Ten Innovators to Watch in 2021-Smithsonian

These visionaries are imagining an exciting future with chicken-less eggs, self-piloting ships and more




This past year left us with no shortage of incredible innovations, chief among them Covid-19 vaccines. Following a harrowing 2020, we're excited to see how innovators continue to push the envelope and bring forth what they think the world needs. From celebrating and honoring black history to improving the mental health of K-12 students, we're keeping our eyes on these ten groundbreakers as they share their visions with the world.


Honoring Black History with Anitra Belle Henderson


Anitra Belle Henderson.jpg
Anitra Belle Henderson (Lemaris Alston)

In 1860, a plantation owner smuggled in a shipload of 110 African people to Alabama on the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States, decades after the U.S. had banned the importation of enslaved people. When enslaved people were freed in 1865, survivors of the Clotilda couldn't afford to return to Africa, so they founded Africatown instead, a bustling town rooted in their homelands and cultures.

After years of searching for the long-lost Clotilda, a team of historians and archaeologists finally discovered it at the bottom of Alabama's Mobile River in 2019. Now, the City of Mobile will open a heritage house in the summer of 2021 to tell the story of the Clotilda's survivors and of Africatown.

"We are excited to help the community tell their story," says Anitra Belle Henderson, the executive director of communications and external affairs for the City of Mobile and the lead on all the Africatown projects. "Our goal is for visitors to understand more about those who were enslaved. They have a name and a story."

The heritage house is designed to be an immersive experience. Visitors will feel the waves of the ocean like the enslaved people felt on their voyage, read stories of the slave trade and be introduced to the survivors of the Clotilda. They'll also be able to visit Africatown, where many descendants of the Clotilda's survivors still reside.

"Each detail of the heritage house was designed with reverence to the ancestors, descendants and the community," Belle Henderson says. "Those who are curious about African culture can visit an African community on American soil—a community that was built with hope and promise."

"The many stories show the diverse brilliance of black people," she says. "Since the [discovery] of the Clotilda there has been a new excitement in the community. Educating people about Africatown's past will definitely create a bright future for a community that so deserves the attention it is receiving."

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