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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

Lessons From Betty White And Other Trailblazers We Lost In 2021


Actress Betty White in 2015 wearing blue jacket
Actress Betty White on June 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vincent Sandoval/WireImage) WIREIMAGE

As 2021 comes to a close, this is an opportunity to remember and honor some of the many impact makers we lost this year. Here are wise words from barrier breakers who led social justice movements, penned works that spoke truth to power, and transformed entire industries.


On passion...

“Everybody needs a passion. That’s what keeps life interesting. If you live without passion, you can go though life without leaving any footprints.”

~Betty White, actress, animal rights activist and author who died on December 31st


On forgiveness…

“Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering—remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”

~Desmond Tutu, leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa who died on December 26th


On character…

“Character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.”

~Joan Didion, social commentator and author of “The Year Of Magical Thinking,” among other books, who died on December 23rd


On using your voice…

"No black woman writer in this culture can write 'too much.' Indeed, no woman writer can write 'too much' … No woman has ever written enough."

~bell hooks, professor and trailblazing author covering sexism, racism and feminism, who died on December 15th


On being a life-long learner…

“If you look at why people become wack as they get older, it's because they stop doing the things they did that were formative to their work. You can't mentally stay still. You can't not challenge yourself.”

~Virgil Abloh, founder of the fashion house Off-White and the first Black artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, who died on November 28th


On the American Dream…

“You see, without hard work and responsibility, there is no American Dream. Hard work lays the foundation. Our solidarity makes work pay—for all of us. For the greater good. That's what our vision of shared prosperity is all about.”

~Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO who supported the labor movement and died on August 5th


On integrity…

“The measure of your quality as a public person, as a citizen, is the gap between what you do and what you say.”

~Ramsey Clark, Former Attorney General and civil rights activist, who died on April 9th


On believing in yourself…

“I never doubted my ability, but when you hear all your life you're inferior, it makes you wonder if the other guys have something you've never seen before. If they do, I'm still looking for it.”

~Hank Aaron, a Baseball Hall of Fame recipient who broke Babe Ruth’s record for home runs despite facing racism, who died on January 22nd


Cicely Tyson of "Cherish the Day"
Cicely Tyson of "Cherish the Day" (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

On what matters most…

“I don't think you can measure wealth in dollars and cents. I really don't believe that at all, because there are some things that money cannot buy. One of them is health. And the other is security in your relationships and friends.”

~Cicely Tyson, award-winning actress known for portraying strong Black women characters, who died on January 26th


*article updated 12/31/21 to include Betty White

Article originally published in Forbes

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