Ta-Nehisi-Coates
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Ta-Nehisi Coates, author, journalist, public intellectual

  • Job: Author, journalist, public intellectual
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Harlem, NY
  • Twitter: @tanehisicoates

Bio:

In his decisive cover story for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations”, Ta-Nehisi Coates lays bare a compelling argument for the pecuniary redress of Africans brought to this country in chains and continually terrorized—socially, politically and economically. It is a fine piece of journalism, its simple profundity, flashes of humor and masterful use of analogy laying plain a complex matter that heretofore was relegated to the fringe (though a few of our brightest—Ogletree, Robinson, Conyers, Chappelle—have touched on it). Two years in the making, Coates begins “The Case”—which set a single-day record for traffic to TheAtlantic.com, as well as swelled newsstand sales—with an individual, whom we follow from his terror-filled childhood in Mississippi through his migration to the redlined ghettos of Chicago. In documenting just how vast and entrenched inequality has been for African Americans specifically, Coates also casts a side eye to the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps trope favored by so many because … well, there were no boots to speak of. African-American disparity, you see, is “a difference of kind.” No. If we are going to talk about reparations, payment for “multicentury plunder of black people in America,” we must look to the bedrock of this nation’s very foundation and the lens through which we view ourselves. “The Case” is part reportage, part treatise, part manifesto, part declaration. It is an imploration and a wish. And most of all, it’s not just about money. After all, says Coates, “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” 

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Cover story on reparations set sales and website traffic records for The Atlantic and brought new rigor to an old subject
  • Influence 204.9
  • Reach 6.4
  • Substance 9
  • Twitter followers 54,068
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Shonda Rhimes, writer, showrunner, producer 

  • Job: Writer, showrunner, producer
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @shondarhimes

Bio:

Thursday nights haven’t been this black since The Cosby Show and A Different World ruled network TV more than 25 years ago. This is due in large part to writer, producer and showrunner extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes. ABC is set to bet its entire Thursday night lineup (#TGIT to the uninitiated) on Rhimes, as she commandeers a three-hour block of prime time with the nail-biting, addictive storylines that have become her signature. Starting with the 11th season of Grey’s Anatomy, followed by the Kerry Washington-led triumph that is Scandal, and finally, with the debut of How to Get Away With Murder starring Viola Davis, Rhimes treats us to more of her dazzling imagination, her casually diverse casting and characters reflective of America’s modern face. Rhimes’ Shondaland not only spins the worlds of medicine, politics, and now, law, but easily proves that black girls rule—on- and offscreen.

Claim to Fame:

ABC has given Thursday nights to writer and producer Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) as she debuts her second show in primetime with a black woman as lead, How to Get Away With Murder.
  • Influence 185.9
  • Reach 8.44
  • Substance 8
  • Twitter followers 681,800
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Cory Booker, U.S. senator

  • Job: U.S. senator
  • Age: 45
  • Location: Newark, NJ
  • Twitter: @CoryBooker

Bio:

On Oct. 31, 2013, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker became the first African-American U.S. senator representing the state of New Jersey, winning a special election after incumbent Frank Lautenberg died in office. Booker has proven to be a shrewd tactician wrapped in plucky #GoNewJersey! earnestness; he walks in the tradition of new-school black politics—post-civil rights era public servants who embrace grassroots activism with a pro-business sensibility and, in Booker’s case, savvy social media skills (he tweets his nearly 1.5 million followers daily). Whether in local or national office, what has remained consistent is Booker’s penchant for heroism – this year in the form of giving away over $440,000 in charity. In the Senate, Booker promises to reach across the aisle, and has already co-sponsored an amendment to a medical marijuana bill with Republican Tea Partier and Libertarian Rand Paul.

Claim to Fame:

Currently one of two African-American U.S. senators in office
  • Influence 181.9
  • Reach 9.42
  • Substance 7.7
  • Twitter followers 1,481,502
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Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, singer, actress, brand ambassador

  • Job: Singer, actress, brand ambassador
  • Age: 33
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @Beyonce

Bio:

In her nearly 20 years in the music business, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has mastered the art of audacious surprise, her keenly calculated moves always falling with domino-like precision. At the end of 2013, she digitally released her top-secret “visual” album Beyoncé without prior announcement, effectively creating a new paradigm in the music biz. This summer, her “On The Run” tour with hubby Jay Z grossed a staggering $120 million dollars for a few dozen stadium shows. Add to that her appearance on the cover of the Time 100 in a bikini and rebranding feminism for the masses, and it’s clear that Bey is indeed a boss of monumental proportions. And yet, it was the news that she had quietly donated more than $7 million dollars to a Houston-based charity that truly cemented her royal status. All hail.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Pop star whose relentless self-promotion and inventive business deals keep her on top.
  • Influence 179.2
  • Reach 11.31
  • Substance 7.3
  • Twitter followers 13,579,610
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Laverne Cox, Actress and LGBTQ and transgender activist

  • Job: Actress, LGBTQ and transgender activist
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @Lavernecox

Bio:

As the sassy, sanguine Sophia Burset on Netflix’s breakout hit Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox’s very work is revolutionary, giving face (and depth) to transgender women of color, one of this country’s most marginalized, objectified and battered groups.  They say that the new frontier of civil rights is around sexuality, and though Cox may not quite be Rosa Parks, she is certainly at the fore. This year, Cox was nominated for a prime-time Emmy and landed a solo cover of Time magazine, both firsts for a transgender woman. She was also honored by GLAAD for her tireless advocacy on behalf of transgender communities the world over.

Claim to Fame:

Emmy-nominated actress for her role on Orange Is the New Black
  • Influence 175.5
  • Reach 7.52
  • Substance 8
  • Twitter followers 237,785
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Melissa Harris-Perry, TV Host, author and professor

  • Job: TV Host, professor, columnist, author and director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South
  • Age: 41
  • Location: Winston-Salem, NC and New York, NY
  • Twitter: @MHarrisPerry

Bio:

She is the standard. In her third year hosting her eponymous show on MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry continues to give #nerdland-ers life each weekend, her set becoming a launch pad for some of today’s best and brightest public intellectuals and cultural movers and shakers. The resolute agitator, author and columnist holds fast as an authentic, passionate voice, always driving relevant conversation around the day’s issues (usually a mashup of race, class and gender). Harris-Perry was recently named a presidential endowed professor of political science at Wake Forest University, and has moved her Anna Julia Cooper project on black feminist scholarship there.

Claim to Fame:

MSNBC host of the Melissa Harris-Perry show, in its third year
  • Influence 171.6
  • Reach 7.56
  • Substance 7.9
  • Twitter followers 310,481
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Pharrell Williams, producer, composer, rapper, singer, entrepreneur, fashion designer

  • Job: Producer, composer, rapper, singer, entrepreneur, fashion designer
  • Age: 41
  • Location: Miami Beach, Fla.
  • Twitter: @Pharrell

Bio:

Last year at 40, Pharrell orchestrated a thunderous crescendo in an impressive career of more than two decades. The producer/singer/designer/artist /CEO of i am Other mined a trove of hit records for various artists in 2013, earning himself four Grammys in the process including producer and Record of the Year. In other news, Pharrell also cracked the Forbes 100 Celebrity List, appeared on the covers of Fast Company and GQ, received the key to his native Virginia Beach, Va., and put out the genius 24-hour video “Happy”—usually wearing a chapeau of majestic proportions. The baby-faced maestro constantly ventures into places (and fashions) unexplored, harkening back to hip-hop’s heyday of innovation and even mirth. “I believe individuality is the new wealth,” he says simply.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Musician, often known by just his first name, who’s running white-hot, winning four Grammys including producer of the year.
  • Influence 167.1
  • Reach 10.38
  • Substance 7.2
  • Twitter followers 4,319,592
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Phillip Agnew, activist

Bio:

Forty years after Freedom Summer of 1964, Phillip Agnew’s Dream Defenders continues the legacy of youth-led social justice organizing. After catapulting to national prominence in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, the Dream Defenders has stayed on the job, taking its fight against “Stand Your Ground” laws to both the Florida Statehouse and the United Nations. Additionally, the black-brown organization has also formed a coalition with the Dreamers around immigration reform and launched initiatives like The BLOC is Ours, mixing strong social media messages (Who Gives A F@&K About Voting?!) and old-school direct-action tactics.  

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Executive director of the Dream Defenders, a vociferous, new-school civil rights organization.
  • Influence 166.3
  • Reach 5.06
  • Substance 8.6
  • Twitter followers 11,885
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Kevin  Durant, professional basketball player, philanthropist 

  • Job: Professional basketball player, philanthropist
  • Age: 25
  • Location: Oklahoma City
  • Twitter: @KDTrey5

Bio:

When Kevin Durant accepted the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player honor, there was nary a dry eye in the house. Durant thanked each of his teammates individually and praised the sacrifice of his single mother, “the real MVP”. Since being named the league’s rookie of the year in 2008, the supremely talented sportsman has been on the fast track to legend status—the youngest player in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 club; the face of “NBA 2K15”; and, this summer, signing an unprecedented $350 million endorsement deal with Nike. Durant, who has about 11 “business tattoos” (meaning they’re purposely covered by his shirt), is also known for his generous philanthropy. “Basketball is just a platform for me to inspire people,” says the modest millennial.

Claim to Fame:

NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player
  • Influence 160.1
  • Reach 10.68
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 8,056,567
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Audra McDonald, actress, singer, activist

  • Job: Actress, singer, activist
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Westchester County, NY
  • Twitter: @AudraEqualityMc

Bio:

Theater Goddess. Operatic Diva. Equality advocate. All describe the rarified genius of Audra McDonald, who has the distinction of having won more Tony awards (and in all four acting categories) than any other. McDonald made history this year with her sixth Tony, winning best leading actress in a play as the plaintive, pained, prodigy Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The Julliard-trained soprano, who also has two Grammys, wept as she took her place in history, and thanked Lena Horne, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee and lastly, Holiday: “This is for you, Billie."

