Beyoncé and Michelle Alexander: a pop superstar and a law professor. Kanye West and David Adjaye: a hip-hop icon and a "starchitect." Tyra Banks and Touré: a supermodel-turned-entrepreneur and a political pundit who wants to redefine blackness. Welcome to the fascinating world of The Root 100, where the unusual juxtapositions are not accidental. They reflect the richness and variety of leadership in the African-American community, a breadth and range of talent that we worked hard to capture in the 2011 edition of our list.
This is the third year that The Root 100 has compiled a list of the most influential African Americans between the ages of 25 and 45, but the first time we have actually ranked them. Each year we have refined our methodology to make sure we find the people who are making their mark and making a difference in our community.
In the last two years, we depended on the astuteness of our editors and input from many readers, established African-American leaders and friends of The Root to help us identify people who are making a difference in our communities. This year we once again called for nominations from The Root community but decided to inject some metrics into the process of selecting our 100 stars in order to better capture the level of influence and reach of our honorees.
This year we took into account the number of mentions in the media, Internet search results and number of Twitter followers for each nominee. Realizing that this could skew the list toward celebrities, we used some sophisticated math to give people with lower profiles a chance to compete against those who are constantly in the public eye.
We also introduced a measure of substance, based on the judgment of our editors, to help us come up with an overall influence score. (For more details on the numbers behind the selection process, see Measuring Clout Among African Americans, by Omar Wasow, an Internet pioneer and a contributing editor to The Root, who was the mastermind behind this formula.)
The result is a cornucopia of black talent that reaches deep into our community. We have celebrated artists for their art, politicians for their vision and activists for their unwillingness to accept the status quo. Unabashedly, we favor those who want to change America for the better. While we celebrate the pure artistic talent of jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding and classical clarinetist Anthony McGill, we also boosted the ranking of artists like the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am for his effort to convince black kids that science and technology are "cool." We downgraded or eliminated artists who acted like fools and fueled the scandal mills.
We also admire leaders with new vision and new ideas. Our list includes Benjamin Jealous, CEO of the NAACP, fighting an uphill battle to reshape a 100-year-old organization to better confront the challenges that African Americans face in the 21st century. Our list also includes Van Jones, the environmental activist who co-founded ColorOfChange and has now created the American Dream Movement as a counterweight to the Tea Party. And we like Beverly Bond, the former model whose Black Girls Rock! organization has given young women new hope and self-esteem.
Among elected officials, we included Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has brought fresh ideas and an inclusive approach to governance, and Steven Horsford, the majority leader of the Nevada Senate — quite an achievement in a state with a black population of just 8 percent. Let's not forget Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, Calif., who is probably the only mayor to dunk on a 7-footer in an NBA championship game, a credential that may be helpful in his battles with a feisty City Council.
Entertainers and media figures are well represented on this year's list. That's an inevitable consequence of our methodology. If you want to find the people who have broad influence, you're going to get a lot of well-known artists and newspeople who are constantly in your earbuds or on your TV screen. For instance, Roland Martin and Don Lemon and Charles M. Blow are constantly in our conversations, whether we agree or disagree with them.
But we've also made sure not to celebrate just people who are already dominate the headlines. That's why people like Michelle Alexander are on our list. This law professor at Ohio State University has played a key role in reshaping the dialogue on black incarceration with her seminal 2010 book, The New Jim Crow. For the same reason, we spotlighted Dambisa Moyo, an African economist who argues that foreign aid actually hurts developing countries by fostering dependence and corruption.
And then there are the people who work in the background, like Michael Strautmanis, close friend of the Obamas and an adviser to Valerie Jarrett; or Jamal Simmons, who will play a key role in the 2012 Democratic campaign, as he did in 2008; or Angela Rye, who has introduced a fresh approach to her new job as executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Finally, we should not forget businesspeople like Mellody Hobson and Harold Ford Jr. In fact, we should remember that while people like Tyler Perry and Jay-Z and Tyra Banks are nominally entertainers, they run sizable enterprises as well. Building wealth has been a black agenda item since Booker T. Washington, and it has become even more important in 2011 as we see the widening wealth gap between blacks and whites.
In future years, individuals will rise and fall on The Root 100 list according to their most recent achievements. Some will fall off the list, and other, new faces will emerge. We'd like your feedback about this year's selections, and suggestions for names we should consider for The Root 100 list in 2012, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take a look at The Root 100 list for 2011 now.
Joel Dreyfuss is the managing editor of The Root.