Most Memorable Black Moments Of 2023

Look back collage
A look back at 2023. Photo: Getty Images / Chicago Defender

CHICAGO DEFENDER — The year began with the nation reckoning with the police beating of Tyre Nichols. This summer, millions of fans flocked to Beyonce’s Renaissance World. To close out the year, Diddy faced bombshell sexual abuse allegations from Cassie.

By Chicago Defender Staff

From fake kidnappings to tragic injustices, 2023 was filled with unforgettable moments for Black Americans.

The year began with the nation reckoning with the police beating of Tyre Nichols. This summer, millions of fans flocked to Beyonce’s Renaissance World. To close out the year, Diddy faced bombshell sexual abuse allegations from Cassie. These are just a few of the many events that rocked the Black community. Keep scrolling to look back at more of the most memorable moments in 2023.

Carlee Russell Fake Kidnapping


Russell made headlines in July after she suddenly disappeared following a 911 call where she reported a child walking alone on the side of the highway. The 26-year-old previously claimed she was kidnapped after getting out of her vehicle to check on the child. She returned home on foot two days after her alleged abduction.

At the time of her return, Russell’s loved ones said she “was literally fighting for her life for 48 hours” and asked the public to give her grace until “she’s physically & mentally stable again.”

Russell ultimately admitted that she fabricated the entire situation, from the 911 call to her abduction. She was charged and found guilty in October of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident.

Jada and Will Smith Relationship Revelations


Will and Jada had the internet buzzing after the actress said they were still legally married but had been separated for seven years during an October interview with Hoda Kotb.

“It was not a divorce on paper,” Hoda posed during the interview.

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“Right,” Jada responded.

“…but it was a divorce,” Hoda said.

“Divorce,” Jada replied.

The interview came just ahead of the release of her memoir, Worthy, in which she also revealed that “unclear on the reason why Will is so upset” when Chris Rock made a joke about her alopecia before the infamous 2022 Oscars slap.

“We had been living separate lives and were there as family, not as husband and wife. But when I hear Will yell “wife” in the chaos of the moment, an internal shift of Oh s— . . . I am his wife! happens instantly,” Jada wrote in the book.

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However, after her comments went viral, Jada clarified in follow-up interviews that she and Will were working toward “healing” their relationship.

Tyre Nichols Death


The police beating and death of Tyre Nichols shook the nation at the top of the year. Police footage showed Memphis police officers repeatedly punched, kicked, and hit Nichols with a baton during a traffic stop on January 7. Nichols was hospitalized following the beating and ultimately succumbed to his injuries three days later.

Five officers, who were a part of the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit, which has since been deactivated, were fired and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. They were also indicted by a federal grand jury in September on charges relating to the deprivation of rights under color of law, including excessive force and failure to intervene as well as deliberate indifference, and conspiracy to witness-tamper.

Alabama Boat Brawl


The viral Alabama boat brawl was one of the biggest unifying moments for the Black community this year. A brawl unfolded in August at the Montgomery Riverfront Park after Damien Pickett, the Black co-captain of the Harriott ll, moved a pontoon boat that was illegally parked in his boat’s docking location.

Chaos ensued after Pickett moved the boat. Video showed Pickett being violently attacked by a group of white assailants on the dock of the riverfront park.

As Pickett attempted to fight back against his attackers, onlookers jumped to his defense, with one person swimming up to the dock to take on the assailants while another infamously wielded a folding chair.

Three white men, all of whom came from the pontoon boat, were initially arrested in connection to the incident. Another white woman, Mary Todd, and Reggie Ray, who wielded a folding chair as a weapon in defense of Pickett, are also facing charges in connection to the brawl.

Ms Jacky Oh’s Death


On May 31, Jacky Oh!, DC Young Fly’s longtime partner and Wild ‘N Out star, reportedly died in Miami after having a “mommy makeover.”

BET Media Group confirmed her death on June 1. She was 32.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Jacklyn Smith, known to the world as Jacky Oh, a talented Wild ‘N Out family member whose impact will be forever treasured and missed,” BET Media Group wrote in an Instagram post. “Jacky Oh was a loving friend and beloved colleague of the Wild ‘N Out cast throughout five seasons. More importantly, she was a tremendous mother to three beautiful children.”

