It’s Black History Month, and we asked the 24 Hour Fitness community to nominate the people who inspire them. The responses included not only trailblazing Black athletes, celebrities and leaders, but also individuals who are shaping history every day. Here are a few of the heroes we discovered, and we’d love to hear about yours. Tell us on Facebook or Instagram @24hourfitness and tag #historyinthemaking.

Mr. Kamar and Mr. Oakes

“Two very influential teachers come to mind when I think of inspirational Black leaders in our community,” says Arezoo Zand, District Manager at 24 Hour Fitness. “Mr. Kamar and Mr. Oakes are teachers at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley, California. As part of the African American Success Project, they teach a class called Umoja, which represents Black Unity. Their program is more than just a class; it’s a community for African American students at the middle school. My daughter, Darya, is a sixth grader and has been a part of this program, so I’ve seen firsthand what a big impact it has on their students. They learn about Black culture and history, Black leaders, guiding principles and what it means to be Black in America. They make a big impact on the community and students in Berkeley.”

Find Kamar O’Guinn on LinkedIn and follow Berkeley Unified School District on Twitter @BerkeleyUnified

Rev. Jerry W. Ford

“The person who inspires me is my late father, Rev. Jerry W. Ford,” says Jerry Ford, Master Coach at 24 Hour Fitness Burbank Empire Super-Sport. Ford senior passed away in 1979. “Upon his death, a San Francisco newspaper called him ‘a giant of a man’ because of his innumerable contributions to the Civil Rights Movement,” says his son. “He was a colleague and contemporary of Rev. Martin Luther King, and my father’s legacy is now being made a permanent collection of the California African American Museum.”

Ford continues, “My father taught me how vital it was to be an active part of something bigger than myself. He taught me how to be a proud Black man, without being arrogant. He taught me how to conquer fear and be able to stand firm in the face of horrible racial discrimination, without becoming violent and hateful. He taught me that strength should be shared with the downtrodden and he also taught me the value of honoring the contributions of those who went before me, those valiant souls whose struggles gave me the freedoms that I enjoyed as a young man. He then went on to instill in me the same desire to struggle for the benefit of those who would come after me. He taught me that love solves problems, while hate only continues and intensifies them.

“He was, and still is, the inspiration of countless souls who have led successful lives in spite of the daunting obstacles of prejudice and racial disparity. I am deeply proud to be his son.”

Barry E. Knight

Tammy Taylor, treasury analyst at 24 Hour Fitness, says her tight-knit circle of friends from fourth through sixth grade included Barry E. Knight. She says, “To us kids, there weren’t Black or white issues—we were all just friends and we didn’t know the difference.” What made Knight special at the time was that his dad was on “Wheel of Fortune.”

Taylor continues, “We all supported the Knight family and watched as Barry’s dad make it to the bonus round. He did not solve the final puzzle but it was just as exciting to a young child who had never seen anyone she knew on TV before. Barry and I graduated elementary school and because of where we lived, we went to different junior high and high schools and lost touch over the years.”

Thanks to social media, Taylor reconnected with Knight several decades later. She says, “He had become a pastor in his local church and did leadership training on the side. One day I saw a post on his Facebook page that [said] he believed he was being called to do leadership training full-time, so he transitioned from full-time pastor to [establish] BEK Impact company. I watch the videos that he shares of his thoughts and insights on business. I see the types of organizations that hire him to train…. I hear his voice and his way of delivering a message, and he does so in such a way that the message resonates without offense. I [find] myself thinking, ‘If only more people could hear him. If only he could be the next Martin Luther King Jr.,’ maybe we would live in a better world.

“Barry was doing the work of diversity training before it became a ‘thing.’ He was trying to help bridge the gap between people of color and white people, between executives of companies and the employees, and between haves and have-nots…. He is on the ground doing the work grassroots-style, trying to make the world a better place to live and work. There are a lot of people who get recognized because they are already famous. I would like to make Barry ‘famous’ [and] recognize the great work he is doing in and around this country and the world…. I wish more people had access to his knowledge and heart.”

Follow Barry E. Knight on Twitter @Bekspeaks; Facebook @bekimpactco, @BarryEKnight; Instagram @barryeknight

Photo credit: Nick Fewings, Unsplash; Jerry Ford; Arezoo Zand; Tammy Taylor