Claim to Fame:

Makes history by winning a sixth Tony, collecting more of the awards than any other person, living or dead, black or white, male or female.
  • Influence 156.9
  • Reach 7.78
  • Substance 7.5
  • Twitter followers 107,902
Stacey-Abrams
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Stacey Abrams, state senator, lawyer

  • Job: State senator, lawyer
  • Age: 40
  • Location: Atlanta
  • Twitter: @staceyabrams

Bio:

If Stacey Abrams has her way, the South will be awash in blue in the next decade. Abrams broke barriers as the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly and is the first African American to lead in the Georgia House of Representatives. As leader of the minority party, Abrams strategizes ways to loosen the Republican’s stronghold in the state (due to dubious redistricting in 2010). Earlier this year, she founded the New Georgia Project with the goal of registering 800,000 voters of color, which “would sway election results in dynamic and progressive ways,” and serve as a template for other Southern states, most of which have been Republican since Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party more than 60 years ago.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

First woman and first African American to lead in the Georgia Legislature
  • Influence 153.3
  • Reach 5.2
  • Substance 8.2
  • Twitter followers 3,316
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LeBron James, professional basketball player, businessman

  • Job: Professional basketball player, businessman
  • Age: 29
  • Location: Cleveland, Ohio
  • Twitter: @KingJames

Bio:

King James has yet another biblical reference in tow—that of the prodigal son. On his decision to return to his native Ohio from Miami, he says: “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead …. My presence can …. mean more where I’m from. In this, the four-time league MVP joins the ranks of Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown—black professional athletes at the top of their game who elevated their platform beyond wins and wealth. But make no mistake, in signing a $42.1 million, two-year contract with the Cavaliers (negotiated by childhood friend and agent Rich Paul), James stands to cash in when the NBA renegotiates its TV rights and he becomes a free agent once again.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Most endorsed NBA athlete returns to his native Ohio after four years in Miami and two national championships
  • Influence 149.6
  • Reach 11.1
  • Substance 6.7
  • Twitter followers 14,525,550
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Will Packer, producer, chairman and co-founder Will Packer Productions

  • Job: Producer, chairman and co-founder Will Packer Productions
  • Age: 40
  • Location: Atlanta
  • Twitter: @willpowerpacker

Bio:

Bets are, you haven’t seen a “black movie” this year without Will Packer’s prints on it. Packer, who has been producing modestly budgeted, high-grossing movies for African-American audiences for the last two decades, has found a ringer in Kevin Hart, who starred in three of his vehicles this year. Ride Along, starring Ice Cube and Hart, debuted at No. 1, and combined with About Last Night and Think Like a Man Too, grossed nearly a quarter-billion dollars at the box office. And the party is far from over.  No Good Deed starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson is set to hit theaters in September, and Ride Along 2 and Girl Party, directed by Malcolm Lee, will hit big screens in 2015.

Claim to Fame:

Producer of three hit movies with African-American casts this year
  • Influence 145.8
  • Reach 6.72
  • Substance 7.5
  • Twitter followers 93,003
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Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore

  • Job: Mayor of Baltimore
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Baltimore
  • Twitter: @MayorSRB

Bio:

A twist on Baltimore native Tupac Shakur’s lyrics: “All eyes on she.“ Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is settling in nicely in her third year governing the largest city in the state of Maryland and, as secretary of the Democratic National Committee, is taking on a larger role in the national Democratic Party. Rawlings-Blake has focused her administration on growing Baltimore’s population by 10,000, reducing crime (in July, her office announced one of the lowest mid-year homicide counts in nearly three decades) and bolstering education (this summer, she also announced a $29 million federal grant for Baltimore’s Head Start programs). Between effective governance and regular appearances on top TV news shows, Rawlings-Blake is clearly one to watch.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Baltimore mayor who’s snagged $29 million for early education in her city.
  • Influence 143.1
  • Reach 7.21
  • Substance 7.3
  • Twitter followers 31,244
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Tristan Walker, CEO of Walker & Co., philanthropist

  • Job: CEO of Walker & Co., philanthropist
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
  • Twitter: @tristanwalker

Bio:

The brother was in search of a decent shave. So when Silicon Valley wunderkind Tristan Walker considered the company that he was going to found as entrepreneur in residence at Andreessen Horowitz, he came up with Walker & Co., a “Proctor & Gamble for people of color.” Out the gate, the company raised $9.6 million in startup capital (including from rapper Nas) and launched Bevel, a chic, high-end, shaving system for black men weary of ingrown hairs. Walker also is the founder of nonprofit Code2040, and a vocal challenger of the tech industry’s cultural homogeneity.

Claim to Fame:

Entrepreneur Tristan Walker raised millions to launch Bevel, a high-end shaving system for black men.
  • Influence 137.1
  • Reach 7.82
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 280,409
Mitzi-Miller
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Mitzi Miller, editor, author, writer, pundit

  • Job: Editor, author, writer, pundit
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Chicago
  • Twitter: @mitzimoments

Bio:

Mitzi Miller became editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine this year after helming and revamping its iconic sister publication, Jet. As the current editor of both the oldest and the No. 1 African-American lifestyle publication on newsstands, Miller says she plans to “accurately reflect the cultural conversations we are having today,” and bring more gender parity to the glossy. In addition to snagging the top spot at Ebony, one of Miller’s five novels is being made into a movie for Lifetime. With This Ring—based on The Vow, which Miller co-wrote with Denene Millner and Angela Burt-Murray—will star Jill Scott, Eve and Regina Hall and will be produced by Gabrielle Union and Tracey Edmonds. The movie debuts on the network in late 2014.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Named to the top job at Ebony this year.
  • Influence 134.5
  • Reach 5.15
  • Substance 7.7
  • Twitter followers 8,472
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Russell Wilson, Professional football player

Bio:

All eyes were on the young quarterback as he led his brash, upstart Seattle Seahawks to a decisive (see: crushing) Super Bowl XLVIII win, the second African-American QB to do so—though he’s glad it’s not all about race. Wilson, who infamously outplayed the legendary Peyton Manning and coolly showered at halftime, is a case study in how belief in oneself (he was chosen in the third round of the NFL draft, many say because of his height, which at 5 feet 11 inches was thought to be too short for a quarterback), laser-like focus and a bit of humility can take you a long way. “I’m still learning and I’m still on a constant quest for knowledge,” he says.

Claim to Fame:

Quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks
  • Influence 133.4
  • Reach 9.37
  • Substance 6.6
  • Twitter followers 864,785
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Van Jones, TV host, author, columnist, activist

  • Job: TV host, author, columnist, activist
  • Age: 45
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @VanJones68

Bio:

Van Jones may be the hardest-working man in progressive creation. Each week, as co-host of CNN’s political-battlefield program Crossfire, Jones delights in holding his own against conservatives like Newt Gingrich, even taking Michele Bachmann to task for comparing border children to criminals. Jones gets his liberal credentials honestly, from the four (count ’em) nongovernmental organizations he founded to his two books on the green economy. The CNN.com contributor is constantly evolving. His Rebuild the Dream think tank tackles everything from the digital divide (see: #YesWeCode) to prison reform, which he deems “the last bipartisan issue.”

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Co-host of CNN’s political debate program Crossfire
  • Influence 132.3
  • Reach 7.29
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 117,530
Albert-Sanders-Twitter
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Albert L. Sanders Jr., Judiciary Committee counsel to Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin

  • Job: Judiciary Committee counsel to Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin
  • Age: 32
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Twitter: @AlThinkAboutIt

Bio:

There is more than one way to skin a cat—or to fight voter suppression. Some work with organizations outside government and some act within its most hallowed halls. Albert L. Sanders Jr. does the latter. As counsel to Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, Sanders advocates, drafts legislation and forms legislative strategies around important issues such as “Stand Your Ground” laws and the restoration of the Voting Rights Act. “I have an opportunity to help preserve our civil rights legacy,” says Sanders. “It means a lot to me.”   
Visit his website.

Claim to Fame:

Legal adviser to the second-most-powerful man in the Senate, and active in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Influence 131.2
  • Reach 4.42
  • Substance 7.9
  • Twitter followers 622
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Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation

  • Job: Secretary of Transportation
  • Age: 43
  • Location: Charlotte, NC and Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @anthonyfoxx

Bio:

As secretary of the Transportation Department, Anthony Foxx has his eyes firmly planted on 21st-century skies. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration (one of 11 agencies Foxx helms in his post) established the Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a cost-sharing project between universities and the government to regulate and study drones, and this summer the FAA opened a Rome, N.Y.-based testing facility for research on drones and agriculture. Foxx also pushed Congress to fully fund the development of the FAA’s NextGen airplane-navigation system, a $40 billion project that replaces radar with satellite technology.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Influence 130.2
  • Reach 7.06
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 9,312
joyreid-MSNBC
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Joy Reid, TV host, journalist

  • Job: TV host, journalist
  • Age: 45
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @TheReidReport

Bio:

After touching on every entry point of news—print, radio and digital—it seemed a no-brainer that frequent talking head Joy Reid would conquer television next. Today, she sits at the helm of her very own talk show, The Reid Report, which airs weekdays on MSNBC, brightening the monochromatic (ahem) news landscape. Her midday show represents the best of Reid herself—a keen and thorough political mind with a view for the newshounds and wonks, yet fearless enough to have all political spectrums represented. Throw in a dash of pop culture and her gracious wit and it’s clear that Reid is in it for the long haul, and we are all better for it.  

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Host of daily political program The Reid Report Job title: TV host, journalist, political op-ed writer
  • Influence 128.2
  • Reach 6.12
  • Substance 7.2
  • Twitter followers 125,687
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Misty Copeland, ballet dancer, author

  • Job: Ballet dancer, author
  • Age: 32
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @mistyonpointe

Bio:

Ballet dancer Misty Copeland leaped into our hearts as the poster child for ambitious girls-with-curves everywhere. This summer, the powerful prodigy, former muse of Prince and soloist for the American Ballet Theatre, became the first African American to dance the lead in Swan Lake. She also stars in Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” viral video campaign (which has notched nearly 6 million views on YouTube). Copeland, who works tirelessly to make ballet accessible to all, is also a best-selling author. Her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, has been optioned by New Line Cinema. In September, she published Firebird, a picture book on ballet and self-esteem.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Soloist for the American Ballet Theatre company and the first African American to dance the lead in Swan Lake.
  • Influence 127.3
  • Reach 6.38
  • Substance 7.1
  • Twitter followers 34,913
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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, musician, author, producer

  • Job: Musician, author, producer
  • Age: 43
  • Location: New York, NY and Philadelphia
  • Twitter: @questlove

Bio:

Indeed, he is more than his hair. In fact, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, founder and drummer for seminal hip-hop band the Roots, represents everything pure about hip-hop, including its early sensibility for fun and experimentation. As leader of the Roots, the official house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Quest is often the mind behind some of the show’s hilarious musical skits, which often go viral. This year, he is taking his encyclopedic knowledge of music to the masses with his new show, VH1’s SoundClash, which mixes wildly different genres together. Afro intact.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Bandleader for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, executive producer of VH1’s SoundClash.
  • Influence 124.8
  • Reach 6.48
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 3,107,088
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Charles Blow, Columnist for the New York Times, author, CNN commentator

  • Job: Columnist for the New York Times, author, CNN commentator
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Twitter: @CharlesMBlow

Bio:

The beauty of Charles M. Blow’s weekly commentary in the New York Times is not just his eloquent coverage of the news, though there is that: “What psychic damage does it do to the black mind when one must come to own and manage the fear of the black body?” It is not that he is at once studied and sometimes stark in his convictions: “Let me be clear here: Pointing a gun at an innocent person is an act of violence and provocation.” Blow’s genius lies in his ability to touch us, as the best writing always does. His much-lauded memoir, Fire Shut Up In My Bones, is due on shelves in September 2014.

