African-American Influencers Making an Impact on Society
Entrepreneurship is on the rise — especially among the African-American community.
Such business titans are reshaping the fields of the politics, education, arts, and medicine.[source: Ebony Magazine] Between 2002 and 2007, the number of businesses owned by African-Americans increased by three times the national rate (60.5 percent), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Notably, African-American women are the fastest-growing demographic in business ownership.
In December 2015, Ebony magazine unveiled its annual Power 100 list of influential black leaders in America. Honorees were divided into categories such as “the players,” which included Drake and Empire creator Lee Daniels, and “politics as (un)usual,” with nods to Kamala Harris and Loretta Lynch, the attorneys general of California and the U.S., respectively.
As America grapples with the continued prevalence of racism (as seen in recent news of police brutality, and discrimination on college campuses), the importance of having more African-American leaders is especially apparent. These entrepreneurs are doing more than attaching their names to a pre-existing brand; they’re also moving society forward.
Take a moment to meet this year’s EBONY Power 100
Recording Artist / Actress
It’s one thing to sing and dance for the entertainment of the people; another to insist on justice for them. In August 2015, Janelle Monáe tapped into the heritage of protest songs when she released “Hell You Talmbout,” an anthem against the disregard for African-American lives. The single features the singer and her label mates chanting the names of Black victims of police brutality and vigilante killings.
Actor / Model / Activist
A beautiful man with a beautiful mind, Jesse Williams is using his platform as his megaphone, articulating the anger of Black people tired of suffering in silence. The “Grey’s Anatomy” star made headlines for a 24-tweet series about police brutality and White privilege following the death of Sandra Bland, but he does more than you see on social media, bringing his passion into on-the-ground work with organizations such as the Advancement Project and Sankofa.
Singer / Songwriter / Actor
A genius who makes the most romantic of love songs, John Legend is gaining a reputation for being just as passionate about his activism. Legend funded food trucks to feed New York protesters who were demanding justice for Eric Garner. He also spent much of last year visiting prisons and forcing dialogue about criminal justice reform as part of his #freeamerica campaign. Even when he and Common won the Oscar for their song, “Glory,” Legend used his acceptance speech to denounce mass incarceration.
The Compton rapper has proven that three is a magic number. In February, Lamar won two Grammys for “i,” the lead single of his third album. A month later, “To Pimp a Butterfly” debuted in the top spot on Billboard charts. However, the biggest honor to befell Lamar may be how the chorus of his song “Alright” became a chant for Black Lives Matter protestors.
Singer / Songwriter / Actor
Prince floated onto the stage at the 2015 Grammys in the flyest tangerine jumpsuit ever, rocking his Afro and wielding a scepter. During the show-stealing moment, he declared, “Like books and Black lives, albums still matter,” and the universe collectively squealed with delight. Later, amid unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, The Purple One and his band, 3RDEYEGIRL, traveled to Baltimore for a special tribute concert and recorded a track in honor of those who have died as a result of racial profiling.
Director / Producer
He’s a MacArthur Genius Fellow who received a National Humanities Medal from President Obama. Yet for Stanley Nelson, who has spent more than two decades directing and producing documentaries that explore the rich histories of African-Americans, his biggest honor may be providing technical education and professional support to emerging documentarians through his nonprofit Firelight Media. The filmmaker has three more docs on deck: a feature-length film about the Black Panther Party, one on HBCUs and another civil rights stalwart John Lewis.
Founder / Creative Director, HARBISON
This former womenswear designer for Michael Kors studied textiles, fine arts and painting at North Carolina State University before traveling abroad to absorb as much knowledge as possible about central Asian textiles. It paid off. The 32-year-old’s audience ballooned when Beyoncé wore a Harbison original to a New York Fashion Week show for Kanye West’s adidas.
Kerby Jean-Raymond Pyer Moss
New York Fashion Week had never experienced anything quite like the Pyer Moss Spring 2016 show in September. Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond opened with a 15-minute video filled with graphic footage of police brutality, including the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Once the models emerged on the runway, the mood stayed serious.
