02/01/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 04/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Black History Month: 6 black Canadian culture-makers

February is Black History Month in Canada, which provides an opportunity to celebrate some of the movers and shakers at the heart of this country's arts and culture scene – and the icons who helped inspire them.

Meet six black Canadian culture-makers and the legends who energized them in this CBC Arts special feature.

​Canadian culture-maker: Stephan James, Toronto actor and Selma star.

Most influenced by: Oprah Winfrey.

Why: "[It's] what she's been able to do for so many people, just as a humanitarian, as a giver, as a lover of people. [She is] somebody so charitable, who has been able to have such a large effect on so many different people. That's somebody I definitely look up to."

On working with Oprah on Selma: "She's everything I thought she was. Working with her was a complete honour, she's so personable, and once you get over the whole 'oh, she's Oprah!' … it's kinda normal."

- VIDEO | Stephan James on playing Jesse Owens

James takes on the role of black American sprinter Jesse Owens in the upcoming historical drama Race. James talks about what he learned from portraying the legendary athlete in the video link above.

​Canadian culture-maker: Lawrence Hill, best-selling author of The Book of Negroes.

Most influenced by: Muhammad Ali, American boxing phenom.

Why: "He came into his prime as a boxer and as a civil rights activist when I was a young boy. You are always open to influence and to inspiration when you're a child. It wasn't because he was a champion boxer – if that's all he was I wouldn't have paid much attention to him. It's because he had the courage to give up his heavyweight boxing title and refused to go fight in the Vietnam war – a war he knew was unjust."

- VIDEO | Lawrence Hill describes why Muhammad Ali was much more than a boxer

The Book of Negroes, the six-part miniseries based on Hill's award-winning novel, airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC-TV. Full episodes can be viewed online.

Canadian culture-maker: Shad, Juno award-winning hip-hop artist.

Most influenced by: Lauryn Hill, American singer-songwriter and former member of The Fugees.

Why: "Not just for her incredible music and just how fun it was to listen to — but her courage. The fact that she was a whole person. She's fun and also spiritual and also smart and so having that example of a really whole and complete person in the media, I think that that was important for me in high school."

Why Shad's mother was his true role model: "What was important to her was that I was a caring person and an honest person, a fully human individual. [That's] a really important lesson in retrospect, a super valuable lesson, because this culture and this world is difficult to navigate … especially for a lot of young black people."

- VIDEO | Shad on the forming of his black identity

Shad, who beat out Drake for rap recording of the year at the 2011 Junos, will perform a concert March 27 in Toronto.

Canadian culture-maker: Measha Brueggergosman, award-winning international opera singer.

Most influenced by: Sterling Gosman, her father.

​Why: "He's always been very civic minded: he was a city councillor; he was a deacon; he worked for the CBC. He was also an athlete, but then in his retirement he went to university for the first time and became a pastor. He's been relentless and has never once brought up the issue of race as anything but a thing that either needs to be addressed and overcome – never ignored – but it wasn't ever going to be a factor in his success or failure."

- VIDEO | What Black History Month means to Measha Brueggergosman

 Brueggergosman describes the evolution of her black identity and what Black History Month means to her in the video link above.

​Canadian culture-maker: Clément Virgo, feature filmmaker and director of the hit miniseries The Book of Negroes.

Most influenced by: Bob Marley, international reggae music legend.

Why: "I'm from Jamaica. Bob Marley is from Jamaica. When I was a child he was a big influence on us in terms of his politics. Growing up, it was a political upheaval in Jamaica and Bob Marley was a voice of peace and of reason. I was too young to have met him, but he would be someone I would've loved to have met."

-  VIDEO | Clément Virgo reveals his No. 2 black icon

​Virgo's top-rated TV adaptation of Lawrence Hill's novel The Book of Negroes is currently airing on CBC-TV. The six-part series premiers in the U.S. on BET on Feb. 16.

​Canadian culture-maker: Esi Edugyan, novelist and author of the award-winning book Half-Blood Blues.

Most influenced by: Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Why: "I was just blown away by her voice, the strength of that and just how idiosyncratic it was and how she was searching to find ways to write or to articulate certain black expressions. I was completely floored by this. I was given permission, reading this book, to have a go with that myself.  She was hugely influential for me."

-  VIDEO | Esi Edugyan on growing up black in Alberta

​Edugyan is working on a new novel that she hopes will be out next year.

Tell us which black artist, musician, author, actor or cultural figure most influenced you in the comments below. Check back for more Black History Month content throughout the month of February.