For the past five years, The Root has recognized young talent across the nation. These “Young Futurists” make big strides and contributions to science, business, arts and culture, social justice, and the environment—all between the ages of 15 and 22. The honorees from our 2014 and 2015 classes have been very busy. Take a look at how these excellent young black people are showing us how there’s much more #BlackExcellence to come.
Jasmine Bowers was set on changing the narrative of college students being deep in student loan and credit card debt after graduation. When she was chosen as a Young Futurist, she was in a graduate program at North Carolina A&T State University, teaching grad students the ins and outs of financial literacy. “My university was an HBCU in an underrepresented area,” she said. “Costs can be really expensive for school. You have better opportunities to stay in school and go to school by having money and being able to manage that money. It’s one less thing they’d be worried about.”
Since 2014, Bowers has earned a master’s degree in computer science from North Carolina A&T State University and is a second-year computer science Ph.D. student at the University of Florida. “For the past year, I’ve also been teaching friends and friends of friends about effective budgeting practices,” she said.
Chancelor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, wrote his first mixtape, 10 Day, in 2012. He then built on the success of 10 Day with the release of his second mixtape, Acid Rap, in 2013. With his rising popularity on the music scene and through meaningful lyrics, Chance is using his platform for good. In 2014, he led a social media campaign to try to quiet the escalating gun violence in Chicago for 42 hours. By using the hashtag #SaveChicago on Twitter, he hoped to combat the rising murder rate in his hometown. Perhaps through his efforts, or purely by coincidence, following his tweets, Chicago made it through a full 42 hours without a shooting.
Chance the Rapper arguable released the best hip-hop album this year with the release of Coloring Book, his third mixtape. He is currently on a world tour. At the 2016 BET Awards, he was named best new hip-hop artist.
This Young Futurist’s path to environmental justice began with a summer job at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The STEM-focused summer program targeted teenagers of color to teach them about the sciences.“This is when I learned that our environment affects people of color differently—the high rates of asthma, for an example, is directly related to where we live; if we live near a highway or work in a factory, we’re exposed to pollutants,” Dedrain Davis says. After receiving a crash course on what climate change is and how it affects millions, particularly those living in urban settings, she organized her fellow peers. “We attended city hall meetings, forums, workshops, and learned to network—until it snowballed. Often we were the only black faces at those meetings.”
Shortly after being named a Young Futurist, Davis was invited to the White House for a Champions of Change for STEM Access and Diversity event. She graduated from Hampton University and will graduate from Georgetown University in December. In the last couple of years, she has worked with two nonprofit organizations in Washington, D.C.: FairVote and Dreaming Out Loud.
Allyson N. Carpenter became the youngest elected official in the nation’s capital when she was 18 years old. In 2014, she was elected to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for Ward 1B10, which includes much of Howard University’s campus. ANC members are the voices of their constituents, communicating with the City Council about residents’ concerns regarding policing, sanitation, economic development and other issues. In 2015, Carpenter was a recipient of a Luard Morse Scholarship and will receive $25,000 to study abroad for a semester at an English university. In 2014, she became an ambassador for BET’s What’s at Stake initiative.
Shortly after the Young Futurists list was released, Carpenter made an even bigger splash—at the White House—when she introduced first lady Michelle Obama. She has continued her work as an ambassador for BET’s What’s at Stake series and has been recognized by Complex magazine. While she was studying abroad at the University of Oxford, she was elected as Howard University’s student government president. She received the Harry S. Truman scholarship and hopes to pursue a law degree.
In February 2015, Joshua Colas was ranked No. 201 out of 57,000 chess players of all ages. He had already represented Team USA at the World Youth Chess Championships in Greece, Brazil, Slovenia, United Arab Emirates and South Africa. “My dad is really passionate about chess and he passed on this appetite to me when he first taught me the game at 7 years old,” he said on his Indiegogo campaign page at the time. “The days when my dad could beat me in a game are far gone and that’s what he wanted. Now, the next step is for me to accomplish my goal of becoming the youngest African-American chess grandmaster in history.”
Joshua Colas is now a freshman at Webster University, which has the No. 1 chess program in the nation. He is now ranked 185th out of over 58,000 chess players. He is one step away from becoming the youngest international master, and two more big wins before becoming a grandmaster.
On his 22nd birthday, Jeramey Anderson was sworn in to the Mississippi House of Representatives and became the youngest person ever to hold that seat. Education was one of his top priorities. “We focus too highly on standardized testing,” he said. “We teach students to memorize the answers to specific questions and ideas, but what we don’t teach them is how they got those answers. We need to get back to the foundation of understanding why things are what they are.”
In this legislative session, he was elected to serve in the House Democratic Leadership as the caucus secretary. He has authored and co-authored several bills in the Mississippi House and has pushed for an increased minimum wage and more funding for the state’s public education system, he told The Root. In August 2015, Anderson was re-elected in a landslide 80-20 percent victory. That year, he was also recognized at the BET Honors.
Kaya Thomas has always loved to read. As a child, she read Debbie Allen’s Dancing in the Wings and Brothers of the Knight over and over because the characters looked like her. She loved seeing a little black ballerina on the pages of a vibrant picture book. When she was a sophomore computer science major at Dartmouth, she developed We Read Too, an app that helps users find the perfect book for their children of color.
After being recognized as a Young Futurist, Thomas was honored as a MAD Girl by first lady Michelle Obama at the 2015 Black Girls Rock! awards show broadcast on BET. In May of that year, she was recognized by Glamour magazine as one of the top 10 college women of the year. Thomas is set to graduate in June 2017.