28 leaders to honor this black history month
REVOLT has picked 28 black people across multiple industries to highlight for their achievements and hard work that collectively help push the culture forward.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
Every month is Black History Month. Just look on television, the internet, and the inventions around you. The impact of the people can be felt across mediums in pop culture and in general history. Hip hop is the number one in America, black athletes lead all popular sports, and black activists are helping to facilitate real change in society. There’s no facet of contemporary living that black people haven’t already infiltrated and improved.
February is the month where we officially acknowledge these achievements and observe the historic greatness that we come across every day. What started as Negro History Week in 1926 has evolved into a month-long celebration of both past and current black royalty, spotlighting achievements and how these people create opportunities for others. So, REVOLT has picked 28 black people across multiple industries to highlight for their achievements, philanthropy, and hard work that collectively help push the culture forward.
He walked onto the national basketball stage after being drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 and has never looked back. LeBron James is many things: an enigma, a generational talent, and outspoken activist whose scores on and off the court for the African American community. Whether its supporting non-profit organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Children’s Defense Fund, opening the “I Promise School” in part with his nonprofit, the LeBron James Family Foundation; or taking stances on controversial situations like the death of Eric Garner, the case of Trayvon Martin, and the presidency; James has shown time and time again that he’s the kind of leader that our community needs. One who walks the walk and talks the talk.
There was a time — from 2012 to 2014 to be precise — that Colin Kaepernick was one of the most captivating players in the NFL. He moved like a coupe through traffic, weaving in and out of defenders’ ways with swift legs and arms that could also accurately beam the ball downfield if he was surrounded. In 2014, he signed a six-year contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers worth up to $126 million. Two seasons later, he began to protest the oppression of African Americans in the United States, especially by the police. He has yet to play again in the NFL. But, he hasn’t let being effectively blackballed hinder his activism efforts.
Through the swipes and jabs at her powerful appearance and attacks on her character, Serena Williams endures. She’s a shining example of the resilience of the modern black woman with diamond skin impenetrable by the world’s woes. Her tennis skills are easily some of the best in the world and even when held to an impossibly high standard about her conduct, Williams manages to stay above water and continue to inspire. As a supporter of Black Lives Matter and other groups, Williams is the face that many need.
In the fast-paced world of journalism, Jemele Hill is an icon for free speech and avoiding industry politics. She speaks her mind freely and doesn’t worry about the fallout for her actions. The 12-year ESPN alumni went from being a columnist on the website to one of the company’s most recognizable faces on screen. You’d think with her access to higher power and status that she’d compromise her values, especially in the racially charged environment that Donald Trump’s presidency places the country in. But, she didn’t. Hill refused to back down from calling him a “white supremacist” among other things. She’s a legend and important figure in the black community, as well as a reminder that success shouldn’t compromise your values.
There was a time long ago that Virgil Abloh was the guy behind Pyrex, marked up Champion gear with Renaissance images. He was universally ridiculed, called a vulture who prayed on kids with bottomless wallets, and was said to be destroying streetwear culture. But, it turned out that Abloh was much more than his 2012 collection of clothes and over the course of the next six years, he revealed to the world the extent of his creative powers. He founded the fashion house Off-White in 2013 and in 2018 was named the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ready-to-wear line. This was a huge achievement because Abloh was the first person of African descendant to lead the brand. He’s proof that we can all do it, too.
The 74-year-old designer Dapper Dan is the cleanest man you’ll ever see. He carries himself with ethereal poise and he’s almost frighteningly calm. This cool aesthetic radiated from his Dapper Dan’s Boutique store in the 1980s and is largely credited with introducing the hip hop culture to the world of high fashion. It’s nearly impossible to imagine rap without the expensive garments and futuristic-looking shoes that cost more than rent for a small business. It’s important that we give Dan the flowers, while he can still smell them for everything he’s done for the culture. His achievements have enabled Gucci to have its first luxury house fashion store in Harlem.
You’ve no doubt seen Adwoa Aboah in campaigns for Gap, Versace, Burberry, Revlon – the list goes on. She was named Model of the Year by the British Fashion Council. But, what do you really know about the 25-year-old muse of the world’s biggest brands? Well, for starters, there’s no one quite as open as her about her mental stability. She’s engaged and started serious questions about mental health that have opened up new avenues for younger people to discuss. She’s equally as captivating on the inside as she is outside, and these factors make her one of the most important black faces in fashion today.