CEO, Miss Jessies
For many naturalistas, Miss Jessie’s hair products are a balm for curls, kinks and coils. For founder Branch, they’re an homage to the homegrown creations of her grandmother, the original Miss Jessie. Following the death of her sister and business partner Titi in December 2014, Branch once again had to tap into an ancestral legacy of tenacity. This year, she released her memoir, “Miss Jessie’s: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch—Naturally”, to share how she helped to usher in a self-love revolution for Black hair.
Style blogger / Fashion Editor / Brand Consultant / Swimwear Designer
Since 2008, Gabi Gregg has worked tirelessly to empower so-called plus-size women via her site, GabiFresh.com. The wildly popular style blogger doesn’t just acknowledge the fashion needs of this typically ignored demographic; she celebrates them with body-positive photos that celebrate curves with luxurious, sexy threads. She was consulted by Target to help rethink, revamp and relaunch its plus-size debut line, Ava+Viv, and she partnered with Swimsuits for All to create the GabiFresh for SwimSexy collection.
Singer / Songwriter
Fueled by the upheaval in Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, following the death of Michael Brown, the artist FKA Michael Archer pushed up the release date of his third album, “Black Messiah”, dazzling critics and fans. In 2015, he and his masterfully-assembled band, The Vanguard, gave listeners—new and loyal—a chance to rock out to his hypnotic brand of funk-and-R&B tonic via the highly successful Second Coming world tour.
Darnell L. Moore
Writer / Activist
Born in Camden, N.J., Moore is a writer, scholar, activist and bearded wonder is known for his insightful commentary and advocacy around social justice issues, gender and youth development. Armed with a passion for progress and the uncanny ability to be perpetually Instagram-ready, Moore’s relentless fight for justice and awareness has taken him from the pages of EBONY and The Guardian to Palestine as the part of the United States’ first delegation of LGBTQ leaders. The co-managing editor of The Feminist Wire, Moore also became senior editor at MicNews in 2015.
Elliott Wilson & Danyel Smith
Journalists / Magazine Editors
Though many proclaim the death of magazines, these two veteran editors are determined to show the genre isn’t just alive, it’s exciting. Husband-and-wife team Elliott Wilson and Danyel Smith have worked at a host of publications, including Vibe, XXL and Billboard. But their most recent passion project was HRDCVR. Released in October after being crowdfunded on Kickstarter, the hardcover culture magazine celebrates the diverse stories, from transgender activists to middle school kids.
Writer / Editor / Associate Professor – English and Africana Studies, Vassar College
Master wordsmith Kiese Laymon gripped hearts, shook minds and earned fans by the hundreds of thousands with a brutally introspective personal essay published on “Gawker” called “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America”. After going viral, it became the titular piece of his 2013 book of essays, which was released just months after Laymon’s debut novel, “Long Division”. The professor of English at Vassar College is now working on a memoir and a second novel.
Kirsten West Savali
Cultural Critic / Senior Writer, The Root
A cultural critic and writer, Kirsten West Savali is establishing her place among the new generation of Black thought leaders, a group passionate about the narrative presented to the African-American community. As senior editor for TheRoot.com, Savali writes intriguing commentary on feminism, race, religion and pop culture. She is also the recipient of the 2015 Harry Frank Guggenheim Fellowship.
Host, The Nightly Show
One hundred episodes can either go by unbelievably quick or drag on painfully, depending on the circumstances. Luckily for the writer/comedian/producer and host of “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore”, the transition from his heralded character of Senior Black Correspondent on “The Daily Show” to his own seat at the host’s desk has been a successful one. With his signature mix of poignant social commentary and wry wit, Wilmore is standing solid and ready for an election year full of potshots—and no candidate is safe.
LaToya Ruby Frazier
It’s an honor to be called a “genius.” Fortunately, when LaToya Ruby Frazier won the coveted MacArthur fellowship (aka the “genius grant”) her career had prepared her to embrace both. Frazier’s photographic storytelling is often set in Braddock, Pa., the steel town outside Pittsburgh where she grew up. It is the locale for “The Notion of Family”, Frazier’s celebrated debut book.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Trymaine Lee is one of the most valued truth tellers in mainstream media. Exploring how social and political issues affect everyday people, the MSNBC national reporter delivered a powerful look at what it means to be poor in one of the world’s richest nation’s via the interactive Geography of Poverty project. Next up? He’s writing a book on the toll of gun violence in America.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
A survivor and former refugee of the Liberian Civil War who immigrated to the United States at age 13, Bayoh purchased an IHOP franchise in Irvington, NJ, when she was 27, making her one of the youngest franchisees in the restaurant’s history. Seven years later, she opened another location in Paterson, NJ, which generated an impressive 120 jobs in the township. Bayoh is also is co-founder of Kapwood LLC, a real estate development firm.
