At The Root, we love to celebrate young people who are excelling beyond belief. Year after year, our list of Young Futurists reminds us that age really ain’t nothin’ but a number. That group of 15- to 22-year-olds always impresses us with their tenacity, passion and ability to turn big dreams into reality. Here, we take a look at a few members of the Class of 2016 and see where their paths to success have taken them in the last year.
Then: Joye Nettles was a techie. She was initially recognized as a Young Futurist for her budding entrepreneurship skills at the College of Charleston, where she developed SpotIt, an Android app to help citizens of Charleston, S.C., find places to park. As a recent graduate of C of C, she had started working as a junior associate consultant at Thoughtworks, a global software development firm. Her ultimate goal? To open a school in South Carolina to inspire kids to pursue careers in technology.
Now: Nettles is already using her passion for technology to inspire the next generation. In April 2016, Nettles launched Joye to the World with the hope of diversifying the tech industry and encouraging young people to explore technology and entrepreneurship. She has started the Mini Hackathon Tour, which is a series of events held at schools in South Carolina and Georgia, introducing more young people to the world of tech. At Thoughtworks, she was promoted to a consultant developer, where she is leading junior members of the team.
Then: Ryan Rucker wanted to “revolutionize the way people make reviews about everything.” His first step toward making that dream a reality was his app Charmer, which he described as a “fun and easy way to describe your friends and experiences.” The best part? The reviews were just three words. “We are trying to make reviews like you see on Yelp or TripAdvisor, and we’re trying to make them shorter, more simple and more mobile,” he told The Root. “It’s important for millennials to be able to share things—and do it quickly.”
Now: Since being named a Young Futurist in 2016, Rucker has launched his startup Charmer on three college campuses: Berkeley, Harvard and Columbia. Most recently, he began hosting conversations about dating and relationships in the San Francisco Bay Area. The next session will focus on dating in the digital age.
Then: Thomasena Thomas was baking up a storm when we first profiled her as a Young Futurist in 2016. With FairyCakesSC, she would bring tasty desserts to her classmates and teachers within the halls of her South Carolina high school. She told The Root that it’s important for young people to find their passion and to “pursue it at any age.”
“What excites me most about baking is being able to brighten someone’s day with the confections I bake,” she said. “Being a teenage entrepreneur is hard work, but I love it.”
Now: Thomas graduated high school in May 2016 and is now studying political science and communications at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Since then, she has been crowned Miss South Carolina Pearls for her “exemplary civic leadership and community service involvement,” she told The Root.
As Miss South Carolina Pearls, she has traveled to dozens of schools to implement the career and technology education program for students in seventh through 12th grades and has raised awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault, among several other initiatives. Thomas is also still baking—she instructs baking classes for low-income students as a partner for Wings for Kids with Florence and Charleston County school districts.
Then: Arielle De Souza was busy diving deep into some of today’s challenges. In February 2016, De Souza was finishing up her senior year at the University of Rhode Island as a double major in ocean engineering and French studies. She’d just returned from studying and interning in France to learn more about off-shore energy sources. Upon graduating, she was heading to Paris to complete her master’s in maritime engineering.
Now: Summer 2016 was full of big opportunities for Arielle. She won the French Consulate in Boston Excellence Award for being an outstanding student during her time studying and interning in Paris. She was also a lead engineering instructor for the Launch Math and Science Center in New York City, a STEM camp for fourth-graders through eighth-graders who were learning robotics, coding and engineering concepts. As promised, she began her master’s program in France and is expected to graduate—yes, within a year—with a degree in engineering in December, and she hopes to continue her career in Paris. She and her sister, Annelle, launched a blog called The De Souza Effect, which chronicles their adventures as two Afro-Caribbean students who are studying abroad.
Then: Yara Shahidi stole our hearts as the smart and sassy Zoey on ABC’s Black-ish, which helped land her a spot on our Young Futurists list. But Shahidi proved time and time again that she wasn’t just another young actress. She was outspoken about issues that affect the black community and wanted to make sure she cultivated her career as much as possible in the roles that she took on. “Before I auditioned for Black-ish, I received scripts that portrayed black people in a negative and stereotypical way,” she told the New York Times. “But Black-ish is a more positive portrayal of what it’s like to be black in America.”
Now: Shahidi is still warming our hearts every week as Zoey on ABC’s Black-ish. On cable network Freeform, Shahidi will reprise her role as smart and witty Zoey on her own spinoff show, Grown-ish, where viewers will follow her through college life. The series is set to premiere in January.
She was recently named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Hollywood. She continues to speak out on race and social justice issues and was recently awarded the Young, Gifted and Black Award at the 2017 BET Awards. In 2018 Shahidi will join the incoming freshman class at Harvard.
Then: Jewell Jones was simply hoping to make big changes for his city of Inkster, Mich., in February 2016. He had recently been elected as a City Council member and hoped to revamp parks, improve roads and start to change the culture of the Police Department. “I will be out there with our youth to make sure I’m bringing up the next generation of change,” he told the City Council on his first day on the job.
Now: Jewell Jones kept his promise to us. In February 2016, he vowed to “keep on running” for elected office. Then, on Jan. 1, he became Michigan’s youngest elected representative. Jones, who is now 22 years old, recently sponsored a bill that would withhold funds from schools that use racially insensitive mascots, logos or insignias.
Then: We included Simone Biles on our Young Futurists list just a few months before she dominated at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The then 19-year-old also had won 14 world-championship medals, 10 of those medals gold—the most won by a female gymnast, according to the Associated Press.
Now: As expected, Simone Biles killed it at the Rio de Janeiro Games. She was the all-around champion in the women’s individual competition for gymnastics, becoming the second black woman to do so, after Gabby Douglas. Earlier in November, Biles returned to the mat for the first time in more than a year. She is also a spokeswoman for Girls on the Run, an organization that seeks to inspire girls to run and gain self-confidence.