Andre Leon Talley
The resume of premiere fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley stretches around the corner and back again. He served a stint as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model” and is also the former editor-at-large of Vogue. His documentary film, The Gospel According to Andre, might be the best way to ingest the nature of his contributions to the African American community. Talley has showcased a testament through the decades for hard work and his ability to elevate from humble beginnings to one of the most well-respected individuals in his industry.
Black Tech Women is an organization for women in technology to collaborate and guard the general welfare for a community that often gets the brunt of the harassment and injustice. Anndrea Moore is the spearhead of organization and the founder. Through her leadership and curation, Black Tech Women has become one of the most important organizations that offers advice, teaches security measures, and provides support for black women looking to navigate the difficult tech industry. Moore’s work has been instrumental in creating a sense of peace and community for women in technology.
Kimberly Bryant is the head of the non-profit organization Black Girls CODE that teaches young girls of color to become familiar with technology and computer science concepts by connecting them with the idea of entrepreneurship. This kind of focus in the tech community for young African American girls is hard to come across without the right pushing and nurturing. That’s where Bryant’s work comes in and why it’s been so important. The program has been going on for more than eight years and has assisted more than 3,000 girls. Bryant could very well be responsible for the next wave of women in technology who have a genuine love for the platform.
Delane Parnell (PlayVS)
The “NBA 2K” franchise, “Fortnite” and “Overwatch” have become firmly ingrained in the world of e-sports. There are leagues and entire cultures built around these games. Delane Parnell is a 26-year-old African American gamer who is the creator of PlayVS, a startup dedicated to creating software that will formalize high school gaming competitions. Millions of kids have already signed up. Props to an African American woman being the one to increase tech’s prevalence.
Tony Hansberry II
At 14 years old, most of us were playing video games. Tony Hansberry II, a freshman at the Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School of Medical Arts, invented a surgical technique called “Hansberry Stitch” that aims to help women deal with vaginal pains post-hysterectomy. His method improves the time needed to stitch women back up after the procedure in one third of the time that it would normally take. If he’s making these kinds of changes at such a young age, imagine what Hansberry will do after he completes his medical training.
Michael B. Jordan
The magical run that Michael B. Jordan has been on has only been matched by Denzel Washington. The two hold a similar command over acting prestige and commercial sex appeal. It’s probably why everyone’s in a rush to declare Jordan as the veteran actor’s successor. But he isn’t. Jordan is his own beast and he’s constantly improving. He’s shown the ability to play a sympathetic protagonist and a sneering villain. There’s no limit to what he can do next as one of the faces of Black Hollywood.
On the throne of black film excellence sits Ava DuVernay, one of the most important film directors and screenwriters that we have today. For her work on Selma, she became the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe award. You may know her best from 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time with its $150-250 million budget that made her the first African American woman that directed a live-action film that grossed over $100 million at the box office! DuVernay is proof that we can all do it with the right amount of work, dedication, and passion.
Fruitvale Station was Ryan Coogler’s first feature film. Since then, he’s become the orchestrator behind some of contemporary pop culture’s biggest moments. He directed Creed and Black Panther. Even with all of his success, Coogler’s universally known for his humble demeanor that can teach us all a thing or two about putting in the work and letting the results speak for themselves.
Lena Waithe revealed last August that her reason for cutting her trademark dreads was to free herself from a piece of femininity that she held onto so that others would feel comfortable around her. Her bravery underscores her career moves thus far. She’s written for shows like “Bones” and “How to Rock,” produced for the 2014 film Dear White People, and also starred on “Master of None” where she won an Emmy for its infamous “Thanksgiving” episode. She’s also heavily invested in making sure that people of color are able to walk through the doors that she’s already opened.
Kerry James Marshall
The art of Kerry James Marshall is color unhinged. He uses the deepest of browns to portray rich skin, and bright, vibrant colors for the surrounding scenery. His beautiful works tell stories of abstraction instead of corporal themes, allowing viewers to develop their own understandings and points of view into them. The way that his work attacks racism and similar themes makes him a figure worthy of praise in black culture. He’s a legend in the making.
