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. We’ve already caught up with seven of our Young Futurists from the past two years. Here are five more young black people who are showing us that there’s much more #BlackExcellence to come.
The story of how Jasmine Lawrence stumbled into her interest in healthy products to maintain her kinky, curly hair was nothing out of the ordinary. Lawrence went to a summer business camp in 2004 in New York City’s wholesale district, and there she learned how to buy products in large quantities. Then she read about the natural ingredients that her body—and therefore her hair—needed in order to flourish. She mixed up a concoction of oils and butters that worked wonders for her curls. She bottled up her new discovery, and Eden BodyWorks was born. Lawrence was 13 years old. She recalls how she loved to mingle with other teen-preneurs, and is grateful to have started a business as an adolescent because she didn’t feel as if she had anything to lose.
Lawrence has expanded her interests since starting Eden BodyWorks more than 10 years ago. A month after she was chosen as a Young Futurist, she gave her first TEDx talk on stem education. Then, in August 2014, she started a graduate program in design and engineering at the University of Washington. The following year, she partnered with Code.org to help teach kids about how the internet works. This June, Eden BodyWorks expanded internationally to Trinidad, St. Thomas and beyond.
As president of the Morehouse College NAACP chapter, Stephen A. Green has worked tirelessly to bring attention to a number of national and local issues that have affected black communities in the past few years, from voting rights to “Stand your ground” laws. When Republican legislators in Georgia proposed a bill that would allow people to carry guns on college campuses, in churches and in other public facilities, Green and Morehouse’s NAACP chapter led a campaign against that effort by speaking with community leaders and local policymakers. The Georgia Supreme Court eventually ruled the bill unconstitutional.
Green is now the national youth and college director of the NAACP, where he oversees more than 30,000 young activists in youth councils and college chapters. He is an ordained minister and an alumnus of Morehouse and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at the University of Chicago.
When Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign attempted to invalidate approximately 16,000 voter-registration applications in Virginia, Da’Quan Marcell Love, Virginia’s top NAACP youth officer, went into full gear to counter that effort. Love organized 125 NAACP members and packed the room at the Virginia General Assembly. He described how he was the last person to speak, and told the state board election that they “had the power to turn back the clock” and allow the applications to go through in order to enfranchise thousands of voters. Because of that grassroots effort, which included several dozen calls to the state Legislature, the applications were cleared.
Love, a fourth-generation NAACP member, graduated with high honors from Hampton University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Since graduating, he’s taught elementary and high school students. He was selected as the 2015 chairman of the NAACP national youth work committee. Love was appointed assistant director for young alumni affairs at his alma mater.
Kiona Elliott pedaled her way to the White House. In 2013 President Barack Obama tested out a science project that she and her Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam teammates had developed at her high school in Florida. The project was a bicycle-powered filtration system that rids contaminated water of E. coli and other harmful pathogens. Elliott acted as the group’s chief of communications, and she compiled monthly reports to send to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And all this happened before Elliott had even graduated from high school. Her work on the project helped her earn the Gates Millennium Scholarship. “I firmly believe in the power of science, in combination with compassion, to address global issues,” she said. “I want to use my love of science and my compassion for others to make a positive impact in the world.”
Elliott was invited back to the White House this year for the final White House science fair during President Barack Obama’s administration. She presented her research as a Ronald E. McNair scholar at several conferences. Over the summer, she traveled to Haiti with the nonprofit organization Projects for Haiti to lead a conference on development for 50 Haitian students.
Sarah McMillian’s love of science started with a few home-experiment kits, a summer at science camp and an extra nudge from her black fifth-grade science teacher, Ms. Johnny. Her teacher’s affirmation, along with the support of her parents, was a game changer, McMillian says. Years later, McMillian is inspiring other young people halfway across the world to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. During the 2013-2014 school year, she studied at the University of Cambridge as part of the school’s exchange program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While there, she co-founded the Cambridge Tabadol Project, with the aim of building the innovative capacity of aspiring engineers in the Levant. For the project’s first year, she and other students created a training program for 15-20 students in Jordan.
McMillian won a Fulbright English-teaching-assistant fellowship to Bahrain and spent 10 months developing and teaching research skills for first-year medical-school students at Arabian Gulf University. She helped Bahrainis build a website for sustainable living practices. Currently she works in Ahmedabad, India, for Saathi, a startup that manufactures biodegradable sanitary pads.