For the second year in a row, we have put together a list of 100 people who we believe represent the ideals of The Root. These individuals are impactful, creative, iconoclastic, innovative, committed to community and, in many instances, defiant of any restrictive definitions of what it means to be black in America in 2010.
We see The Root 100 as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of African Americans in very difficult times. This list shows that, against all odds — and many still remain — African Americans continue to do what they have always done: cope, create, define, defy, overcome and refine.
Yes, we know well the devastation of the recession, the continuing political struggle over the direction of this country, and the noisy hostility in some quarters to the worldview shared by a majority of black Americans.
Much has been made of the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Yes, it was a landmark for the nation, a step out of the shadow that had lurked over our politics for so long. Finally, a black man could — and did — become president of the United States. What many observers failed to note was that Obama’s election to the nation’s highest office was a manifestation of a natural progression in the black community in American life.
By the time Obama took the oath on Jan. 20, 2009, we had already produced several African-American captains of industry (Fortune 500 CEOs), a couple of billionaire entrepreneurs (Bob Johnson, Oprah Winfrey), a leader of the world’s most powerful army (Colin Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and countless pace setters and groundbreakers who are helping guide our country’s present and shape the future.
Each year The Root recognizes 100 of these pace setters and groundbreakers between the ages of 25 and 45. This allows us to find the emerging young leaders whose names are not yet “household brands,” as well as established champions of their fields, some of whom may have been sailing below the radar. To compile each annual list, we solicit nominations from our readers, from our contributing writers and from the staff of The Root. We then go through a vetting process, some spirited debates, internal comments and finally — voilà!
There are a number of recognizable names on the list: LeBron James, lately of the Miami Heat; hip-hop star Wyclef Jean; R&B crooner John Legend; and former baseball star Mo Vaughn are probably the best known. We chose them, however, mostly for reasons other than what they are famous for: James, for single-handedly reshaping the relationship between team owners and professional athletes; Jean, for his unrelenting advocacy for Haiti; Legend, for bringing a social consciousness to his role as a performer; and Vaughn, for taking on a new role as a developer of affordable housing.