Oakland, CA — In honor of Black History Month, The kNOw, a Fresno-based youth media outlet, has been releasing illustrated profiles of black changemakers. The Instagram project balances a mix of well-known figures like jazz singer Billie Holiday and baseball legend Jackie Robinson, with more obscure figures like Marsha P. Johnson, a New York drag queen and gay rights activist, and Charles Drew, a scientist who made important discoveries about blood transfusions.
Ruben Diaz, the 16-year-old illustrator behind the project, said he first started drawing because he was bored in his bio class.
WATCH A TIME-LAPSE VIDEO OF DIAZ DRAWING BILLIE HOLIDAY:
Diaz credits The kNOw for helping him discover he'd like to pursue illustration and graphic design as careers. A comic artist first, Diaz said he draws to entertain people and likes to put a positive spin on real life.
Besides Oprah, Barack Obama and Jackie Robinson, Diaz said he wasn't familiar with many black changemakers before he started the project. So he came to know about many of the figures he drew for the first time.
And he gained a lot of respect for the people he featured, which include chemist Alice Ball, who developed an early treatment for leprosy, and Frances Albrier, a civil and labor rights activist who fought to become a welder at a shipyard during World War II.
Diaz said he "admires the perseverance, endurance and motivation” the people he drew had to demonstrate in order to make a positive change in their communities and in the world.
Check out Diaz’s illustrations below.