Claim to Fame:

In addition to his much-lauded weekly column, Blow's memoir, Fire Shut Up In My Bones, is due on shelves in September 2014.
  • Influence 124
  • Reach 7.19
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 114,070
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Janet Mock, Author, journalist, activist

  • Job: Author, journalist, activist
  • Age: 31
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @janetmock

Bio:

We were first introduced to Janet Mock in 2011 with her groundbreaking Marie Claire profile about growing up as a transgender girl of color in her native Hawaii. In the years since, Mock has been an advocate for women of all stripes. Earlier this year, she authored the New York Times best-seller Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Mock is also the brains behind #GirlsLikeUs, a social movement aimed at empowering transgender women, who she says are just girls with something extra. “You can take that literally or figuratively, which is how I choose to read it: We are extra, we are more, we are special, we are everything.”

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Author of the New York Times best-selling autobiography Redefining Realness
  • Influence 123.1
  • Reach 6.32
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 44,057
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Muriel Bowser, mayoral candidate, Washington, DC Council member

  • Job: Mayoral candidate, Washington, DC Council member
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @MurielBowser

Bio:

On April 1, 2014, Muriel Bowser was elected the Democratic nominee for the office of mayor of the District of Columbia, defeating incumbent Mayor Vincent Grey. Most agree that Bowser’s mayoralty in the heavily Democratic city is all but guaranteed come November’s general election. As the second black woman to assume the top spot in governing the nation’s capital, she would oversee an $8.8 billion budget. For the last seven years, Bowser has served on D.C.’s City Council, and is the author of innovative "kids ride free" legislation, allowing all D.C. students through age 22 to ride public transportation for free during the school year.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Set to become the second woman to hold office as mayor of Washington, DC
  • Influence 123.1
  • Reach 6.31
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 9,315
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Ava DuVernay, director, founder of African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement

  • Job: Director, founder of African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @AVAETC

Bio:

Ever since Ava DuVernay became the first African-American woman to win a Best-Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival, big Hollywood has come knocking. The director spent a good chunk of 2014 directing Selma (for which she has a co-writing credit), the Brad Pitt- and Oprah Winfrey-produced civil rights film on Martin Luther King Jr., which will be released Christmas. DuVernay, founder of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, also received the Visionary Award at this year’s Essence “Black Women in Hollywood” luncheon. “As a black woman filmmaker … I’m interested in the lives of black folk as the subject. Not the predicate, not the tangent,” DuVernay said at the ceremony.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Director of Selma, the wide-release film about Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Influence 121.7
  • Reach 6.17
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 32,815
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Tamron Hall, TV host, journalist

  • Job: TV host, journalist
  • Age: 43
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @tamronhall

Bio:

Since joining MSNBC as a daytime anchor in 2007, Tamron Hall has delved into increasingly high-profile jobs, and in February, became the first African-American woman named co-anchor of the Today show, for its third hour. On her other daily show, MSNBC’s NewsNation With Tamron Hall, Hall is a deft interviewer, expertly taking to task the mayor of Ferguson, Mo., in light of the recent uprising there. The striking trendsetter set off waves when she went #teamnatural this summer, and her audience appreciates her candid perspective on news and culture—everything from domestic violence to not having children.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Increasingly the face of NBC News, who this year added Today show co-anchor to her résumé
  • Influence 121.7
  • Reach 6.92
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 143,795
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Joshua DuBois, pastor, writer, professor, consultant

  • Job: Pastor, writer, professor, consultant
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @joshuadubois

Bio:

Since the shooting death of Amadou Diallo more than 15 years ago by New York City police, Joshua Dubois has heeded the call of political activism, as well as a higher calling. Last year, the young, Pentecostal minister stepped down from his post as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where he focused on connecting religious leaders with policymakers and also served as the unofficial “pastor in chief” to Barack Obama. Each morning, DuBois sent Obama Bible passages, which became the basis of a book, The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired Barack Obama.  

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Author of The President’s Devotionals
  • Influence 121.5
  • Reach 6.15
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 38,642
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Franklin Leonard, Founder of the Black List, co-creator of blcklst.com

  • Job: Founder of the Black List, co-creator of blcklst.com
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @franklinleonard

Bio:

In the past, when one was blacklisted, one was banned from viable employment. In a nice twist, Franklin Leonard seeks to flip the script—literally. Leonard is founder of the Black List, an annual survey put together by Hollywood executives that highlights the best, unproduced screenplays, released each December. To date, more than 225 Black List screenplays have been made into feature films, including Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, The King’s Speech and Django Unchained. Leonard is also co-creator of blcklst.com, a subscription-based script database “where filmmakers and material meet.” In 2012, @theblcklst began tweeting its annual list.

Claim to Fame:

Founder of the Black List, which has gotten more than 200 scripts made into films
  • Influence 118.4
  • Reach 5.51
  • Substance 7.1
  • Twitter followers 11,218
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Cedric Richmond, U.S. Representative

  • Job: U.S. Representative
  • Age: 40
  • Location: New Orleans
  • Twitter: @RepRichmond

Bio:

A politician and legislator since his mid-20s, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) has been a tireless supporter of the restoration and preservation of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Richmond, the top Democrat on the Transportation Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security, recently got his first bill, the Honor Flight Act, passed as lead sponsor—a significant feat given a Republican-led, often gridlocked Congress. The bill provides expedited screening for armed services personnel visiting war memorials in Washington, D.C.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Representative of Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District who gets his first bill, the Honor Flight Act, passed by the House.
  • Influence 115.5
  • Reach 5.56
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 6,240
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Tim Howard, goalkeeper

  • Job: Goalkeeper for USMNT and Everton FC, English Premier League
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Tennessee and England
  • Twitter: @TimHowardGK

Bio:

Sweet 16 indeed. New Jersey-born goalkeeper Tim Howard electrified the world during the 2014 World Cup as he clocked 16 saves in the round of 16 against Belgium, single-handedly keeping the U.S. Men’s National Team in the game. That performance, shattering the previous World Cup record, earned Howard ringing praise from celebrities, fans and President Barack Obama. There was even a White House petition to rename Reagan National Airport for the Everton goalie. The heavily tattooed hero, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome in the sixth grade (some say it’s a factor in his quick-response reflex), stands poised to reap big endorsements from major brands this year.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Record-breaking performance at the 2014 World Cup for Team USA.
  • Influence 114.8
  • Reach 9.52
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 653,499
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Richard Sherman, professional football player

  • Job: Seattle Seahawks cornerback
  • Age: 26
  • Location: Seattle
  • Twitter: @RSherman_25

Bio:

When Richard Sherman signed a four-year, $57.4 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks, he became the top-paid cornerback in the NFL. Earlier this year, Sherman was branded a “thug” after making brash comments about a rival player after the NFC Championship game (in which Sherman clinched the win with an incredible interception). The Stanford graduate summarily responded, “Thug is now an accepted way of calling somebody the n-word,” and took the sports media to task about stereotyping young, black athletes. No matter, the young Seahawks team went on to decisively win Super Bowl XLVIII, and Sherman went on to earn incredible endorsement deals as well as the new cover of “Madden 2015.”

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Super Bowl champ; first-time Pro Bowler; second-time First-Team All-Pro; highest paid cornerback in NFL
  • Influence 114.5
  • Reach 9.46
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 1,022,559
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Rob Hardy, director, producer, screenwriter, co-founder of Bounce TV

  • Job: Film producer, screenwriter, television and film director, co-founder of Bounce TV
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Atlanta
  • Twitter: @TheRealRobHardy

Bio:

Rob Hardy, who produced a slew of hits with partner Will Packer under their Rainforest movies umbrella, including Think Like a Man, Ride Along and Trois, is now moving in another direction, concentrating more on his art as a director (Hardy still has an executive production credit on two of this year’s biggest films: Think Like a Man Too and No Good Deed). Hardy is currently ensconced in the TV world, directing episodes of shows as diverse as Bones, The Vampire Diaries and Criminal Minds. He is also a co-founder of Bounce TV, which recently signed a distribution deal with Univision to expand its markets in 2015.

Visit his website.

Claim to Fame:

Director and producer who co-founded Bounce TV
  • Influence 113.6
  • Reach 5.37
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 4,205
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Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens, Talk show host, actress, singer

  • Job: Talk show host, actress, singer
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @IAMQUEENLATIFAH

Bio:

Like a select few before her who have springboarded from hip-hop’s inner sanctum to mainstream stardom, Queen Latifah is a household name, and now a daily household favorite. Her The Queen Latifah Show (rated No. 1 of all new talk shows in 2013 and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith) has been renewed for a second season. The show has also been picked up by BET, the same network revamping her Single Ladies franchise. In other girl-power news, Latifah will executive produce and star in the Bessie Smith biopic for HBO, to be directed by Dee Rees of Pariah fame.

Claim to Fame:

Entering her second season as host of a popular daytime talk show, in addition to her career as singer, songwriter, rapper, actress, model and television producer
  • Influence 113.1
  • Reach 9.88
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 6,241,184
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Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Rapper, entrepreneur, sports agent

  • Job: Rapper, entrepreneur, sports agent
  • Age: 44
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @S_C_

Bio:

Indisputably, Jay Z is the most successful rapper in the game today (his and his wife’s On The Run tour this summer netted $120 million), and yet, it is his Roc Nation Sports agency that has many bowing down to his business acumen. Roc Nation Sports, founded less than two years ago, now represents a slew of top professional athletes from all fields, including the NBA’s Kevin Durant, whose savvy Roc Nation-managed negotiation with Nike scored the 2014 MVP an unmatched $350 million endorsement deal. Word is, Roc Nation is also expanding into boxing (elevator rides aside, ahem), with its first fight slated for November.

Claim to Fame:

One of music’s most successful tours this summer, and his Roc Nation Sports agency continues to make hundreds of millions
  • Influence 110.9
  • Reach 9.48
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 3,058,529
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Rashad Robinson, executive director, ColorOfChange.org

  • Job: Executive director, ColorOfChange.org
  • Age: 35
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @rashadrobinson

Bio:

Rashad Robinson serves as executive director of ColorOfChange.org, the nation’s largest online social justice organization. In light of the police killing of Michael Brown, ColorofChange.org rallied in front of the White House this summer, delivering a #JusticeforMikeBrown petition (signed by more than 900,000), and calling for the Justice Department to establish federal standards for police oversight across the nation, including anti-bias training and data collection on police brutality broken down by race. As the only openly gay leader of a black civil rights group, Robinson also seeks to bring LGBT equality under the civil rights umbrella: “Oppressed people, regardless of who or where they are, want something better.”

