For the second year in a row, we have put together a list of 100 people who we believe represent the ideals of The Root. These individuals are impactful, creative, iconoclastic, innovative, committed to community and, in many instances, defiant of any restrictive definitions of what it means to be black in America in 2010.
We see The Root 100 as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of African Americans in very difficult times. This list shows that, against all odds — and many still remain — African Americans continue to do what they have always done: cope, create, define, defy, overcome and refine.
Yes, we know well the devastation of the recession, the continuing political struggle over the direction of this country, and the noisy hostility in some quarters to the worldview shared by a majority of black Americans.
Much has been made of the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Yes, it was a landmark for the nation, a step out of the shadow that had lurked over our politics for so long. Finally, a black man could — and did — become president of the United States. What many observers failed to note was that Obama's election to the nation's highest office was a manifestation of a natural progression in the black community in American life.
By the time Obama took the oath on Jan. 20, 2009, we had already produced several African-American captains of industry (Fortune 500 CEOs), a couple of billionaire entrepreneurs (Bob Johnson, Oprah Winfrey), a leader of the world's most powerful army (Colin Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and countless pace setters and groundbreakers who are helping guide our country's present and shape the future.
Each year The Root recognizes 100 of these pace setters and groundbreakers between the ages of 25 and 45. This allows us to find the emerging young leaders whose names are not yet "household brands," as well as established champions of their fields, some of whom may have been sailing below the radar. To compile each annual list, we solicit nominations from our readers, from our contributing writers and from the staff of The Root. We then go through a vetting process, some spirited debates, internal comments and finally — voilà!
There are a number of recognizable names on the list: LeBron James, lately of the Miami Heat; hip-hop star Wyclef Jean; R&B crooner John Legend; and former baseball star Mo Vaughn are probably the best known. We chose them, however, mostly for reasons other than what they are famous for: James, for single-handedly reshaping the relationship between team owners and professional athletes; Jean, for his unrelenting advocacy for Haiti; Legend, for bringing a social consciousness to his role as a performer; and Vaughn, for taking on a new role as a developer of affordable housing.
There is a long tradition of entrepreneurship in our community. We sought those who promised innovation, like Natalia Allen, who designs sustainable fashion; and Will Packer, probably the most powerful black filmmaker in the Hollywood mainstream.
The Root 100 includes people who have thought deeply about our history as well as the present state and future of black America. Michelle Alexander at Ohio State; Glenda Carpio at Harvard; Eddie Glaude at Princeton and Crystal Feimster at Yale; and Tia Myles at Michigan are among the emerging academic stars whose exciting research will alter our self-definition for years to come.
With an election coming up in November, we couldn't help selecting some politicians who may break new ground. Kasim Reed in Atlanta and Ayanna Pressley in Boston represent a new generation of post-civil rights politicians firmly grounded in their communities but with appeal across racial lines. We didn't pass up the hopefuls, either, in this tumultuous political year. The headliner has to be Kendrick Meek, the Miami congressman fighting an uphill battle to become the first black U.S. senator from Florida. Then there's Ryan Frazier, running for Congress in Colorado on the Republican ticket; and Tim Scott, a GOP candidate for Congress in South Carolina who could become the second Republican to join — and alter — the Congressional Black Caucus.
Politics involves processes. The legislators in the spotlight depend on a support staff of smart and sophisticated men and women. So do the companies and industrial groups who must plead their cases to elected officials. Blacks are still too rare in these roles on Capitol Hill, but we've ferreted out several who play an important part in this complex and sometimes messy course of action. Mike Strautmanis is an aide to Valerie Jarrett, close friend and special adviser to President Obama. Chaka Burgess is an advocate for biotech giant Amgen. David Sutphen calls himself a "connector" between the private and public sectors.
For all our progress in the last 40 years, there are plenty of challenges facing the African-American community. We have a wealth of individuals who have dedicated themselves to solving problems at home and abroad, among them Malika Saada Saar, who has tackled human trafficking; John Hope Bryant, whose Project Hope has invested $900 million in poor communities in the U.S. and South Africa; and the twin surgeons Vincent and Vance Moss, who paid their own way to treat civilians in Afghanistan.
The point of The Root 100 is to celebrate the depth and reach and daring of black America. It's a snapshot of 2010. There are many others who could have been — should have been — on this list. Drop us a line and let us know who we missed at firstname.lastname@example.org.