Black Youth Project 100
Activist member-based organization
The young activists—ages 18 to 35—have spent the past two years advocating for the economic, social, political and educational independence of all Black people. Led by Charlene A. Carruthers, the organization is keeping local and state authorities accountable for state-sanctioned violence against people of color. In 2015, members have publicly called for the firing of the Chicago Police Department detective who killed Rekia Boyd.
A Blueprint for Ending Police Violence
The project was borne amid daily reports of extrajudicial police-related killings and fruitless struggles for justice. Spearheaded by activists DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, Samuel Sinyangwe and Brittany Packnett, and executed with contributions from researchers, protestors and organizers, Campaign Zero offers what it describes as a “comprehensive package of urgent policy solutions.” It seeks to address and improve how police officials interact with our communities.
Rapper / Record Producer / Entrepreneur
Chicago-bred rapper Lupe Fiasco is known for being outspoken about social and political issues. This year, he partnered with Di-Ann Eisnor to launch a nonprofit to fund startup businesses and provide resources to underserved areas. The Neighborhood Start Fund is launching in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, and winners of a pitch competition will receive funding, mentorship and networking.
Hip Hop Recording Artist / Songwriter / Record Producer
Continuing the victory lap that followed the release of 2014 Forest Hill Drive–the rapper’s third consecutive No. 1 disc—Cole continues to use his platform for good. One of a handful of artists to address the police brutality movement, most notably via the song “Be Free,” he’s also using his platform to help those in need. He announced that he intends to turn his childhood home into a rent-free residency for single mothers, rotating families every two years.
Executive Director, Color of Change
Color of Change was formed in response to the U.S. government’s inadequate relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Oakland-based organization has battled voter suppression and fought on behalf of Troy Davis, the Jena 6, Eric Garner and Renisha McBride. Under Executive Director Rashad Robinson’s guidance, membership has exploded to more than 1 million members nationwide.
Show Me $15
Most fast food workers are single mothers, immigrants and veterans, struggling to survive on less than a living wage. Enter the Show Me $15 movement, fighting for income equality and unionization. The group’s rallies and strikes started three years ago and have resulted in much-needed progress—both Seattle and San Francisco have passed laws increasing minimum wage to $15 with other cities pledging to do the same.
Commissioned to conceptualize the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, and the Idea Store in London, architect David Adjaye is also the lead designer on the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, scheduled for completion in 2016. His groundbreaking work is on display via an exhibit, “Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye,” at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Ernest Wooden, Jr.
President and CEO, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board
Growing up in Brooklyn without much money, Ernest Wooden Jr. did not get to travel the world. Today, however, he is a major force in tourism. In 2013, he became the first African-American CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, where he continues to bring the gift of travel to millions.
Journalist / Anchor, NBC Nightly News
Stepping in for scandal-plagued colleague Brian Williams when he was reassigned to MSNBC, Lester Holt became the permanent host of NBC’s primetime juggernaut Nightly News, making him the first Black solo anchor of a network evening news program. Holt, who spent four years manning the “Dateline” desk, is responsible for the newscast consistently topping its closest competition, “ABC World News Tonight”.
Jones’ ESPN radio show, aptly titled “The Right Time”, moved to a better listening slot—from 4 to 7 p.m.—bringing his relatable, cool-brother commentary to a more coveted audience. Jones talks about social issues, including race, even engaging in a kind of grown-man Twitter beef with colleague Chris Broussard about premarital sex. The economist-turned-writer-turned-sports analyst gave his first TEDTalk in November and still finds time for his day job as co-host of ESPN’s TV show, “Highly Questionable”, and his weekly podcast, “The Evening Jones”, where he really lets it fly.
Curley M. Dossman Jr.
President, Georgia-Pacific Foundation
As the fifth chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., a global organization with more than 10,000 members, Dossman works tirelessly to improve the lives and ensure the success of underserved youth in our communities. He upholds the company’s mission via the organization’s four longtime pillars: mentoring, health and wellness, education and economic development, all while serving concurrently as president of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation. The mentorship program is implemented in 110+ local and 50 collegiate chapters and operates under the motto, “What they see is what they’ll be.”
