NAME: Kerry Marisa Washington

LIFETIME: January 31, 1977 – Present

WHAT SHE IS KNOWN FOR: Kerry Washington is best known for playing the headstrong and powerful Olivia Pope on the ABC drama “Scandal,” a Shonda Rhimes series. For this role, Washington has been nominated twice for a Primetime Emmy Award, making her the first African-American woman to be nominated for that category in 18 years since Cicely Tyson. Additionally, in 2013 she won the award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series at the 44th NAACP Image Awards.

WHY WE LOVE HER: As TIME writes, Washington’s role as Olivia Pope has helped her “transcend age, race and gender, and to provide a new mainstream media lens through which to view modern womanhood and professional excellence … Kerry has offered up a fresh new archetype for what it means to lead while combining courage and compassion, strength and vulnerability, passion, steely discipline and unfailing loyalty.” In the few years she has starred in the show, she has become a role model for young women of color everywhere.

Not only does she play a powerful, revolutionary role onscreen, she also sets an example for women off-screen. Washington is an active supporter of gay rights and was named as an honorary co-chair of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Respect Awards in 2013 and she received the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Vanguard Award in 2015. According to Huffington Post, Washington has told Advocate that she’s “never been bothered by the lesbian rumor. There’s nothing offensive about it, so there’s no reason to be offended.” She is also a board member of V-Day, an organization that seeks to end violence against women and girls, and is part of The Creative Coalition and the Artists Committee for Americans for the Arts.

For her activism efforts, Washington received the NAACP President’s Award in 2013, which, according to USA Today, is an award “given in recognition of special achievement and public service. Previous honorees include Bill Clinton, Soledad O’Brien [and] Muhammad Ali.”

FUN FACT: Kerry Washington has not only redefined “modern womanhood and professional excellence,” she has also made her own mark in the fashion industry. In 2014, The Limited released a line of Olivia Pope-inspired clothing. According to Elle, “[Washington’s] character’s style has become a force in fashion, changing views on what women’s work wardrobe should look like if she wants to be taken seriously.” In fact, when introducing her new line, Washington says that her and designer Lyn Paolo “wanted to create a way of dressing that embodied empowerment but was also feminine and womanly, a way that you could tell that someone was a woman and tell that she was powerful, and you didn’t have to separate those two ideas.”

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