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A medical examiner ruled her death accidental, and officials declined to launch a criminal investigation after she died from surgery complications.

Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour


Beyoncé took the globe by storm when she kicked off her Renaissance World Tour this summer. Fans came out in droves in chrome, “Alien Superstar” themed costumes to watch Bey perform.

Viral moments from the concert included Bey’s daughter, Blue Ivy, serving as her backup dancer during the tour and the “Mute Challenge,” which saw cities competing with each other to see who could remain silent during a few seconds of the artist’s performance of “Energy.” The Grammy Award winner also released a concert film in December highlighting her journey on the monumental tour.

Rihanna’s Halftime Baby Reveal


After years of fans begging for her to return to music, Rihanna performed her hit songs “Umbrella,” “Work,” “Diamonds,” and more during the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show. The most memorable part of the show was Rihanna showing off her pregnant belly in a red jumper.

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The artist later confirmed that she was having a second baby with A$AP Rocky. The couple welcomed Riot Rose in August 2023.

Keke Palmer/Darius Jackson Split and Abuse Allegations


Keke and her former partner Darius Jackson initially made headlines after he criticized the outfit she wore to an Usher concert in Las Vegas.

“It’s the outfit tho.. you a mom,” Jackson infamously tweeted and deleted in July.

Jackson received widespread backlash on social media for his comment but still doubled down on his stance in a follow-up tweet.

“We live in a generation where a man of the family doesn’t want the wife & mother to his kids to showcase booty cheeks to please others & he gets told how much of a hater he is,” Jackson later wrote. “This is my family & my representation. I have standards & morals to what I believe. I rest my case.”

After break-up reports surfaced, Palmer filed for legal and physical custody of her son, Leodis, who she shares with Jackson, as well as a temporary restraining order against her former partner in November. Palmer claimed that Jackson was “unhinged, volatile, and dangerous” and abused her “multiple times over the past 2+ years,” according to court documents.

Halle Bailey’s Little Mermaid Release


Beginning with the debut of the trailer, Black women and girls all over the world shared in their excitement about Halle Bailey playing the role of Ariel in the 2023 remake of The Little Mermaid.

The film faced a wave of racist backlash from people who believed Disney was “too woke” for casting Bailey as Ariel, but The Little Mermaid still prevailed as one of the biggest box office hits of 2023.

Black women of all ages shared videos on social media of their reactions to Bailey taking on the groundbreaking role, using hashtags like #representationmatters to note the importance of diversity in media.

Jonathan Majors Assault Case


As his stardom was on the rise, a trial began for Creed and Marvel star Jonathan Majors, who was charged with assault and aggravated harassment in connection to a March dispute with his former girlfriend, Grace Jabbari. According to a complaint, Majors struck Jabbari “about the face with an open hand, causing substantial pain and a laceration behind her ear.”

Amid the trial, text messages submitted in court appeared to reveal that Majors admitted to previous physical violence against his now-ex. In the September 2022 texts, Majors urged Jabbari to not go to the hospital for a head injury due to fears of an investigation and that they would “suspect something.”

Majors has maintained his innocence.

Tory Lanez Sent To Prison


In August, Lanez was handed down a 10-year prison sentence after he was found guilty of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, having a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle, and discharging a firearm with gross negligence in connection with the shooting of Megan Thee Stallion.

Meg testified that Lanez told her to “dance, b*tch,” and shot at her feet following a July 12, 2020, get-together at Kylie Jenner’s home. The rapper said at the time she had no doubt that Lanez fired the shots “over nothing more than a bruised ego.”

“When Megan insulted his ability as an artist — that’s what set him off that night,” a prosecutor previously said of Lanez.

Angel Reese and LSU Women’s Basketball Team Championship Win


Led by star forward Angel Reese, the LSU Tigers defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes to become this year’s NCAA women’s basketball national champions.

Reese, who was crowned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, faced backlash after hitting Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark with the “you can’t see me” hand motion and pointing at the finger where she would soon wear her national championship ring during the title game.

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There were also headlines around Reese’s reaction to first lady Jill Biden suggesting that both the Tigers and Hawkeyes receive an invite to the White House, an honor that is usually only reserved for the winner. Reese initially expressed that she was hurt by the comment and wouldn’t visit the White House, but she ultimately participated in the tradition.