The beautiful, vulnerable paintings of African American faces created by Kehinde Wiley are political snapshots of images the world doesn’t believe exists. He captures random people on the street and public figures like Former President Barack Obama with the same amount of care and precise attention to smoothness. His portraits offer beautiful insight into the black experience that help to define its place in pop culture.
Ebony G. Patterson
Ebony G. Patterson’s works stretch off canvas in 3D. The colors, the mixing, the black faces; everything combines for a distinctly retro experience like someone mixed the 1960s aesthetic underneath the sepia toning with the 1970s funky atmosphere. The Jamaican artist’s place in black culture remains firm after her untimely death in 2012. Her legacy will carry on through her beautifully intense paintings.
At the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, Thelma Golden is the director and chief curator. Her ability to create the best possible experience for the museum’s visitors has earned her a number of important accolades like the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence in 2016 and the National Arts Award for outstanding contributions to the arts in 2017. Golden’s one of the most important figures in the modern art world and an originator of the term “post-blackness.” She deserves every petal on her flowers.
Little Miss Flint
Mari Copeny, aka “Little Miss Flint,” is one of Flint, Michigan’s most hardworking activists. When she was only 8 years old, she wrote a letter to Former President Obama to meet with her about the city’s water crisis. After that, Miss Flint founded the Dear Flint Kids project and raised $10,000 for the community’s students. She also became a Women’s March Youth Ambassador. At 11 years old, the social justice superstar proves that you’re never too young to become involved with the fight for fairness. But, many aren’t able to match her drive and maturity at such a young age. Miss Flint is now involved in the fight for educational inequality and will, undoubtedly, do even greater things in the future.
Activism is in Tamika Mallory’s bloodline. Her parents where founding members of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Mallory is currently co-president of the 2019 Women’s March and an advocate for Black Lives Matter. Her organization and planning skills have wrought victories for the movements she supports. She’s respected across the globe for her activist capabilities.
Chances are that if you regularly use Twitter, you’ve seen Shaun King’s work as an activist. He co-founded Real Justice PAC and The North Star, and has become the center of social media activism by regularly engaging in discussions that are of global interest in regards to racial affairs in the United States. He’s a widely revered and a heavily respected figure in the constant battle for equality for African Americans.
Diddy, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Sean Combs — the man of many names — is a heavyweight who’s responsible for bringing us many of the biggest artists from Notorious B.I.G. to Machine Gun Kelly, his son King Combs, and more. Through his own verses and dances, Diddy’s contributed to a nearly endless amount of moments in hip hop culture that have become ingrained in its yearbook. The spearhead of Bad Boys Records and REVOLT TV looks to continue his legendary run in the future, as well.
Meek Mill spent the better part of his young adult life battling legal issues, thanks to a probationary period that’s much longer than it needs to be. When Meek went to prison in November 2017, the rapper became dedicated to the struggle of prison reform. Once he got out, he made it a mission to change it. Sure his rap accolades make him a top tier MC. But, it’s his activism and sense of purpose that make Meek a legend.
Chance the Rapper
Chicago’s legendary emcee Chance the Rapper is still in the early stages of his career. There’s so much left for him to do that you wouldn’t think he’d get into activism this early. The rapper’s donated millions of dollars to Chicago Public Schools and also to mental health services in the city. While Chance pops up every now and then for a release, he’s a regular in Chi-Town in charity circles. There’s no one quite like Chance the Rapper in the rap game, period.
Trae the Truth
There aren’t too many rappers out of Houston, Texas with the same degree of authenticity and reliability as Trae the Truth. He commands the utmost respect from his rap peers and from fans, as well. It’s partly because of his music. But, it’s also due to his philanthropy. When Hurricane Harvey hit his city in 2017, Trae was one of the first to work on relief efforts. His fundraiser, We Are One! Hurricane Harvey Relief, was only one of his methods. He also established a group called the Relief Gang that helped residents with recovery. Trae’s work in the booth and on the streets has cemented him as one of rap’s greatest.
Everyone knows Rihanna as the immensely talented star. But, one thing that isn’t as widely known about her is the fact that Rihanna’s an ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education — and has been since 2016. For The Guardian, she wrote about why it’s important to give access to education to those around the world who otherwise wouldn’t have it. Rihanna’s commitment to the betterment of young generations adds another element to the already legendary superstar.
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