Visit his website and like his Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Leads the largest online civil rights organization, with campaigns on everything from police brutality to net neutrality
  • Influence 110.8
  • Reach 5.11
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 5,466
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Kerry Washington, actress, designer, activist

  • Job: Actress, designer, activist
  • Age: 37
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @kerrywashington

Bio:

After a mad year slaying magazine covers and red carpets alike, actress and activist Kerry Washington continues to enjoy the fruit of her labor. For her portrayal of Olivia Pope, The Boss at the center of the outsize hit drama Scandal, Washington received her first prime-time Emmy nomination, and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series. She then kept the birth of her daughter, Isabelle, under wraps for weeks, a Pope-like feat. This fall, Washington adds the title of designer to her repertoire, presenting the Scandal Style collection at the Limited. “People who love the look of the show can now step into this world in a way that is affordable,” she says.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Star at the center of a popular network show who has added designer to her toolbox.
  • Influence 110.7
  • Reach 9.46
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 1,753,195
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Roxane Gay, writer

  • Job: Writer
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Charleston, Ill.
  • Twitter: @rgay

Bio:

Roxane Gay’s raw, unflinching writing is now up for mass consumption. She published two works this year: Bad Feminist, a collection of essays that run the gamut from Chris Brown to Sweet Valley High, and her first novel, the critically acclaimed An Untamed State, a work of fiction whose storyline mirrors a brutal gang rape that Gay experienced as a pre-teen. In her day-to-day, you can find Gay’s work on Salon (her essay on what that Obama selfie with the Swedish prime minister says about society’s caricature of black women is superb). “As a writer who is also a woman, I increasingly feel that writing is a political act whether I intend it to be or not.”

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Released two books this year: Bad Feminist, a book of essays, and her first novel, An Untamed State
  • Influence 110.6
  • Reach 5.09
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 28,149
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Rich Paul, agent, founder Klutch Sports Group

  • Job: Agent, founder Klutch Sports Group
  • Age: 34
  • Location: Cleveland, Ohio
  • Twitter: @KlutchSports

Bio:

As the agent for LeBron James, Rich Paul made good on his “mission” to return James to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The brilliant backdoor deal restored James’ hero status in their native Ohio, and also set up James nicely for a windfall when the NBA renegotiates its TV rights in 2016. Two years ago, Paul shook up the sports world by starting Klutch Sports Group and signing basketball’s biggest star. The then-32-year-old, who engages CEOs and sneaker heads alike, learned at the feet of some of sports’ most powerful agents and then used his real-world knowledge to create one of the most powerful boutique agencies in sports.

Claim to Fame:

Agent Rich Paul brought LeBron James back to Cleveland and is upending the sports-agency world.
  • Influence 109.1
  • Reach 6.67
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 41,341
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Window Snyder, Computer and network security expert

  • Job: Computer and network security expert
  • Age: 38
  • Location: San Francisco
  • Twitter: @window

Bio:

Self described “geek girl” Mwende Window Snyder comes to the tech world honestly. As the daughter of two software engineers, she learned to program BASIC at her Kenyan mother’s knee at 5 years old. Two years ago, Snyder was hired by Apple as its senior product manager for security, helping the tech behemoth stave off cyber threats from hackers. Snyder has worked in security for both Mozilla and Microsoft, where she is credited with leading Microsoft into the open-source market. Snyder is also co-author of 2004’s Threat Modeling, now a standard protocol in any security application.

Claim to Fame:

One of a few African-American women who fight hackers in increasingly hostile cyberspace
  • Influence 107.8
  • Reach 4.84
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 6,360
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Sasheer Zamata, Comedian, actress

Bio:

After its two male, black cast members balked at playing black women in drag for the upcoming season, and the public clamored for more diversity, Sasheer Zamata made her Saturday Night Live debut this January—the first black woman to be cast in six years, and only the fifth in the show’s 40-year history. Zamata, who cut her teeth with the renowned comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade (finishing school for Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman), has kept a low profile since starting at SNL, but for those who can’t get enough, catch her Web series, Pursuit of Sexiness, a hilarious romp through sex and dating seen through the eyes of two single girls in New York City.

Claim to Fame:

The first African-American woman cast on Saturday Night Live in six years.
  • Influence 107.5
  • Reach 6.47
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 31,524
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Steve Stoute, CEO of Translation

  • Job: CEO of Translation
  • Age: 43
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @SteveStoute

Bio:

Steve Stoute is the man who connects celeb brands to blue-chip ones. As head of Translation, a brand development and marketing advertising agency he co-founded with Jay Z, Stoute has been hands-down brilliant in his ad campaigns—many of which have been iconic moments in popular culture (see Budweiser’s Made in America Festival, McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” campaign and Chris Paul’s State Farm commercials). This year, Stoute forayed into television with his four-part series on VH1, The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy, a visual narrative of his 2011 book, which first sold us on the idea that urban culture is mainstream culture.

Claim to Fame:

Record executive turned marketing and ad agency mogul
  • Influence 106.8
  • Reach 6.39
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 83,651
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Michael Walrond Jr., pastor, politician

  • Job: Pastor, politician
  • Age: 43
  • Location: Harlem, NY
  • Twitter: @MikeWalrond

Bio:

Since the Rev. Michael Walrond Jr. took the reins at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church 10 years ago, the diverse, vibrant congregation has grown from 300 to 9,000. “Pastor Mike,” who often preaches in jeans, brings a social justice bent to the pulpit, and has long worked on grassroots campaigns such as anti-“stop and frisk” and marching with fast-food workers for a decent living wage. As a member of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s transition team, Walrond was instrumental in the passage of the city’s universal pre-kindergarten program, and his Dream Center offers free yoga and leadership classes for teens in Harlem. And although Walrond was unsuccessful in his bid against U.S. Rep Charles Rangel (D-NY) last year, many are eying the young Morehouse College grad for a slot on the national stage sooner rather than later.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.  

Claim to Fame:

Senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church, board member of the National Action Network, candidate for Congress in Harlem’s 13th District
  • Influence 106.7
  • Reach 4.74
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 827
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Courtney Kemp Agboh, showrunner, writer, producer

  • Job: Showrunner, writer, producer
  • Age: 37
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @CKAgbohOfficial

Bio:

Courtney Kemp Agboh breathes rare air as one of the few female showrunners in television. In Power, the show she created with input from executive producer 50 Cent, the Emmy-nominated writer also has the distinction of being a woman who writes a man’s world. Power stars Omari Hardwick, and is a nail-biting entrée into the glamorous, often violent, worlds of New York City nightlife and the illegal drug biz, but with characters shaded beyond stereotypes. This summer, the Starz drama hit nearly 2.5 million viewers—the largest total audience for a finale on the network in more than a year.

Claim to Fame:

Showrunner and creator of Power, a hit show on the Starz network.
  • Influence 105.5
  • Reach 5.2
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 6,614
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46

Kendrick Lamar, Rapper

Bio:

When Macklemore won the Best Rap Album Grammy over Kendrick Lamar’s sublime debut, good kid m.A.A.d city, many thought the cerebral Compton, Calif., rapper had been robbed. No matter, the album, which many hailed as a return to true artistry in hip-hop, garnered Lamar seven Grammy nods and an opening spot on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. Lamar also covered GQ (and was named its rapper of the year) and won five awards at the 2013 BET Hip-Hop Awards. Most intriguing, his debut is also the basis of a college English course, “Good Kids, Mad Cities,” which parallels the album and James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Claim to Fame:

Hailed as a genius and has a college course modeled on his debut album
  • Influence 105.5
  • Reach 9.84
  • Substance 5.8
  • Twitter followers 4,025,097
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Lori Adelman, executive director, Feministing  

  • Job: Executive director, Feministing, global officer, Planned Parenthood
  • Age: 28
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Twitter: @Ladelman

Bio:

As executive director at the award-winning site Feministing, Lori Adelman writes and curates content on race, class, gender and the media.  Adelman’s voice is ever present on the front lines of the women’s movement, whether advocating meta-conversations about feminism in The Nation, or weighing in on radical feminists versus transgender women in the New Yorker. In addition to running Feministing, Adelman also works as an officer in the global division of Planned Parenthood, where she is an outspoken advocate of reproductive rights, especially in Latin America and Africa.

Claim to Fame:

Writer and executive director at the award-winning site Feministing
  • Influence 104.7
  • Reach 4069
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 4,233
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Byron Garrett, chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance  

  • Job: Chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Clinton, Md.
  • Twitter: @Byronvgarrett

Bio:

Author and educator Byron Garrett has always been committed to our nation’s youth. Whether as national program leader for the national 4-H organization or as CEO of the 5 million-member national PTA, he’s worked in tandem with parents, students and government to encourage good scholarship. Currently, Garrett is chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, national network of mobilized and activated parents. The former principal has authored several books, including The ABC’s of Life, and is a frequent guest on national news programs on young people and our schools.  

Claim to Fame:

Byron Garrett is Chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance and former CEO of the National PTA
  • Influence 104.3
  • Reach 4.53
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 998
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Ras Baraka, politician, poet, educator and activist

  • Job: Politician, poet, educator and activist
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Newark, NJ
  • Twitter: @rasjbaraka

Bio:

Ras Baraka first ran for mayor of Newark, N.J., 20 years ago at the tender age of 24, and finally reached the promised land in May with the platform, “If I become mayor, we become mayor.” The former high school principal and councilman succeeded Cory Booker by assembling a coalition of unions, championing locally controlled education (“one of the last civil rights … and marketplaces”) and pushing a reformist agenda including anti-gang work and jobs for those who have been in prison (“either you believe in re-entry or you don’t”). Baraka gets his activism honestly as the son of poet and Newark scion Amiri Baraka, and his election is in line with what many see as a swelling tide of progressives in governance. 

Claim to Fame:

Recently elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city
  • Influence 103.8
  • Reach 5.35
  • Substance 6.7
  • Twitter followers 3,947
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Mara Brock Akil, Television-show creator, executive producer, writer

  • Job: Television-show creator, executive producer, writer
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @AKILPRODUCTIONS

Bio:

Beautifully flawed, upwardly mobile, realistic, African-American characters have become Mara Brock Akil’s calling card. The writer and showrunner for beloved comedic shows like Girlfriends and The Game changed gears last year with a dramatic vehicle for BET, Being Mary Jane, a first for the network. The sometimes risqué, always realistic, Gabrielle Union-fronted show remains a top trending topic on Twitter when it airs. After breaking premiere and finale records, BMJ is being picked up for a second season. BET has also green-lit Brock Akil’s latest, The Start Up, about young tech entrepreneurs navigating young adulthood.