Broderick D. Johnson
Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
In 2015, the organization’s first year, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) secured hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and in-kind resources to fund its growth efforts. That success is due largely to Broderick Johnson, the chair of President Obama’s community-oriented initiative to provide support, guidance, resources and tools to develop nimble decision-making skills for underserved, marginalized Black boys nationwide.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.
Professional stock car racing driver
He’s been called the “Great Black Hope” of NASCAR, and at just 22 years old, Bubba Wallace’s track record supports the hype. In 2010, the Mobile, Ala., native won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, becoming the first African-American and youngest driver ever to do so at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Three years later, Wallace became the first Black driver to win one of NASCAR’s top three touring divisions since 1963. He currently competes full time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
CEO, Campaign for Black Male Achievement
Via his growing national network, the Campaign For Black Male Achievement (CBMA), this New York-based community leader, mentor and educator has devoted himself to the empowerment and success of Black men. Dove’s outreach and strategy work is fueled by a desire to guide men and boys of color back from the margins of society through education, guidance, empowerment and access to resources. Among other initiatives, Dove and the CBMA are pushing for progress in the areas of education, family and employment.
EVP, Football Operations, NFL
Troy Vincent is among the most awarded NFL player in the league’s history, having appeared in the Pro Bowl five times and winning a string of top honors. The former cornerback who played for the Dolphins, Eagles, Bills and Redskins, has transitioned from the field to the boardroom. Vincent is the new executive vice president of football operations, among the NFL’s highest-ranking posts. With two decades as player and his time as an executive to aid him, Vincent will uphold the integrity of the game and on-field discipline, as well as oversee college relations, game operations and player personnel.
Founder, The Precedential Group
Who better to effectively advocate for gun control laws than someone who served a 10-year bid for his role in a gun-related crime? As founder of the Precedential Group, a social justice consulting firm, Peterson has devoted his life to helping to keep communities of color, such as the Brooklyn neighborhood he grew up in, safe. The 2015 Soros Justice Fellowship recipient is also a writer, public speaker and workshop facilitator who lectures at colleges, universities and community forums.
Carmen A. N’Namdi
Chief Educational Officer, Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit
Who better to lead the discussion on school reform than a woman with more than 30 years of experience in education? Carmen N’Namdi is the co-founder of the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse in Detroit, a private institution that opened in 1978 with 18 students and became one of the first charter schools in Michigan. There are currently 425 students, and N’Namdi is a member of the National Charter Schools Institute Board of Directors.
Executive Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans
As executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, David Johns is an unapologetic advocate for Black youth. The 33-year-old Johns is also a former elementary school teacher who went on to become a policy adviser to the Obama campaign. Now the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow’s job is to manage the administration’s efforts to produce a more effective continuum of education programs for African-American students.
Harold L. Martin, Sr.
Chancellor, NC A&T State University
Upholding the legacy of a 125-year-old historically Black university requires great vision, wisdom and dynamic leadership—qualities that many would use to describe Harold Martin. The first former student to lead the university, Martin has been chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University since 2009 and has worked to maintain the institution’s status as one of the nation’s top homes for land grant scholarships and to preserve its ranking of third within the University of North Carolina system in sponsored research funding.
John B. King
United States Deputy Secretary of Education
While being handpicked by President Obama to replace Arne Duncan as the new Secretary of Education sounds like a fairy tale, King’s journey to the president’s Cabinet has been neither glamorous nor effortless. The child of two educators, the Harvard graduate and co-founder of Boston’s Roxbury Preparatory Charter School is set to ascend from deputy education secretary to Cabinet member in December.
Principal, Mott Hall Bridges Academy
As the principal and co-founder of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, located in the Brooklyn section of New York City, Nadia Lopez questioned her impact and contemplated giving up. Then, eighth grader Vidal Chastanet went on the popular Humans of New York blog, stating that Lopez was the most influential person in his life. His comment went viral, and Lopez later co-launched an Indiegogo fundraiser to send her students to visit Harvard. The goal was $100,000; they raised $1.4 million.
