Black excellence goes far beyond a trending social media topic. It is a notion that is indicative of who we are, our fortitude and extraordinary accomplishments.
We’ve compiled a list to honor #BlackExcellence in 2015—from Amandla Stenberg schooling the world on cultural appropriation to Todrick Hall, a viral, Internet celebrity-turned-reality-television star.
Join us in celebrating the ingenuity, intelligence and sheer awesomeness of black folks. And be inspired because, yeah, we’re pretty dope.
Simone Biles flips the script on the world of gymnastics.
The 18-year-old gymnast was named U.S. female Olympic athlete of the year. She also made history: The budding star is the first woman to win her third consecutive all-around title at the World Gymnastics Championships.
John Henry goes from doorman to businessman.
First-generation Dominican American John Henry went from being a doorman to a start-up-business owner in just two years. The 22-year-old built and sold his first enterprise—an on-demand, home-service business—in two years. Shortly afterward, the entrepreneur created an accelerator fund—Cofound Harlem—and most recently launched a corresponding $5 million venture capital fund, Cofound Ventures.
Roni Dean-Burren stays woke.
“We was real hard workers, wasn’t we,” said Coby Burren in a text to his mother, Roni Dean-Burren. Her son was referring to a grossly incorrect textbook entry that described slavery as a type of “immigration” and referred to slaves as “workers.” With that message, Dean-Burren took on the McGraw-Hill publishing company with a social media firestorm.
As a result of her campaign, which included a viral video, McGraw-Hill issued a mea culpa via Facebook: “Our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.” The corporation will correct the mistake in the digital version and the next print edition of the book. For her stand against McGraw-Hill, Dean-Burren was granted the first-ever “Stay Woke” award from The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.
Todrick Hall honors Queen Bey.
Internet celebrity Todrick Hall is the creator, choreographer and star of a slew of viral YouTube videos, including the homage to Queen Bey: “4 Beyonce From Todrick.” With nearly 7 million views, this four minutes of fabulousness is one of his YouTube channel’s most popular videos, and understandably so—it covers songs from all five of Beyoncé’s albums. Hall’s talents did not go unnoticed—he landed Todrick, a reality show on MTV.
Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a box-office knockout.
Creed, the Rocky spinoff, has wielded quite the punch. By building a movie around the life and experiences of a young black boxer, Ryan Coogler crafted a box-office hit. According to The Wrap, Creed earned more than $40 million in the five days after its debut, delivering the best opening of any of the six sequels in the Rocky franchise.
“Jewell for Council” makes history.
Last month, 20-year-old Jewell Jones became the youngest person ever elected to the City Council of Inkster, Mich. A lifelong resident of Inkster, Jones now represents the city’s 4th District. And balance is key—when the City Council isn’t in session, he’s in class as a full-time student at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.
April Star is beautiful.
April Star, who has vitiligo, is a 10-year-old model who champions self-love and positive body image. Inspired by Winnie Harlow, another model who has the skin condition, April challenges the mainstream notion of beauty. The budding model posed for Essence magazine and, through her work, brings awareness while shining her light on the fashion industry.
Kehinde Wiley repaints history.
In case you missed it, “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic,” honored contemporary black men and women by putting them at the center of European paintings—a space once exclusively occupied by white aristocrats. Wiley’s phenomenal work was on display earlier this year at the Brooklyn Museum. (The Root 100 2015 honoree’s work can also be seen gracing the walls on the sets of the hit TV show Empire.) An exhibition favorite was the equestrian portrait of King Philip II as Michael Jackson. Winning. With his brushstroke, Wiley bestows royalty upon blacks in America.
Mars Five and Philadelphia Printworks give us “School of Thought.”
Creators of the “School of Thought” line, Mars Five and Philadelphia Printworks feature shirts from fictional universities. The best part: The faux institutions are built on the philosophies of seminal black thinkers and leaders. Among the celebrated: Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Marcus Garvey and Harriet Tubman.
Haben Girma defies the odds.