Claim to Fame:

Mara Brock Akil continues to bring her unique, realistic characters to TV, much to the delight of her audiences.
  • Influence 102.9
  • Reach 5.93
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 28,815
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Bakari Sellers, South Carolina state legislator

  • Job: South Carolina state legislator
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Denmark, SC
  • Twitter: @Bakari_Sellers

Bio:

Since his election to the South Carolina Legislature at the barely legal age of 22, Bakari Sellers has been a strong voice in reaching across the aisle—both by nature and necessity—a Democrat hasn’t won statewide office in South Carolina since 2006. Sellers is now running for lieutenant governor, and if successful this November, will be the youngest ever to hold that office; he will also be the first African American elected statewide in more than 100 years. Sellers has been running hard on a six-point plan to aid the elderly, including new tax breaks and the expansion of Alzheimer’s research. "I want to be a Democratic candidate that this state hasn’t seen in generations," he says.

Claim to Fame:

Bakari Sellers is running for lieutenant governor of South Carolina; if successful, he will be the first African American elected to statewide office in more than 100 years.
  • Influence 102.6
  • Reach 4.92
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 22,077
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Shani Hilton

  • Job: Editor, writer
  • Age: 29
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @shani_o

Bio:

As Buzzfeed’s deputy editor-in-chief, Shani Hilton is part of an executive team literally transforming the way journalism is read and shared. Once known for its listicles, Buzzfeed has of late embraced long-form feature writing (including an amazing profile on “For Brown Girls” creator Karyn Washington), investigative journalism and global reporting. As deputy editor, Hilton helps to oversee the 150-plus editorial staff and grapples with bringing diversity to its ever-growing staff. In her editorial life before Buzzfeed, Hilton wrote for the D.C.-based Washington City Paper and touched on subjects like race and class in prodigious articles such as “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier.”
Visit her website and like her Facebook page.  

Claim to Fame:

Deputy editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed
  • Influence 101.8
  • Reach 4.31
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 7,916
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Justin Simien, writer, producer, director

  • Job: Writer, producer, director
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @JSim07

Bio:

If the line “Remember when black movies didn’t have major plot twists timed to gospel numbers for no apparent reason? No? Damn … ” is any indication of the tone of Dear White People, we’re in for a goodie. DWP, opening in theaters Oct. 17, follows four black students (the Rebel, the Token, the Poster Child, the Diva) at an Ivy League college and explores how they approach identity both within and outside of the black community. The Sundance Film Festival Jury Award-winning film is the creation of Justin Simien, recently named one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch.” Simien says he longs to bring “black art house” films back to the masses, in the vein of Do the Right Thing and Boyz in the Hood.
Visit his website or like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Justin Simien is the creator, writer and producer of the film Dear White People, a satirical look at black identity at a fictitious Ivy League college.
  • Influence 101.8
  • Reach 4.85
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 3,439
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David Johns, Executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

  • Job: Executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans
  • Age: 32
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @MrDavidJohns

Bio:

Access to a quality education is a key component for equality in American society, meaning the work of David Johns, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, is more crucial than ever. Before President Barack Obama announced his My Brother’s Keeper initiative in February, Johns was already working on strategies to end the academic achievement gap for African Americans. Johns knows the importance of a quality education because he’s lived it: His mother had him travel long distances to go to a better school district than the one in his neighborhood in Los Angeles. With the support of his mother, Johns triple majored at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree from Columbia’s Teachers College. That’s all Johns wants for all students, which is why on Twitter he’s emphatically encouraging all to #TeachTheBabies, seeing education as paramount to equaling a playing field made uneven by racial and economic inequality.

Claim to Fame:

With the rallying cry of #TeachTheBabies on Twitter, David Johns is a force for the education of African-American youth both on- and offline.
  • Influence 101.7
  • Reach 4.84
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 10,386
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Claudia L. Gordon, Attorney and advocate for disabled rights

  • Job: Attorney and advocate for disabled rights
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @ClaudiaLGordon

Bio:

Out of adversity, a dream was born. When Claudia L. Gordon was 8, she lost her hearing, and with that loss came discrimination in her home country of Jamaica. The injustice she felt as a child fueled her desire to change how people perceived those who were differently abled, thus fueling her desire to become an attorney. A Howard University graduate, Gordon—who moved to the United States when she was 11–became the first deaf, African-American female attorney in the United States, and until earlier this year, she was the White House’s public engagement adviser for the disability community in the Office of Public Engagement. Now Gordon is returning to a previous role she had with the Department of Labor as the special assistant to the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Claim to Fame:

Claudia L. Gordon is an accomplished and successful lawyer, Howard graduate and advocate for disability rights—who also happens to be deaf.
  • Influence 100.9
  • Reach 4.24
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 581
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Attica Locke, Novelist and screenwriter

  • Job: Novelist and screenwriter
  • Age: 40
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @atticalocke

Bio:

Attica Locke already had a successful screenwriting career, penning scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, HBO and more, but what got her award-winning acclaim were the words she wrote that didn’t appear on any screen. Locke’s first novel, 2010’s Black Water Rising, racked up accolades with nominations for an Edgar Award, NAACP Image Award and more. Locke’s second novel, The Cutting Season, has continued her streak of success by winning the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in 2013.

Claim to Fame:

Award-winning author who recently released an acclaimed new crime thriller, The Cutting Season
  • Influence 100.7
  • Reach 4.22
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 1,026
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Erin Teague, Director of product management for Yahoo

  • Job: Director of product management for Yahoo
  • Age: 32
  • Location: San Francisco
  • Twitter: @ErinTeague

Bio:

Named among the 100 “Coolest People in Tech” by Business Insider this year, Erin Teague has steadily been impacting the digital space. Teague has made a name for herself at several tech companies, including the mobile-only social network Path—which she helped grow to 1 million new users a week last spring. Teague was also with Twitter and question/answer site Quora. Today, Teague is with Yahoo as its director of product management. Teague, a STEM major, graduated from the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, then later, finished with another degree from Harvard Business School. 

Claim to Fame:

Leader at one of Silicon Valley’s largest companies in an industry that isn’t known for diversity
  • Influence 97.6
  • Reach 3.97
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 2,366
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Mark S. Luckie, Social media specialist

  • Job: Social media specialist
  • Age: 31
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @marksluckie

Bio:

All things digital are among Mark S. Luckie’s domain. Currently manager of journalism and news at Twitter and the author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook, Luckie is a social media pro bringing more and more journalists to Twitter. Luckie started in the game early, penning his essential work The Digital Journalist’s Handbook. He’s gone from helping news organizations like the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly optimize their Web reach, to helping members of those same organizations more effectively use Twitter for the benefit of all.

Claim to Fame:

Manager of journalism and news at Twitter
  • Influence 97.2
  • Reach 5.29
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 15,734
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Feminista Jones, feminist writer, blogger, activist

  • Job: Feminist writer, blogger, activist, black Twitter driver, cultural commentator
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @FeministaJones

Bio:

If you heard about or attended one of the 119 vigils across America for the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14), know that Feminista Jones (not her real name) was the architect. Jones noted that many events for Michael Brown were “far removed” from the actual communities where police brutality was most likely to take place, and she sought to empower black and brown people by having rallies and watches in their own neighborhoods. Jones, who is a social worker by training, is also behind other hashtag campaigns like #YouOKsis, designed specifically to protect black women from street harassment, and is one of the generals of “black Twitter” using the social network to spark real-time activism.

Claim to Fame:

Led the #NMOS14 campaign to pay tribute to Michael Brown and others killed by law enforcement.
  • Influence 95.9
  • Reach 5.15
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 34,736
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Steve Horsford, U. S. Congressman

  • Job: U. S. Congressman
  • Age: 41
  • Location: North Las Vegas, NV
  • Twitter: @RepHorsford

Bio:

Ten years ago Steven Horsford entered politics through the Nevada Senate, and in four short years became Nevada’s youngest and first African-American Senate majority leader. In 2012, he won the newly formed 4th Congressional District, in which one Cliven Bundy happened to reside. When Bundy had an armed standoff against the federal government this spring, the congressman was an insistent voice of dissent as politicians and pundits alike rallied around the rancher as a “patriot” (until he asked if blacks were better off as slaves). “Elected officials and the media … have a responsibility to understand the language we use and to consider how it will be heard by others,” Horsford said.

Claim to Fame:

He took the media and politicians to task for indulging and championing Cliven Bundy in his armed stand against the federal government.
  • Influence 95.8
  • Reach 3.92
  • Substance 6.3
  • Twitter followers 8,221
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Mark Tatum, Deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the NBA

  • Job: Deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the NBA
  • Age: 44
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @N/A

Bio:

In the NBA, recent history had shown that while there was diversity on the floor, the sports league was lacking in its backrooms and halls of power. Mark Tatum has been among the few faces of color to be counted among the stars in the upper echelons of the NBA. Part of the NBA since 1999, Tatum is described as an affable power broker and businessman, big on developing relationships that lead to results—from the board room to negotiating the league’s broadcasting and sponsorship deals. For basketball-business insiders there was little surprise when he was promoted to deputy commissioner this year.

Claim to Fame:

Highest-ranking executive of color in a professional sports league.
  • Influence 93.8
  • Reach 3.67
  • Substance 3.67
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Aja Brown, Mayor of Compton, Calif.

  • Job: Mayor of Compton, Calif.
  • Age: 32
  • Location: Compton, Calif.
  • Twitter: @AjaLBrown

Bio:

Can Compton, Calif., become the next Brooklyn, N.Y., but better? That’s what the city’s young mayor, Aja Brown, wants to see. Speaking to Time magazine, Brown talked about how Brooklyn once had a similar reputation to Compton, but had now become a popular destination for residents and businesses. Brown wants to be more strategic about the development of Compton to avoid the dreaded “G” word. Calling gentrification a problem of “poor planning,” Brown is pushing to uplift blighted areas without erasing Compton’s identity or pushing out longtime residents. Building trust with Compton’s residents is key, and Brown makes herself as accessible as possible—from Twitter and Instagram to visiting schools to speak directly to students and teachers. With her hands-on approach, ambition and optimism, Brown has everyone rooting for Compton to do more than become a West Coast version of Brooklyn, but to become a turnaround city, unique and diverse, by and for the people who made it.

Claim to Fame:

Aja Brown wants Compton, Calif., to be the next Brooklyn, N.Y., but without the “G” word.
  • Influence 92.7
  • Reach 4.53
  • Substance 6.6
  • Twitter followers 2,543
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Ayanna Pressley, Boston politician

Bio:

Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color to be elected to the Boston City Council in its more than 100-year history, is still working to make historic changes for the constituents of the Roxbury-Dorchester areas she represents. Pressley, who initially ran for City Council on a platform of helping women and girls by fighting the trauma, violence and poverty that affect all, continues this work today. Pressley has attributed her political success to never pandering to anyone: “I was consistent in saying broken girls grow up to be broken women … I recognized that the issues that I wanted to work on—poverty, violence, trauma—were really neighborhood transcendent issues.”