Professional basketball player
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard inspires nearly as many headlines for his sartorial savvy as he does his skills on the court; however, it’s what the four-time NBA All-Star/2015 All-Star MVP does in his spare time that makes us cheer the loudest. With the Russell Westbrook Why Not? Foundation and his Reading Room, he’s provided support for children and families across the country via literacy initiatives and support for community service organizations.
Njema J. Frazier, Ph.D
Nuclear Physicist, National Nuclear Security Administration
When she’s not working as a nuclear physicist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, Njema Frazier is spreading word about her passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. The founder of Diversity Science, an expert-based network of STEM professionals, she’s currently creating a similar online network where established science professionals are matched to companies and organizations.
Willie Parker, M.D.
The 51-year-old ob-gyn has made it his mission to defend and support a woman’s right to choose. Parker, who left a comfortable job with Planned Parenthood to work at the sole abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, faces consistent attacks and threats to his life and livelihood. Despite it all, he proudly offers humane, professional treatment and counsel to patients.
Edith P. Mitchell, M.D.
President, National Medical Association
As the new president of the National Medical Association (NMA), the country’s oldest and largest professional society for African-American physicians, Edith Mitchell has ticked off another crowning achievement on a long list of professional accolades. She has spent her career helping people in medically underserved areas realize that simple lifestyle changes can dramatically impact cancer care. Prior to the NMA, Mitchell was the program leader of gastrointestinal oncology and associate director for diversity programs at Thomas Jefferson University. She is also a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, the first female physician to attain this rank.
Attorney General, California
Elected the first Black female attorney general for the state of California just four short years ago, Kamala Harris has spent her tenure developing smart and tough approaches on crime, education, public safety and housing. The Oakland native, who has made a national name for herself as a staunch advocate for progressive issues including cyber safety and marriage equality, is currently campaigning to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Director, State Campaigns and Political Engagement, Hillary for America
He is the man behind the woman most likely to take the White House in 2016. And Marlon Marshall, the director of state campaigns and political engagement for Hillary Clinton, unequivocally sees no one better to become president. “She’s the only candidate to talk specifically about what she’d do on voting rights. That matters for both young and older African-Americans,” the former Obama White House aide told Politico.
Strategic Communications Professional
Attorney General, United States of America
In April, the GOP-majority Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch as the new U.S. attorney general—after a five-month delay. The former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York became the first African-American woman to become our nation’s chief law enforcement officer. She quickly got to work launching a federal investigation into the Baltimore Police Department following the death of Freddie Gray.
Boston City Councilor-at-Large
The first woman of color to serve on the Boston City Council, Chicago-born Ayanna Pressley has made a career of putting others before herself. Pressley has not stopped fighting to stabilize poor families and communities, reduce and prevent violence and trauma and address issues disproportionately impacting women and girls. The former aide to Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and Sen. John Kerry recently earned the EMILY’s List Rising Star Award.
State’s Attorney for Baltimore, Maryland
The youngest chief prosecutor in a major U.S. city (Baltimore), Marilyn Mosby launched an investigation into the officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. The 35-year-old Mosby would gain national acclaim—and some scrutiny—after she announced murder charges against all six officers in a powerful press conference. But she remains unmoved by her detractors as she prepares for the first of six separate trials beginning late this year.
Mayor, Newark NJ
When Ras Baraka won Newark’s mayoral election in May 2014, he inherited a city with a $93 million budget deficit, the highest murder rate in decades and a school system that had more failures than achievements. After he took office, the former high school principal and son of the late poet and scholar Amiri Baraka passed an ordinance requiring city contractors to reserve 51 percent of their jobs for Newark residents, opened nine social services centers and closed the city’s huge budget deficit without any layoffs.
Christian hip hop artist / Songwriter / Record Producer / Actor
Gospel music has gone from molasses-dipped spirituals to roof-raising praise anthems and liturgical battle cyphers. Still, it was surprising that this year the Gospel Music Association awarded Artist of the Year to a rapper: Houston-born Lecrae. No stranger to making history, Lecrae’s 2014 album, “Anomaly”, was the first ever to top Billboard’s Gospel Charts and the Top 200 simultaneously.
The Rev. Neichelle Guidry
Associate Pastor to Young Adults, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago
The associate pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ Neichelle Guidry is quickly becoming one of her generation’s most powerful female faith leaders. Recognized as one of TIME’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership, the San Antonio native is also editor-in-chief and founder of Shepreaches, an online magazine that aims to uplift Black women in ministry.
