Started From the Bottom, Now They’re Here: The Winners of 2015

Top row: Viola Davis with her Emmy; Bree Newsome. Bottom row: Steph, Ayesha and Riley Curry; Drake.
Top row: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images; YouTube screenshot. Bottom row: Instagram; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

In 2015, black Twitter continued to slay with brilliance like #AskRachel and #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies, President Obama ran out of damns and started checking folks who "wanna pop off," and Black Lives Matter cemented itself as an enduring force with which to be reckoned. Indeed, 2015 has been punctuated with black people being bold, brave and brilliant at almost every turn.

Here are 2015's biggest winners. 

Black Students at the University of Missouri


After a series of racially charged incidents around the University of Missouri campus were met with an insufficient response from the school's administration and university-system President Tim Wolfe, a group of students called Concerned Student 1950 coordinated activities such as boycotts and walkouts to push for their demands, including that Wolfe resign, to be heard. Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, even instituted a personal hunger strike. When, however, the school's black football players, who were supported by their coaches and teammates, announced that they were going on strike until Wolfe resigned, he resigned less than 72 hours later. Not only did this situation give birth to similar protests at campuses from Yale in New Haven, Conn., to Claremont McKenna College in California, but it also reminded the nation about the extraordinary amount of power that black athletes can wield to bring about social justice.

Cam Newton


Not only has quarterback Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers to become the NFL's winningest team this season with a record of 14-1, but he also signed a $103.8 million, five-year contract extension and completed his bachelor's degree. With all of this going on, he still made time for the kids. Through his Cam Newton Foundation, he has helped children in need by giving scholarships to students and hosting community events like the 2015 Cam's Thanksgiving Jam, where he provided a Thanksgiving feast for nearly 900 children. Some people may question the need for his showmanship, but his winningness is undeniable.

James Wright Chanel


In my three decades of blackness, I've never known my people to get excited about a store-bought pie. In fact, if you were to show up at a black family gathering with a store-bought pie, you might get labeled "one of them new Negroes" and someone might mumble, "They should've never let her go to that white school." Chanel, however, changed the entire game with his now-famous video in which he taste-tested Patti LaBelle's store-bought sweet potato pie and literally sang its praises to the tune of some of LaBelle's greatest hits. "Patti Pies" went from relative obscurity to selling at a rate of one Patti Pie per second almost immediately after Chanel released his video. Some people were even hawking the $3.50 pies on eBay for $40. Ms. Patti subsequently invited Chanel to her home to celebrate Thanksgiving and his birthday, and he appeared in a holiday cooking special with the icon on the Cooking Channel in December.

Black Women at the Emmys


#Blackgirlmagic was on full, dazzling display at the 2015 Emmys. Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and in her acceptance speech, she dropped this pearl: "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there."

Orange Is the New Black's Uzo Aduba won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama series, and Regina King won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie. All the while, Taraji P. Henson, who was nominated in the same category as Davis, was dispensing amazing-looking hugs and standing ovations in sisterly support. We all need a good girlfriend like Henson.


As if all of this #blackgirlmagic weren't already enough, during the commercial breaks, Henson, Kerry Washington and Mary J. Blige blessed us with a new Apple Music commercial directed by Ava DuVernay that featured the women having a girlfriend's dance party that redefined #SquadGoals.  

Serena Williams


Williams' tennis year included wins at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. In the midst of all this winning (and one devastating loss), she managed to present her HSN Signature Statement collection at New York Fashion Week, support charitable causes like the Equal Justice Initiative and chase down a man who stole her cellphone in a busy restaurant. (PSA: Do not chase down someone behind your cellphone unless you are Serena Williams.) Most recently, she was named Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, the first time in more than 30 years that an individual woman has won the award. While some publications questioned whether a horse should have received the honor instead (no, really), Williams continues to prove that she's the GOAT.


This year, 17-year-old Atlanta rapper Silentó introduced us to the song of the summer (and beyond) with his debut single, "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)," and the accompanying viral video, which has been viewed nearly half a billion times. The whole world, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Carolina Pantherspolice officers and even a woman in labor bopped and broke their legs to this jam. The song reached platinum status and had amassed well over $1.5 million in sales as of September. Although Silentó began the song with, "You already know who it is," many of us didn't when the song came out. But now we do. Way to speak it into existence, Silentó! 



This year Drake debuted a sexy beard and some grown-man muscles; released "Back to Back," the first diss track ever to be nominated for a Grammy, while mercilessly dragging Meek Mill in a beef too petty to rehash here; and then turned around and cranked out the incredibly catchy "Hotline Bling," which was accompanied by a video of Drake doing some incredibly corny (but really fun) dancing in a dad sweater. The man is versatile! Drake was named Spotify's Most Streamed Artist of the Year, and while we may never know the full extent of their relationship, it appears that Drake, at a minimum, got to enjoy a brief flirtation with the stunning Serena Williams. It's been a good year for the 6 God!


Bree Newsome


After nine members of the congregation at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C., were killed by a gunman, Brittany "Bree" Newsome, a filmmaker who is active in the Black Lives Matter movement, courageously scaled a flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse and took down the Confederate flag. She was promptly arrested for refusing to respond to officers' orders for her to come down, and state officials ordered the flag to be raised again two hours later. Nonetheless, shifting public sentiment and bold actions by Newsome and others—including retailers like Wal-Mart and, which stopped selling Confederate-flag merchandise—prompted Alabama and South Carolina officials to finally take down the flags from statehouse grounds once and for all. Just as the flag symbolized the desire by some to preserve a system of white supremacy, the removal of that flag represented the symbolic dismantling of it. 

The Currys


This year, not only was Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry named 2015 NBA Most Valuable Player, but he also won the ESPY Best Male Athlete and Best NBA Player awards and helped bring home the Warriors' first NBA championship title in 40 years. Curry also introduced us to his family, which includes his 2-year-old daughter, Riley—who made a name for herself as the real MVP when she repeatedly stole the spotlight from her dad during his NBA semifinals press conferences—as well as his wife, Ayesha, with whom he makes fun family videos. This year the couple also welcomed into the world their second daughter, Ryan Carson Curry.

Black Cinema: Straight Outta Compton and Creed


This year Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A biopic, hopefully put the final nail in the coffin of lingering doubts about whether "black movies" can succeed at the box office. Grossing over $200 million worldwideCompton became the highest-grossing musical biopic ever, and director F. Gary Gray is now the highest-grossing African-American director of a single film in domestic sales. 

In November, a few months after Compton's release, Creed—directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael "Bae" Jordan—was released, and by mid-December it had already grossed over $87 million worldwide. It has received critical acclaim and has been widely regarded as the best movie of Sylvester Stallone's 39-year-old Rocky franchise since the original one. 


Ta-Nehisi Coates


This year Coates released Between the World and Me, a book that was written as a letter to his teenage son about what it is to be black in America. Between the World and Me has received near-unanimous praise from critics. It was No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, and it earned Coates the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction. In addition, Coates received a ringing endorsement from Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, who wrote that Coates fills "the intellectual void" left by James Baldwin's death 28 years prior. Coates was also awarded the MacArthur fellowship, aka the "genius" grant, for his scholarship. 

Who are your picks for 2015?

Akilah Green is a recovering Washington, D.C., lawyer-lobbyist-politico turned TV and film writer and producer living in Los Angeles. She currently works for Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea. She has also worked as a staff writer for Kevin Hart’s production company, HartBeat Productions, and as a consultant for Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. In addition, she co-wrote and is producing Scratch, an indie horror-comedy feature film, and is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow Green’s adventures in La La Land on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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