Claim to Fame:

Ayanna Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected to the Boston City Council.
  • Influence 92.5
  • Reach 5.1
  • Substance 6.4
  • Twitter followers 8,834
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Charles Hudson, partner at SoftTech VC

  • Job: Partner at SoftTech VC
  • Age: 36
  • Location: San Francisco
  • Twitter: @chudson

Bio:

Charles Hudson is a partner at venture capital firm SoftTech VC, an early backer of successful startups like Fitbit, Mint and Eventbrite. Hudson, who fell into the VC world by working with the CIA’s nonprofit venture fund out of college, has held positions at Google and Bionic Panda Games, which he co-founded. Hudson is also creator of the Virtual Goods Summit and Social Gaming Summit, two of the leading conferences in the free-to-play games space. “The best thing about [my job] is the ability to provide hungry, visionary people with the capital that helps them build businesses that really have impact,” he says.

Claim to Fame:

Tech investor in the gaming and mobile sectors
  • Influence 92.5
  • Reach 6.6
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 11,720
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Randall Jackson, Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York 

  • Job: Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York
  • Age: 35
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @N/A

Bio:

Randall Jackson is so good at his job as assistant U.S. district attorney in New York’s Southern District that the notorious New York Post tagged him a “pit bull prosecutor.” In one of the most closely watched trials of the last decade concerning the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, Jackson used his pugilistic prosecutorial skills to destroy the (shaky) credibility of the “Madoff Five” on the witness stand, at one point asking an executive who tried to distance himself from convicted financier Bernard Madoff, “You went to college, right?” In March, the three men and two women were convicted of securities fraud, giving the government a “total victory” in its case.

Claim to Fame:

Randall Jackson’s sharp cross-examination skills helped to win the “Madoff Five” case for the government.
  • Influence 92.3
  • Reach 3.98
  • Substance 6.8
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Benjamin Crump, Attorney

Bio:

It was actually Tracy Martin, father of slain Florida teen Trayvon, who called Benjamin Crump after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo. Martin, a St. Louis native, made it plain: “They need you.” Crump went, and soon after was representing Brown’s family in the wake of their son’s horrific death and its spiraling aftermath. “To others, it’s a cliché,” Crump said at his first press conference. “To us, it’s our children." In addition to working with the Martin and Brown families, Crump represented the kin of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old teen who died in 2006 while incarcerated at a boot-camp style youth-detention center in Panama City, Fla. His request for these children is simple: justice.

Claim to Fame:

Attorney who represents the families of slain teens Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Martin Lee Anderson
  • Influence 92.1
  • Reach 6.54
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 31,203
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Hakeem Jeffries

  • Job: U.S. Congressman
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Twitter: @RepJeffries

Bio:

This summer, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries joined other New York congressmen in asking the Justice Department to investigate the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police officers. “My mantra as a public servant is to get things accomplished,” Jeffries said upon his election to the U.S. House of Representatives two years ago. As a member of a bipartisan task force on over-criminalization, Jeffries is poised to shape the debate over how the criminal code adversely affects people of color. The congressman already is tackling more of the same issues that marked his time in the New York State Assembly, where he passed a significant bill to help dismantle New York’s notorious “stop and frisk” program.

Visit his website and like his Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Democratic U.S. representative from New York’s 8th Congressional District, member of a congressional task force on how the criminal code adversely affects people of color
  • Influence 91.9
  • Reach 4.45
  • Substance 6.6
  • Twitter followers 4
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Luvvie Ajayi

  • Job: Writer, digital strategist
  • Age: 29
  • Location: Chicago
  • Twitter: @Luvvie

Bio:

Luvvie Ajayi has been titillating and destroying us with her break-neck, hilarious, personality-filled voice for more than eight years. Her Awesomely Luvvie blog covers it all – from a running list of botching Karrueche Tran’s name to why we need white allies in Ferguson, Mo. What sets Ajayi apart, however, is her ability to move beyond pop culture and thoughtfully address serious subjects, such as HIV and AIDS in women and girls, with her Red Pump Project. Ajayi also recently launched Awesomely Techie, a website offering efficient, straightforward ways to use technology in today’s fast-paced business environment. Couple that with her DumbestTweets.com, and you have to ask, “What’s not to Luv?”

Visit her website and like her Facebook page. 

Claim to Fame:

Award-winning writer, digital strategist and shoe lover who blogs at AwesomelyLuvvie.com, co-founder of the Red Pump Project
  • Influence 91.9
  • Reach 6.51
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 33,440
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Brittney Cooper, Rutgers University professor and columnist

  • Job: Professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University, columnist
  • Age: 33
  • Location: New Brunswick, NJ
  • Twitter: @ProfessorCrunk

Bio:

“Turn down for what?!” might as well be the theme song for Brittney Cooper, Ph.D., aka Professor Crunk. This year, the founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective steadily brings it as a contributor for Salon, her columns never wavering in their audacious, unapologetic feminist love story. Whether a scathing critique of the president’s dearth of policies for black women (“I am both disappointed and disgusted that in Obama’s political vision, all the blacks are men”) or how Iggy Azalea might need a lesson in code switching (versus appropriation), this “next generation black intellectual” carefully examines the issues of the day, is always down for the girls and remains steeped in her beloved hip-hop generational perspective.

Claim to Fame:

From Gaza to Azalea, Brittney Cooper always offers a fearless take on race and gender.
  • Influence 91.7
  • Reach 5.02
  • Substance 6.4
  • Twitter followers 14,595
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Lena Waithe

  • Job: Writer, producer
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @hillmangrad

Bio:

It has been a year since her Web series Twenties debuted on YouTube, and Lena Waithe is finally having her well-deserved day in the Hollywood sun. Twenties, which follows four young black women in Los Angeles (as complex as they are hilarious) just got a pilot deal with BET, to be produced by Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit. Variety named Waithe one of its 10 Comedians to Watch in 2014, and she is a producer of the highly anticipated film Dear White People, set to open in theaters Oct. 17. As she has said, “I’m an opinionated, s–t-talking, snarky girl who owns a record player and isn’t only influenced by black culture. And I’m not seeing that on television.” People, get ready.
Visit her website and like her Facebook page.  

Claim to Fame:

Producer of the upcoming film Dear White People and creator and writer of the BET pilot Twenties
  • Influence 91.4
  • Reach 6.45
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 4,324
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Theaster Gates

  • Job: Social practice installation artist, director of arts and public life at the University of Chicago
  • Age: 41
  • Location: Chicago
  • Twitter: @n/a

Bio:

Theaster Gates is literally transforming Chicago’s South Side by selling his highly valued conceptual art and using the proceeds to restore abandoned property there. One of Gates most recent projects is a 10,000-square-foot, one-point-8 billion dollar, arts incubator at the University of Chicago (where he is director of arts and public life), Gates has been snapping up everything from an abandoned housing project to a bank (raising money for its restoration by selling its remnants at Art Basel) and reimagining them as an arts center (which offers filmmaking classes for teens on weekends), affordable housing, artists studios, a library and even a soul food kitchen. Gates, who has two degrees in urban planning, works closely with Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who recently chose him to design the largest public-art project in the Chicago Transit Authority’s history.
Visit his website and like his Facebook page.  

Claim to Fame:

Known as the “real estate artist” for buying blighted property on Chicago’s South Side and transforming it into arts and cultural spaces
  • Influence 91.2
  • Reach 3.89
  • Substance 6.8
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Tim Story

  • Job: Director, producer, writer
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @timkstory

Bio:

After experiencing early success directing films such as 2002’s Barbershop and becoming the first African American to direct a superhero franchise (2005’s Fantastic Four), Tim Story hit a dry spell. It would be more than five years for his name to be attached to another big screen project, but since then, it has been all gravy. Story, who often collaborates with producer Will Packer and comedian Kevin Hart, is the man behind the lens of Think Like a Man and Think Like a Man Too as well as Ride Along and its upcoming sequel. Next up for Story is The Black Phantom with Packer and Hart and starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Visit his website.

Claim to Fame:

Directed two of 2014’s biggest comedies, Think Like a Man Too and Ride Along, and is set to helm The Black Phantom, starring Samuel L. Jackson.
  • Influence 91
  • Reach 6.39
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 7,677
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Monique L. Nelson, CEO of UWG, formerly UniWorld Group

  • Job: CEO of UWG, formerly UniWorld Group
  • Age: 39
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @MoniqueUWGCEO

Bio:

Two years ago, Monique L. Nelson became CEO of UniWorld Group, a role she “leaned into,” asked for and received. This year, under Nelson’s leadership, the longest-standing black-owned advertising agency in the U.S. rebranded itself as UWG, complete with a cutting-edge website overhaul. The company also expanded its services in Hispanic, Asian and LGBT marketing, picking up new business in all those segments, and kicked off its Culture Labs Program, partnering with local universities and tastemakers to capture real-time data on how culture drives commerce. “I want us to be more than just a black agency. I want to be the best agency in the market that just happens to be black-owned.” 

Claim to Fame:

UniWorld becomes UWG, as Monique L. Nelson takes the oldest multicultural ad firm into its next phase.
  • Influence 90.9
  • Reach 3.65
  • Substance 6.9
  • Twitter followers 339
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Beverly Bond, Founder of Black Girls Rock!, DJ, former model

  • Job: Founder of Black Girls Rock!, DJ, Former Model
  • Age: 43
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @BEVERLYBOND

Bio:

When model and “It Girl” DJ Beverly Bond founded Black Girls Rock! eight years ago, she sought to promote the arts for young women of color, as well as to encourage dialogue and analysis of the ways in which women of color are portrayed in the media. Her tagline has since reached millions, mostly through the annual Black Girls Rock! awards show on BET—arguably the best show in the network’s lineup. Meanwhile, in BGR!’s day-to-day, young women of color build leadership (and deejaying) skills through its Saturday academy and Queens Camp for Leadership during the summer. This year BGR! launched Girls Rock Tech!, complete with robotics and coding courses. Plus, Bond collaborated with the Kennedy Center to present Rock Like a Girl, a production that celebrates women’s contributions to the art and culture of hip-hop.

Claim to Fame:

Founder of Black Girls Rock!, a youth-empowerment group that is now working in STEM fields for young black women
  • Influence 90.7
  • Reach 5.94
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 37,113
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Nikki Silvestri, executive director, Green for All

  • Job: Executive director, Green for All
  • Age: 29
  • Location: Oakland, Calif.
  • Twitter: @nikkicsilvestri

Bio:

Taking environmentalism beyond its obvious goal, Nikki Silvestri, executive director of the Van Jones- and Majora Carter-founded Green for All, seeks to create “green pathways out of poverty.” Silvestri took the helm of the 7-year-old organization at the top of the year, and works to create green jobs at the local, state and national levels. Silvestri’s background is in community organizing and the food-justice movement, and she advocates using culture as a medium for building bridges to underserved communities. Silvestri is a nuanced thought leader and a sought-after public speaker who shares her thoughts on sustainability for a variety of audiences, from the Melissa Harris-Perry show to TEDxManhattan.

