstream magazine. I recently took my son, Max, to a White House Christmas party where he met our country’s first Black president. I want my only child to know that he, too, can and should have a positive impact on the world—as a “first” or in any capacity he desires.

History-making moments take place any time we impact the world around us. I believe that each of us possesses the power to have a positive impact on our community. Sometimes that power may take the form of a groundbreaking march on the nation’s capital that changes the course of history forever. Or sometimes, it can take the form of something equally as important but on a smaller scale: mentoring a boy at your church or signing an online petition and passing it along to your friends and family. These, too, are acts that enable people in your community to live better or to have the possibility of a better future. Sometimes, it may be as personal as making sure you are preparing your children to be leaders. I’m honored to have made history in the media industry, but my real impact will be my son.

E-mail me or hit up on

Twitter to let me know how you will celebrate our heritage and make history of your own this February.