The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou
Author / Documentary filmmaker / Pastor / Theologian
A shining example of new-generation clergy—the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou demonstrates inspired faith instead of turn-the-other-cheek rhetoric. A filmmaker, writer and fist-pumping advocate for the gay and lesbian community, the Harvard-educated organizer relocated from Boston to St. Louis, Mo., following the death of Mike Brown.
Actress / Producer
The boundlessly talented star of ABC’s sexiest primetime legal thriller, Viola Davis is a triple genre threat. Every Thursday she closes Shondaland with a fiery performance as the ruthless, law-bending Annalise Keating on “How To Get Away With Murder”. Then there is her work on stage and screen, including the upcoming HBO-adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences. Fresh off of an Emmy win this year, Davis multiple awards and the accolades of countless people buoyed by her fearless stands on Black women and opportunity in America.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon
Senior Pastor, Christ the King United Church of Christ
As the first female pastor in the 156-year history of the Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., the Rev. Traci Blackmon ministers to the mind, body and spirit. When she’s not taking a stand against police violence in Ferguson, which resulted in an appointment to the Ferguson Commission, Blackmon works as a licensed registered nurse and has a partnership with BJC HealthCare, where she develops holistic programming for medically underserved communities in the St. Louis area.
Activist / Filmmaker
As the country mourned the shooting death of nine Charleston, S.C., parishioners this past June, state lawmakers argued over removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House building. When they couldn’t reach a decision, activist Bree Newsome made it for them. The filmmaker fearlessly scaled a 30-foot flagpole and took the flag down. She was immediately arrested; however, her gutsy actions went viral. Later, the Confederate flag was ordered permanently removed.
During the civil unrest in Baltimore, Allen found himself camera-ready and in the right spot at a tense time. He shot an iconic image of a man running from Baltimore police that became part of the national conversation around the protests. After he posted it on Instagram, the single dad received a call from Time magazine, which commissioned the image for the cover of its May 11 issue. He has had his own solo show and has received enough assignments to dedicate himself full-time to photography.
Black Lives Matter
Activist movement that campaigns against police brutality against African-Americans.
In 2012, three young women came together under the banner of “freedom and justice for all Black lives” to create what would become both a call to action and a new player in the Black liberation movement. While founders Patrisse Marie Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza are the most forward-facing members of Black Lives Matter, the organization consists of a national chapter and independently-run local ones with a diverse membership body committed to change.
The Ferguson Resistance Movement
An organized social movement that uses protests and resistance to oppose police violence.
The death of Mike Brown sparked a movement—one that, arguably, would not have happened without the sustained protest efforts of the residents of Ferguson, Mo., and the greater St. Louis area. Groups such as Hands Up United, Lost Voices, the Organization for Black Struggle, Millennial Activists United, Operation Help or Hush and others continue the fight against police violence and critical community concerns. When the cameras leave, they remain—focused and unbowed.
Justice League NYC
Justice League NYC was formed in 2014 as a task force consisting of juvenile and criminal justice advocates, artists and ex-cons who banded together following the city’s failure to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Last April, the organization hit the open road, embarking on a nine-day, 250-mile march from NYC to Washington, D.C., led by organizers Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory. The group rallied on Capitol Hill in support of three pieces of federal legislation: the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act and the End Racial Profiling Act.
Courtney Kemp Agboh
Creator / Executive Producer, “Power”
After giving up a career in journalism, Agboh managed to develop an enviable résumé as a television writer (“The Bernie Mac Show”, “The Good Wife”) before striking gold as the creator of STARZ’s addictive ?hood-novella, “Power”. Sharing executive producer credits with none other than Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, the 37-year-old Agboh is one of the youngest African-American female showrunners in Hollwyood. This year, she signed a major overall deal with the network and saw the series break ratings records of 1.4 million viewers. Now that’s gangsta.
Actor / Producer / Director / Writer
The man behind “Precious” and “The Butler” struck gold this year with a little TV show called “Empire”. Approximately 15 million viewers tune in faithfully each week to see who Cookie (portrayed by the incomparable Taraji P. Henson) chops down to size and what she’s wearing while she does it. It’s the first Black primetime soap opera with hip-hop music thrown in, and we owe this glitzy drama all to the genius of Daniels.