Claim to Fame:

Frequent thought leader on the environment and environmental justice
  • Influence 90.5
  • Reach 3.61
  • Substance 6.9
  • Twitter followers 2,092
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Yohannes Abraham, Special assistant to the President and chief of staff for the Office of Public Engagement

  • Job: Special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Public Engagement
  • Age: 28
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @YohannesAbraham

Bio:

As special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Yohannes Abraham is second in command in the office that coordinates direct dialogue between the Obama administration and the American public, sometimes called “the front door to the White House.” Abraham, who also is presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett’s chief of staff, has been with the Obama administration since serving as a field director for the state of Virginia during the 2008 general election, and is leading the charge on White House initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper, to increase opportunities for young men of color.

Claim to Fame:

Senior member of President Barack Obama’s team, pushing White House initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper.
  • Influence 90
  • Reach 4.54
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 5,799
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Yoruba Richen, Filmmaker, director, professor

  • Job: Filmmaker, director, professor
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Twitter: @redrubes14

Bio:

Yoruba Richen is an award-winning film director and producer and creator of The New Black, an award-winning documentary that examines the complicated and often combative relationship between African Americans, the black church and gay rights. This is the third film for Richen, who also made Sisters of the Good Death, which is about the oldest African women’s association in the New World and its annual festival celebrating the end of slavery. Yoruba is a former Guggenheim fellow, a 2014 featured TED speaker and the 2014 recipient of the Tow professorship at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where she teaches documentary film.

Claim to Fame:

Film director and producer of the award-winning documentary The New Black on African Americans and gay rights
  • Influence 89.6
  • Reach 4.24
  • Substance 6.6
  • Twitter followers 858
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Tony Clark, Executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association

  • Job: Executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association
  • Age: 42
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @N/A

Bio:

In July, Tony Clark became the executive director of the baseball players union, the first former player in that role. Clark played in the major leagues at first base for 15 seasons with a slew of teams: Arizona, the New York Mets and Yankees, Boston, San Diego and Detroit (where he got the nickname “Tony the Tiger.”) After his pro career, Clark became a studio analyst with the MLB Network and soon after joined the MLBPA as director of player relations. Major League Baseball is the only major American professional sports league that does not have a salary cap, a nod to the union’s power.

Claim to Fame:

Tony Clark was tapped to lead the MLB players union, the first former player to hold that position
  • Influence 88.5
  • Reach 4.38
  • Substance 6.5
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Bozoma Saint John, Senior vice president and head of global marketing at Beats Music

  • Job: Senior vice president and head of global marketing at Beats Music
  • Age: 36
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @SaintBoz

Bio:

After working her munificent magic as a marketing executive at Pepsi (including having a hand in Beyoncé’s Emmy-winning half-time performance at the Super Bowl), Bozoma Saint John became senior vice president of global marketing at Beats Music, reporting directly to the CEO. Beats Music (related to but not the ubiquitous headphones portion of the company) is a new music subscription service and many say a large part of why Apple bought into Dr. Dre’s brand for $3 billion. Partnerships, such as Beats with Target or Beats with AT&T, fall under Saint John’s purview, and many expect her to continue to rock it.

Claim to Fame:

Former Pepsi executive, now head of global marketing at Beats Music
  • Influence 88.3
  • Reach 3.25
  • Substance 7
  • Twitter followers 1,768
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Jamelle Bouie, Journalist

  • Job: Journalist
  • Age: 27
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @jbouie

Bio:

Raised in Virginia Beach, Va., Jamelle Bouie has made a name for himself as a sharp, thoughtful journalist and critic in the online space. Formerly of the American Prospect, The Nation and the Daily Beast, Bouie can now be found on Slate, providing in-depth coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Mo., while also tackling such topics as the “new racism” in the character assassinations of victims of police brutality and the effects of government policies on poverty.

Claim to Fame:

Staff writer for Slate magazine
  • Influence 87.9
  • Reach 5.97
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 36,973
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Ralph Gilles, President and CEO, Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC

  • Job: President and CEO, Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Detroit
  • Twitter: @RalphGilles

Bio:

When Ralph Gilles was 14, an aunt wrote to former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca to crow about her nephew’s superior sketching skills. A reply came from Chrysler’s design chief who recommended that the talented teen go to design school. Gilles did, and followed that with an MBA. He was later hired as a designer at Chrysler, and since then, has run several divisions at the iconic American company, including its Dodge brand. Gilles is currently president and CEO of Motorsports and senior vice president of product design, and serves as the executive sponsor of the Chrysler African American Network. He can be seen here doing a massive burnout in the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.

Claim to Fame:

President and CEO, Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC; senior vice president, product design, Chrysler Group LLC
  • Influence 87.5
  • Reach 5.91
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 20,199
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Orlando Watson, RNC’s spokesman/communications director for black media

  • Job: RNC’s spokesman/communications director for black media
  • Age: 25
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @orlandowatson

Bio:

Late last year, the Republican National Committee named Orlando Watson as its communications director for black media. Previously, Watson had worked on the campaign of Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul and as press secretary for Republican Rep. Paul Gosar. With a photo of iconic black Republican Booker T. Washington on his Twitter page, Watson says that he hopes to engage black voters around the issues of school choice and economic reform. “People define conservatism today as meaning sort of backward or authoritarian or stuck in the past, but that’s not how I define it at all,” he says. “I care about the middle class and the working poor and people who are trying to achieve the American dream.”

Claim to Fame:

Republican National Committee's communications director for black media
  • Influence 87.1
  • Reach 4.25
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 2,243
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Wagatwe Wanjuki, Feminist writer, activist

  • Job: Feminist writer, activist
  • Age: 27
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @wagatwe

Bio:

In response to the Obama administration’s enforcement of Title IX as it relates to sexual assaults on college campuses, a prominent national newspaper columnist wrote that students who report rape have a “coveted status that confers privilege.” Well. Rape survivor and activist Wagatwe Wanjuki promptly took to Twitter with the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege (as in ” Where’s my survivor privilege? Was expelled & have $10,000s of private student loans used to attend school that didn’t care I was raped”). Immediately, the hashtag began to trend, as scores of women began posting their own sobering stories of the fallout from reporting sexual assaults. A movement was born. Said columnist was dropped from at least one paper. And rape culture was one step closer to being undone.

Claim to Fame:

Feminist writer, activist Job title: Feminist writer, activist
  • Influence 86.7
  • Reach 4.48
  • Substance 6.4
  • Twitter followers 4,297
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Yaba Blay, co-director of Africana studies at Drexel University, writer, activist

  • Job: Co-director of Africana studies at Drexel University, writer, activist, publisher of Blackprint press
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Philadelphia
  • Twitter: @fiyawata

Bio:

Yaba Blay, professor and co-director of Africana studies at Drexel University, is also the founder of Blackprint, a small independent press “devoted to giving black artists a platform through which to tell our own stories.” Through Blackprint, Blay is a sought-after cultural commentator, and one of her latest projects “Pretty. Period,” is a visual tribute to brown- and dark-skinned black women.

Claim to Fame:

Seminal work, (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race, inspired the fifth season of CNN’s Black in America series
  • Influence 86.5
  • Reach 4.2
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 5,226
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Zerlina Maxwell, writer, political analyst, activist

  • Job: Writer, political analyst, activist
  • Age: 32
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @ZerlinaMaxwell

Bio:

Zerlina Maxwell, outspoken and unbowed political analyst and feminist, is a testament to the disruptive power of social media. So much so that her frequent tweets during the 2012 presidential campaign helped her become a regular cable news pundit. Her most prominent work of late, though, concerns rape culture—namely, how the burden of stopping rape and changing rape culture must shift from women to men. In 2014, her #RapeCultureIsWhen hashtag won a Maggie Award for Media Excellence from Planned Parenthood, and her Twitter account was recognized by Time magazine as one of the best to follow. Maxwell’s thoughts on feminism, politics and policy appear in outlets as diverse as MSNBC and Ebony.com, and she is a frequent speaker on college campuses.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and contributing writer for Ebony.com, Feministing.com, theGrio.com, BET.com and RHRealitycheck.org.
  • Influence 86.5
  • Reach 5.78
  • Substance 6
  • Twitter followers 42,584
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Kiese Laymon, associate professor, author

  • Job: Associate professor, author
  • Age: 40
  • Location: Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Twitter: @KieseLaymon

Bio:

Kiese Laymon proved himself to be one of the best representatives of the black literary tradition in the 21st century with his well-received debut novel, Long Division, a look at African-American identity, gender, geography and hip-hop in post-Katrina Mississippi. Long Division was recently honored with the elite Saroyan Prize for International Writing. The Vassar professor, essayist and key contributor to the ongoing national conversations on race and politics is now working on another novel, And So On, as well as 309: A Fat Black Memoir. In 2015, Laymon will be returning home to Mississippi as the Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.

Claim to Fame:

Award-winning author, editor and professor of English and Africana studies at Vassar College
  • Influence 86
  • Reach 4.14
  • Substance 6.5
  • Twitter followers 3,488
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Jamilah Lemieux, journalist, blogger, editor

  • Job: Journalist, blogger, editor
  • Age: 30
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @JamilahLemieux

Bio:

Since her days as “Sistah Toldja” as a Howard University undergrad, Jamilah Lemieux has marched to one directive (or three): Write. Fight. Love. She is doing more of the same as senior editor at Ebony.com and frequent cultural commentator. On any given day, Lemieux has rapid-fire exchanges on Twitter with her 30,000 plus followers on such subjects as “dating be like” to #solidarityisforwhitewomen. She is an unabashed feminist who doesn’t shy away from conversations like #blackpowerisforblackmen or “Rick Ross Thinks Rape Is a Punchline.” Lemieux’s biting wit got her into a bit of a kerfuffle this year with the Republican National Committee, but despite Fox news denigration, and apologies all around, more than 20,000 chose to #standwithjamilah.

Visit her website and like her Facebook page.

Claim to Fame:

Senior editor, Ebony.com
  • Influence 86
  • Reach 5.34
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 30,098
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Rodney Priestley, assistant professor

  • Job: Assistant professor
  • Age: 34
  • Location: Princeton, NJ
  • Twitter: @n/a

Bio:

As assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton, Rodney Priestley’s laser-like focus on polymer molecules — leading a group of top researchers and breaking new ground in his field — has put him on the tenure track. This year alone, Priestley has received the 2014 Sloan Research Fellowship in chemistry and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar award, as well as other honors. Last December, President Obama awarded Priestley the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE); in this capacity he will be working with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for the next five years.

Visit his website.