Cassie Sues Diddy Over Abuse Allegations


In November, Cassie’s lawsuit against Diddy sent shockwaves over the internet. The lawsuit alleged Cassie was subjected to years of sexual assault and trafficking at the hands of the mogul.

Cassie and Diddy, however, settled the lawsuit shortly after it was filed. Combs’ lawyer said the settlement wasn’t an admission of guilt.

“Just so we’re clear, a decision to settle a lawsuit, especially in 2023, is in no way an admission of wrongdoing,” the lawyer said.

Similar allegations later surfaced against Diddy including a woman alleging that the artist, his longtime lieutenant Harve Pierre, and a third unidentified man “gang raped” her when she was 17 inside a Manhattan recording studio.

Deion Sanders and the Colorado Buffaloes


Earlier this year, Coach Prime left Jackson State University for a head coaching position with the Colorado Buffaloes.

All eyes were on Prime and Buffaloes when they started the season 3-0, including a win against TCU football, who made it to the College Football National Championship Game last year. However, the Buffaloes ultimately finished the season 4-8, sparking criticism of Sanders’ coaching and presence in the media.

Tennessee 3


Tennesee House Republicans faced widespread criticism after they voted to expel Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, who are Black, for protesting gun violence on the chamber floor in the wake of a March shooting at Nashville’s The Covenant School. A third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, also joined the protest but wasn’t expelled from the House.

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Days after their expulsions, local government bodies voted to reinstate Jones and Pearson to their seats. However, under state law, both were required to run for their old seats in primary and general elections. The two ultimately won special elections to keep their state seats.

Jeezy Files For Divorce From Jeannie Mai


Jeezy filed for divorce from Mai, saying in a November 2023 interview with Nia Long that he felt “saddened” and “disappointed” by their separation. Jeezy said she Mai it difficult for him to spend time with their daughter, and he felt it was time to make their separation permanent.

Jeannie Mai denied interfering with Jeezy’s visitation and countered with concerns she said she had about Jeezy’s firearms, which she alleged had been “unsecured” in previous instances. She insisted on reasonable safety measures being put in place, such as safely securing and locking away all firearms that have been unsecured in the past, as well as having familiarity and properly trained caregivers.

O’Shae Sibley Killed At Gas Station For Voguing To Beyoncé


In July, O’Shae Sibley, a professional dancer and choreographer who is gay, and his friends were dancing to Beyoncé’s Rennaisance while filling up their tank before he was fatally stabbed in an apparent anti-LGBTQ attack.

The fatal incident unfolded after the friends were approached by a group of men who yelled slurs at them and demanded they stop dancing. Sibley and Otis Pena, one of his friends, told the men: “Stop saying that. There is nothing wrong with being gay.”

An argument between Sibley and the group ensued before one of the men stabbed him, police said. Sibley was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Following Sibley’s death, Bey paid tribute to the dancer on her official website.

Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary


Throughout 2023, hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary. Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a first-of-its-kind celebration at her home of 50 years of hip-hop.

“To be clear, hip-hop culture is America’s culture,” the VP said in a statement. “It is music and melody and rhyme. Hip-hop is also an ethos of strength and self-determination; of ambition and aspiration; of pride, power, and purpose. Hip-hop is a declaration of identity. It says I love who I am. I represent where I come from, and I know where I’m going.”

Several music award shows including the Grammys also paid tribute to the momentous occasion.

Coco Gauff Becomes Grand Slam Champion


In September, Gauff won her first-ever Grand Slam, claiming a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win against Aryna Sabalenka in the U.S. Open final.

Gauff called out the people who doubted her during her post-match interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said. “Like a month ago, I won a 500 title and people said I would stop at that. Two weeks ago, I won a 1000 title and people were saying that was the biggest I was going to get. So three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now. I tried my best to carry this with grace and I’ve been doing my best.

Don Lemon’s CNN Exit


This year saw Lemon departing from his longtime role at CNN. In April, the now-former anchor said he was unexpectedly fired by CNN after 17 years with the network.

“I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN, I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly. At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network,” Lemon tweeted at the time.

However, CNN fired back at Lemon’s statement calling it “inaccurate.”

“Don Lemon’s statement about this morning’s events is inaccurate. He was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.”

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