We Did That: The 2019 Root 100 Gala Celebrated a Decade of Black Excellence

The Root Crew, left to right: Monique Judge, Root 100 honoree Jaime Harrison, Terrell Jermaine Starr, Genetta M. Adams, Ashley Velez, Michael Harriot, Maiysha Kai, Danielle Belton, Tonja Renee Stidhum (behind Danielle), Jay Connor, Anne Branigin, Angela Bronner Helm, Felice Léon, Jessica Moulite, PJ Rickards, and Corey Townsend.
Photo: Danielle Belton

In the increasingly fickle world of journalism, longevity is no small feat. So to be celebrating 10 years of being the leading online source of black thought, news, opinions, and excellence was a serious undertaking for The Root crew’s at our 2019 Root 100 gala—a serious undertaking that was a hell of a lot of fun.

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Along with most of our trusty staff, led by Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton, we were blessed to have many of our 2019 Root 100 honorees and biggest supporters in the house at New York City’s Angel Orensanz Foundation on Thursday night. Attendees included MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, Pose and American Horror Story star Angelica Ross, media personality Bevy Smith, The 1619 Project creator and journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, news pundit Elie Mystal, Well-Read Black Girl creator and author Glory Edim, bestselling author and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi, Washington Post Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah, #MuteRKelly founders Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Tisha Barnes, Dutch singer-songwriter Nicole Bus, who serenaded the gala audience with two of her hottest singles (yes, that included “You”), and many, many more.

Nicole Bus
Photo: Grant Schaefer

But it was founding publisher Donna Byrd who gave us profound insight into the origin of our now decade-old list, its still-growing prestige and its criteria, once closely monitored by co-founder and esteemed scholar and author Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. (fun fact: a scholar once wrote a 48-page paper on The Root 100, taking into account everything from gender to geography, and even what percentage of each year’s honorees were light-skinned).

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Dr. Gates sent his reminiscences and blessings via video, as did our No. 1 ranked 2019 Root 100 honoree Stacey Abrams, who reminded us how vital our votes are in the 2020 election, and how she channeled her frustration with voter suppression into a galvanizing force for good.

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Our speakers for the night were equally inspiring: Karen Attiah spoke on the significance of protecting free press by persistently magnifying the murder of her Washington Post colleague, Jamal Khashoggi, and its implications. Fellow journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones gave a soul-stirring speech on the activism and steadfast commitment behind the New York Times’ record sales-setting issue The 1619 Project, chronicling 400 years since the first Africans were sold into slavery in America. Poet and now bestselling author Bassey Ikpi revealingly gave insight into her struggles with bipolar depression and how sharing her experience helped her give a much-needed voice to black people experiencing mental health challenges. She even gave those of us struggling a mantra to help us through our darkest moments: Wait for the morning, however long it takes.

And closing out our ceremony, actress, entrepreneur and activist Angelica Ross reminded us that while The Root was one of the first black publications to discuss gender identity, nonbinary sexuality, and trans issues in non-derisive terms, we should all be working toward a day when being trans is simply another state of being, not an identity that places a target upon one’s back (a danger black people don’t need to be trans to empathize with). Also: don’t simply celebrate Ross because she’s thriving while trans—and helping others do the same through her TransTech Enterprises—she’s also “a damned good actress.”

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Photo: Grant Schaefer

But of course, the party that is The Root 100 gala is never complete without the afterparty, and ours—DJ’d this year by Olivia Dope and Ms. Milan—didn’t disappoint. While we may not have known everyone’s name (because our crew is the gift that keeps on growing), our extended family two-stepped, dropped it low and gathered for our annual Electric Slide, in celebration of a decade of black excellence—and many more to come. Speaking for our crew: We’re ready!

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(All photos below by Grant Schaefer.)

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Corrected: Sunday, 11/24/19 at 2:35 p.m., ET: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last name of 2019 Root 100 honoree Bassey Ikpi. The article has been corrected, and apologies extended to our esteemed honoree and gala speaker!

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.