Claim to Fame:

Assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton University, honored by the White House with the prestigious PECASE Award
  • Influence 86.4
  • Reach 2.31
  • Substance 7.5
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Gene Demby, Blogger, correspondent at NPR

  • Job: Blogger, correspondent at NPR
  • Age: 33
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @GeeDee215

Bio:

Since his days at the New York Times back in ’07, Gene Demby has been musing on race and gender in his PostBourgie blog, an ensemble conversation from today’s top cultural and political critics. PB dips in and out of pop culture—from Nicki Minaj to black pathology—an underground railroad stop for witty, black millennials. In his day job as lead blogger for NPR’s Code Switch, Demby stands out with a more thorough lens through which to explore race and politics in timely pieces like “Scenes From the Ferguson We Didn’t See on TV” and “Which Media Outlets Are Not Calling the Redskins ‘the Redskins’?, often interacting with his audience in the comments section.

Claim to Fame:

Gene Demby hits black culture like a well-paid rapper—he knows how to rock the mainstream and the underground.
  • Influence 85.3
  • Reach 5.26
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 16,472
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Naithan Jones, CEO, AgLocal

  • Job: CEO, AgLocal
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Silicon Valley, Calif.
  • Twitter: @NaithanJones

Bio:

When Naithan “Nait” Jones created the AgLocal Web and mobile platform in late 2011, his dream was to match independent meat farms to restaurants. When that business model proved untenable, he and his partner relaunched AgLocal as a subscription-based home delivery service. AgLocal conveniently delivers one of four pasture-raised meat packages to customers’ doors: Family, Fit & Lean, Grill Master or Farmer’s Picks (goat cubes, anyone?). The company has the added benefit of supporting family-owned meat farms competing against the big boys. Named as one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies of 2014, AgLocal currently delivers to eight states in the Western U.S. and plans to expand to the Midwest in the next year.

Claim to Fame:

CEO and co-founder of AgLocal, a subscription-based, curated, home meat-delivery service
  • Influence 85.1
  • Reach 4.32
  • Substance 6.4
  • Twitter followers 10,480
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Eric Mitchell, Lobbyist

Bio:

When Eric Mitchell and Bread for the World came to Washington, D.C., to petition Congress on National Lobby Day in June, they killed two birds with one stone.  They urged over 100 representatives to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and to reject harmful changes to U.S. food-aid programs, two interrelated problems. Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread for the World, a nonprofit anti-hunger Christian collective, has been successfully leading efforts to fight drastic cuts to domestic nutrition programs, like SNAP and WIC, and just this summer helped to reauthorize $80 million in danger of being cut from the 2014 farm bill. For his efforts, Mitchell has been listed in The Hill: Top Lobbyists for two consecutive years.

Claim to Fame:

Top Washington, D.C. lobbyist as been successfully leading efforts to fight drastic cuts to domestic nutrition programs, like SNAP and WIC.
  • Influence 84.3
  • Reach 4.52
  • Substance 6.3
  • Twitter followers 141
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Kevin Hart, comedian, actor, CEO of Hartbeat Productions 

  • Job: Comedian, actor, CEO of Hartbeat Productions
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Twitter: @KevinHart4real

Bio:

When Kevin Hart picked up the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Entertainer of the Year, there was no doubt that he was most deserving. Hart has really elevated his stature (ha!) as one of most ubiquitous comedians on the scene today. Not only was Hart this year in three major films—Think Like a Man Too, Ride Along and About Last Night—he also expanded his audience with 2013 flicks like Grudge Match with Robert De Niro and This Is the End with Seth Rogen. His Laugh at My Pain standup DVD has grossed more than $8 million since its release, and he also stars in one of BET’s most valued franchises Real Husbands of Hollywood.

Claim to Fame:

Star of major Hollywood films and Real Husbands of Hollywood
  • Influence 84.3
  • Reach 10.51
  • Substance 5.1
  • Twitter followers 11,954,858
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Tanya Fields, Eco-warrior, executive director, The BLK ProjeK

  • Job: Eco-warrior, executive director, The BLK ProjeK
  • Age: 33
  • Location: The Bronx, NY
  • Twitter: @theblkprojek

Bio:

Food trucks are all the rage in upwardly mobile neighborhoods, and now there’s one rolling through New York’s South Bronx with everything from organic eggs to seasonal fruit and vegetables. After hearing about mobile greenmarkets popping up in New Orleans and Detroit, and searching for reasonable and accessible fresh produce in her own neighborhood, food activist and The Blk ProjeK founder Tanya Fields acquired the “Veggie Bus” (technically the South Bronx Mobile Market), a clean-energy vehicle that runs on used vegetable oil, with solar paneling for refrigeration. The Blk ProjeK’s farming project, Libertad Urban Farm, has converted a former city lot into a thriving garden, providing workforce development in addition to fresh food for Bronx residents.

Claim to Fame:

Creator of The BLK ProjeK, making change block by block in a neighborhood in dire need of fresh food and easy access to it
  • Influence 84.2
  • Reach 4.5
  • Substance 6.3
  • Twitter followers 1,205
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Jennifer Brea, Filmmaker

  • Job: Filmmaker
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Princeton, NJ
  • Twitter: @jenbrea

Bio:

Several years ago, Jennifer Brea was at a restaurant and lost the ability to sign her name. Her health quickly deteriorated; so much so, that she couldn’t speak her vows at her wedding. After years of misdiagnoses, she got a verdict: chronic fatigue syndrome, or more specifically, myalgic encephalomyelitis, thought to affect more than 1 million Americans. Brea, on medical leave as a doctoral student at Harvard, sought a way to document her harrowing health tailspin. Since the condition left her with the inability to write, Brea’s video journals became the documentary Canary in a Coal Mine. The film outlines Brea’s walk with this swiftly attacking, misunderstood (often deemed psychosomatic) disease, and raises awareness about the utter lack of understanding (and funding) by the medical establishment. For her untold story, Brea raised over $200,000 in a Kickstarter campaign and Canary was recently bestowed a grant from the Sundance Institute.

Claim to Fame:

Creator and star of Canary in a Coal Mine, a documentary on her prime-of-life struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Influence 83.9
  • Reach 3.29
  • Substance 6.8
  • Twitter followers 1,954
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Najoh Tita-Reid, Pharmaceutical executive

  • Job: Pharmaceutical executive
  • Age: 41
  • Location: London
  • Twitter: @NajohT

Bio:

In chess, as in life, and certainly in business, it’s all about strategy. Najoh Tita-Reid is considered a strategic marketing master, as evidenced by her steady climb up the corporate ladder over the last 20 years. Tita-Reid was recently named general manager, Western Europe, for Merck, responsible for the consumer care Western European business, overseeing 11 markets. The London-based globetrotting exec was previously responsible for Merck’s day-to-day business operations in Latin America, Western Europe, Mexico and Canada. Prior to working for the pharmaceutical conglomerate, Tita-Reid was a Procter & Gamble marketing director who spearheaded the now iconic “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign, which debuted in 2007 and is still running today.

Claim to Fame:

Najoh Tita-Reid, the brains behind the “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign, is currently the general manager for Merck & Co.’s Western European business.
  • Influence 83.8
  • Reach 2.76
  • Substance 7.1
  • Twitter followers 115
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Mickalene Thomas, artist, photographer, filmmaker

  • Job: Artist, photographer, filmmaker
  • Age: 43
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Twitter: @mickalenethomas

Bio:

If you missed her triumphant solo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, “The Origin of the Universe,” you might have caught Mickalene Thomas joyously dancing in the round with Jay Z in his “Picasso Baby” video. Best known for her blown-up, bodacious, canvases of black women adorned in acrylic and crystal, gazing from on high in fierce art-historical poses, the Yale-educated, modernist painter and photographer seeks to redefine notions of beauty in art. In March, Thomas debuted on HBO her short film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, an ode to her mother, model Sandra Bush, and was recently named a finalist for the Smithsonian’s biennial James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize.

Claim to Fame:

Prominent visual artist had her first film short debut on HBO this year
  • Influence 83.8
  • Reach 5.07
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 3,205
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Peniel E. Joseph, professor, writer

  • Job: Professor, writer
  • Age: 41
  • Location: Medford, Mass.
  • Twitter: @PenielJoseph

Bio:

Peniel E. Joseph is a writer, scholar of African-American history, professor at Tufts University and originator of what is known as black power studies. He released his fifth book, Stokely: A Life, this year, introducing a new generation to Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Ture), one of the lesser-known heroes of the civil rights/black power movements. Almost a decade in the making, Joseph’s research was exhaustive, sifting through over 20,000 previously unreleased pages of FBI files on Carmichael; the biography reveals the young Pan-Africanist’s complexity, and his surprising relationship with Martin Luther King Jr., whom Carmichael pushed to speak out against the Vietnam War.

Claim to Fame:

Released his fifth book, Stokely: A Life, in March
  • Influence 83.7
  • Reach 4.74
  • Substance 6.2
  • Twitter followers 3,427
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Ivory Toldson, deputy director, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

  • Job: Deputy director, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Twitter: @toldson

Bio:

Ivory Achebe Toldson has made it his mission to increase the number of young black men in higher education—and to keep them there. In his current position as deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Toldson, crisscrosses the country speaking on behalf of and directly to young black men. Toldson, formerly a professor in Howard University’s psychology department and a former editor of The Journal of Negro Education, is known for using his supreme research skills to challenge “zombie statistics” about young black men. His marching orders: “Black scholar-activists—be emotional, be contentious, be angry, be arrogant and be brave.”

Claim to Fame:

As deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCU's, Toldson crisscrosses the country speaking on behalf of and directly to young black men
  • Influence 83.6
  • Reach 4.43
  • Substance 6.3
  • Twitter followers 2,703
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Mychal Denzel Smith, writer

Bio:

Whether he’s talking about the activism of black millennials, or how black youth in New York City are continually criminalized, Mychal Denzel Smith’s work is quick, hard-hitting, profound and occasionally stings (Tweet: “If you make me take off my hat before entering your establishment, just know that I hate you and think you’re a racist.”). Smith is a Knobler fellow at the Nation Institute, and also writes for a diverse range of media from The Guardian to The Root. His columns for TheNation.com, "All the blackness that’s fit to print. And some that isn’t," were nominated for a 2014 National Association of Black Journalists award for commentary.

Claim to Fame:

Writer who covers race, politics, social justice, pop culture, hip-hop, mental health, feminism and black male identity
  • Influence 83.4
  • Reach 4.42
  • Substance 6.3
  • Twitter followers 15,073
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Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

  • Job: Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
  • Age: 42
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Twitter: @KhalilGMuhammad

Bio:

Khalil Gibran Muhammad is director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a library with more than 10 million artifacts on African-American life. In his three years leading the Schomburg, Muhammad has reached out to the Harlem community in innovative ways, including the Junior Scholars Program, First Fridays and the world premiere of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, attended by A-list-ers like Will Smith and Jay Z. In September, Muhammad was also among the featured writers and historians in the documentary Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football, which premiered on Epix.

 

Claim to Fame:

Professor, author and media commentator
  • Influence 83.3
  • Reach 5.01
  • Substance 6.1
  • Twitter followers 5,983