Haben Girma is the first deaf-blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School. She went on to be an activist and was recognized as a White House Champion of Change. A practicing attorney, Girma introduced President Barack Obama in July during a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Akon keeps the lights on.
In May 2015, Akon (a 2015 The Root 100 honoree) announced that his foundation, Akon Lighting Africa, will bring the first solar academy to Africa, Solektra Solar Academy. The academy will help citizens develop skills and expertise within the realm of solar technologies, and will drive Africa’s growth.
Make way for Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Loretta Lynch was sworn in in April as the first African-American woman to become the U.S. attorney general. After five months of GOP delays, Lynch persevered, and she stands as an aspirational figure to black Americans.
Mo’ne Davis continues to be an all-star.
Last year Mo’ne Davis made history by throwing a shutout in a Little League World Series game. Off the diamond, she continues to win. In March the 13-year-old sensation partnered with M4D3 (Make a Difference Everyday) and Because I Am a Girl to craft a sneaker—the proceeds from which help underprivileged girls worldwide. Here’s to leveraging fame to help others.
Tina Charles has heart.
New York Liberty center Tina Charles donated half of her $100,000 salary to charity. Hopey’s Heart Foundation is a charity Charles started in honor of her aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz, who died of multiple organ failure, but the charity is intended to prevent sudden cardiac arrest of student-athletes.
Zendaya Coleman rips the red carpet and critics.
Zendaya Coleman stands by her convictions. This year the stunning 19-year-old wore faux locks on the Oscars red carpet and received criticism from Giuliana Rancic, who said, “I feel like she smells like patchouli oil and weed.” Zendaya clapped back via Instagram with a lengthy post denouncing the ignorance and bigotry indicative of the statement, while recognizing notable black people with locks. In October she also called out a French magazine for altering a photo and making her look too thin. Coleman said that retouching does harm to women’s body image.
Adewale Adeyemo’s in the (White) House!
Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo is the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. The 34-year-old has served in the Obama administration since 2009 and succeeds Caroline Atkinson in the role.
Amandla Stenberg schools ’em on cultural appropriation.
In April the brilliant 16-year-old actress and student created a history project that went viral. “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows: A Crash Discourse on Black Culture” eloquently broke down cultural appropriation, its nuances and how the privileged have flagrantly taken on black culture and, according to Stenberg, have deemed it as “high-fashion, cool or funny.” At the end of her video, Amandla leaves the world with a looming question: “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?” Preach!
You get a mammogram, and you get a mammogram and you get a mammogram!
In October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams announced that he was purchasing 53 mammogram tests for women in honor of his mother. Sandra Hill, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2014, was 53 years old when she died (hence his decision to provide said number of mammograms), and her son is paying it forward. In an interview with ESPN, he said, “It's not just about October for me; it's not just a month, it's a lifestyle. It's about getting women to recognize to get tested."
Christmas comes early because of 2 Chainz and his dabbing Santa sweater.
The rapper 2 Chainz and his charity, TRU Foundation, have a heart. The philanthropist made a house call with friends from a local news station in Atlanta, and he came bearing gifts. In his visit to disabled vet Dierdre Plater, the rapper delivered furniture and agreed to pay her rent. 2 Chainz’s hilarious dabbing Santa sweaters partially fund the organization’s giving.
Jasmine Twitty lays down the law.
The 25-year-old became the youngest person to be named a judge in Easley, S.C. The graduate of the College of Charleston is committed to youth development and has committed herself to the Upstate Network Young Professionals Board.
Victor Mooney traverses the Atlantic to fight HIV and AIDS.
Victor Mooney has spent the past decade raising HIV and AIDS awareness. In November the 49-year-old successfully rowed across the Atlantic after three attempts. Starting at the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, Mooney persevered and arrived at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City in just under a year. Victory.
Misty Copeland gives the world a twirl.
Misty Copeland (a 2015 The Root 100 honoree) is one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States and, arguably, the world. This year she made history after being promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. With ABT’s 75-year history, this is an outstanding feat and a testament to the power of a determined spirit.
Felice León is multimedia editor at The Root.