Rapper / Singer / Songwriter / Actor
What a time to be Aubrey Drake Graham. In February, he surprised the world with “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”, the first platinum-selling release of the year, which went on to become 2015’s best-selling digital album. He then stunned fans yet again with “What a Time To Be Alive”. The joint mixtape with Future would make Drake the first rapper in over a decade to have two No. 1 releases in the same year.
Singer / Songwriter / Actress
Joy to the world: Saint Damita Jo has re-emerged from hiding with “Unbreakable”, her 11th album, and a successful world tour, quieting detractors with yet another serving of Jackson-flavored Black excellence. With more than 33 years in the game, Miss Jackson has nothing to prove but much to say. This year, she became the third artist in history—and the first Black woman—to have a No. 1 album in each of the last four decades.
Since his debut on Wondaland Records, Janelle Monáe’s joint venture with Epic Records neo-dandy Jidenna and his cummerbund-affirming jam “Classic Man” have been fixtures on radios, stages and the subject of fashion blogs. Alongside Monáe, the Stanford grad and founder of the social club Fear & Fancy has also lent his voice to the fight for freedom and justice.
Stand-up comedian / Actor / Writer
Another score for Black comedic excellence came via the small-screen ascendance of smooth-talking stand-up comic Jerrod Carmichael and the NBC sitcom that bares his name. After a promising debut this fall, “The Carmichael Show” was renewed for a second season. A year before its premiere, Spike Lee directed Carmichael’s HBO comedy special, “Love at the Store”, and the comedian appeared in “Neighbors” with Seth Rogen.
If you’ve noticed a difference in the level of sophistication and quality of programming that celebrates Black culture on television, thank Jesse Collins. The CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment is the man responsible for bringing “The Real Husbands of Hollywood” to BET. He recently signed a multiyear deal with the network to develop new projects. First up is an original miniseries based on the lives of the members of New Edition.
Screenwriter, America’s Next Top Model, Black-ish
The mastermind behind the landmark family comedy “Black-ish” has only just begun his small screen takeover. Kenya Barris recently signed a three-year overall deal with ABC Studios, which keeps him at the helm of “Black-ish” while allowing him to develop new projects. On the horizon: a film adaptation of “Good Times”.
Actress / Director
Thirty years after Brenda gossiped with Calvin on 227’s iconic stoop and 20 years after roles in “Friday” and “Higher Learning”, Regina King can now add Emmy winner to her enviable résumé. Her portrayal of Nation of Islam member Aliyah Shadeed on “American Crime” earned her a golden statue for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie. Her dynamic star shows no signs of fading: She signed on for another season of the ABC drama and has been added as a series regular to HBO’s
Executive, Foundation at Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
In an industry often mired in over-the-top power plays, Hollywood execs like Ryan Tarpley are needed. He’s an executive at the Foundation philanthropic division of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a prominent, entertainment and sports agency where he helps partner celebrities, executives and corporations to altruistic campaigns and social activism causes.
Salim and Mara Brock Akil
Screenwriter / Producer / Director
This writing-directing-and-producing husband-and-wife dream team has spent the past two decades humanely and accurately portraying the nuances of Black life. After helping to re-image BET as a player in the world of original scripted television programming via “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane”, the duo recently signed a three-year developmental deal with Warner Bros TV.
Host, The Daily Show
This year, the comedian took one of the most highly coveted—and perhaps most daunting—jobs on television: replacing Jon Stewart as the host of Comedy Central’s flagship program. With Noah at the helm, “The Daily Show” has attracted new, younger viewers before it enters its 20th season, as the 31-year-old biracial South African brings a refreshing perspective to the network’s new nighttime twosome, along with fellow Power 100 honoree, Larry Wilmore.
The Wendy Williams Show
From the First Lady of Shade to the Queen of Gabfest TV, Williams traded a lengthy headline-making radio career for an Emmy-nominated daytime talk show; a stint on Broadway in “Chicago: The Musical”; several New York Times best-sellers; a clothing line; and a collection of hairpieces bearing her name. In addition, the FOX network has committed to her show through 2017. How you doin’, Wendy? Hint: Pretty damn good.
Emile Cambry, Jr.
Business Professor / Filmmaker / Social Entrepreneur
A Chicago-based social entrepreneur, professor, filmmaker and change agent, Emile Cambry invests in our youth as founder and CEO of 21st Century Youth Project. The program teaches middle and high school students how to build mobile apps. In addition, he created BLUE1647, a Chicago entrepreneurship and technology innovation center that offers workforce development classes and resources for city kids.
Sabrina Hersi Issa
CEO, Be Bold Media
A social entrepreneur who combines her tech savvy with her devotion to human rights, Issa is CEO of Be Bold Media, which focuses on global advocacy. The millennial leader co-directs New/s Disruptors, a project that reframes digital journalism to reflect diverse voices and experiences.
Shani O. Hilton
Executive Editor, News, BuzzFeed News
Journalism with heart is still the benchmark, in spite of the push for ad sales and click-throughs. Shani Hilton, executive editor of Buzzfeed News, has shown integrity-over-everything-else approach in her editorial leadership. For example, while she chose not to create an artificial wall between readers and the awful footage of an American journalist being beheaded by ISIS — she gave BuzzFeed readers the ability choose whether they wanted to see it.
Assistant Director, Constituency Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Alencia Johnson, 28, is assistant director of constituency communications for Planned Parenthood, which makes her responsible for communications campaigns and initiatives that engage families and patients of color. She swiftly corrected a statement made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson purporting that Planned Parenthood began as a tool to control the Black population.
Jada Pinkett Smith
Actress / Singer-Songwriter / Businesswoman
Although she is famous for her work in front of the camera, some of Pinkett Smith’s most impactful moments happened off screen. An outspoken humanitarian, she is devoted to ending modern-day slavery and human trafficking worldwide. She has also co-launched the website DontSellBodies.org, executive produced the documentary “Rape for Profit”. Most recently, Pinkett Smith collaborated with CNN on the special report, “Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking”.
Kimberlè Williams Crenshaw
Professor of Law, UCLA and Columbia Law School
Black women have always been at the forefront of social justice movements tied to both race and gender, yet they have been rendered invisible in many conversations and initiatives dedicated to addressing oppression. Kimberlè Williams Crenshaw, a scholar in intersectionality and critical race theory and professor of law at both UCLA and Columbia University, has worked tirelessly to correct that. She is the co-founder of the nonprofit think tank African American Policy Forum (AAPF), which in 2015 released the powerful report Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, detailing stories about how gender, race and sexuality impact violent encounters between Black women and law enforcement. ?
Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer, Ceiling Breakers LLC
Diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease lupus in 2006, Michelle Gadsden-Williams, the former managing director and global head of diversity and inclusion at Credit Suisse AG, had a decision to make: either lean in or bow out. For Gadsden-Williams, there was never any choice. She focused on recalibrating her life to continue doing what she loves; working hard and helping others to succeed in corporate America. This year, she made a bold decision to walk away from a job most would dream of to focus on a new project: Ceiling Breakers is dedicated to helping women aspire to executive-level positions.
Tonya Lewis Lee
Producer / Author / Lawyer
A venerable Washington, D.C. power lawyer, Tonya Lewis Lee is a producer, activist and co-author of children’s books. Although she is married to director Spike Lee, she’s her own celebrity. A longtime health advocate, she works to empower women living with HIV and intimate partner violence, and she is dedicated to decrease high infant mortality rates. This year, Lee launched Healthy You Now, a monthly wellness box of products geared to make getting fit fun.
Director / Producer / Writer
Filmmaker reached new cinematic heights behind the camera with the “Fantastic Four” superhero franchise. Audiences continued to love his work through big-screen collaborations with multimedia baller and shot caller Steve Harvey and his “Think Like a Man” and “Think Like a Man Too” films. Story recently reteamed with Harvey to develop a FOX series based on their popular romantic comedies.
Amandla Stenberg (16)
Actress / Filmmaker
Actress / Model / Singer
The current princess of the Disney network makes us proud each time she speaks on issues impacting people of color and young women. The “K.C. Undercover” actress took a stand against a magazine that altered photos of her by shaving pounds off her slim frame.
Jaden (17) & Willow (15) Smith
Actor / Singer
Shanice Williams (18)
Actor / Singer
Kwasi Enin (19)