86 Angelic Troublemakers to Reset America
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these are the faces challenging us all to be better humans.
By Daniel Malloy
Welcome to the debut of our new Sunday OZY magazine. Each weekend, we will try to put the “new normal” into sharper focus and provoke and stimulate you at the same time.
In our first issue, we embraced the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who wrote of the constant need for what he called “angelic troublemakers” — bold, creative thinkers who would help usher in a better era and a more just society.
To that end, our global team has curated a fresh and eclectic list of 86 “angelic troublemakers” who are helping to reset America and the world. Our first OZY list includes musicians, authors, political figures, athletes, activists and scientists.
We hope you enjoy it. And indeed we would love your thoughts on who we left out and who we should be sure to include in future profiles. And to learn more about Rustin and the nonviolence movement, be sure to tune in to OZY’s webby-nominated podcast, The Thread.
Have a wonderful Sunday. Enjoy.
1. DeRay Mckesson, 34, and Brittany Packnett Cunningham, 35, Practical Steps. “DeRay” has earned first-name status in the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly for his work at protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, while Cunningham, an accomplished activist in her own right who served on the Obama administration’s police reform task force, joined him to co-found Campaign Zero, a platform of research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America. In a nation begging for a road map to end institutional racism in the justice system, this is as close as it gets.
2. Jalen Thompson, 17, The Precocious Organizer. The recent high school graduate loves playing percussion instruments, including the marimba and vibraphone, and is headed to Colorado State in the fall to study music education. He’s far from an experienced political organizer, so the fact that he was able to organize a peaceful protest in his hometown of O’Fallon, Missouri, is impressive — let alone that it drew approximately 2,000 people. “It was the first protest I’ve ever gone to, let alone organized,” says Thompson, who has since been featured on MSNBC, the Today show and CBS Evening News. READ MORE.
3. Tamika Mallory, 40, Steeped in the Movement. “The violence is what we learned from you. If you want us to do better, then dammit, you do better,” Mallory said at a recent press conference in Minneapolis alongside the family of the late George Floyd. The daughter of activists who were founding members of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, she has the practiced voice of a speechmaker. Mallory, a co-organizer of the Women’s March, whom OZY first told you about back in 2017, has reemerged on the front lines of the national racial justice protests — but she never really left.
4. Safoora Zargar, 27, Voice Behind Bars. For exactly five minutes on alternate days, Safoora Zargar gets to speak with her husband, Sirwal. While Sirwal is at their home in Delhi, Safoora has been in Asia’s largest prison, Tihar Jail, since April 10. She was arrested on charges of instigating a riot in northeast Delhi during President Donald Trump’s February visit by giving an “inflammatory speech” in the area just a day prior. In those five minutes, Sirwal and Safoora, besides exchanging legal updates, mostly talk about her health and how to make things as comfortable as possible for their coming baby. She was arrested when she was three months pregnant. READ MORE.
5. Elle Hearns, Trans Lives Matter. The fight for justice by the LGBTQ community and the Black community have been intertwined from the beginning. Rates of violence are troublingly high against transgender Black people, including the recent killing of Tony McDade. Hearns is the founder and executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which fights for the rights of Black trans people. A native of Columbus, Ohio, she splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Harlem.
6. Farida Nabourema, 30, The Dynastic Activist. Despite living in exile for the past decade, Nabourema has dedicated herself to confronting institutional trauma induced by human rights abuses, nepotism and overall injustice in her native Togo. The activist wields the truth like a weapon on social media, using it to rally for regime change like Wonder Woman and her lasso. READ MORE.
7. Alicia Garza, 39, The Outside Game. The co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement — her Facebook post after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted launched the slogan — Garza has pioneered an advocacy style based around rejecting traditional tactics, working outside existing power structures and avoiding making connections (and, perhaps inevitably, compromises) with politicians. The queer Oakland native is also principal at Black Futures Lab, an organization designed to cultivate and flex Black power at the ballot box and in governing.
8. Ericka Hart, 34, Baring Witness. The nonbinary sexuality educator, activist and breast cancer survivor bared it all at the AFROPUNK music festival in 2016, where she appeared topless while showing her double mastectomy scars for all to see. She now is an adjunct faculty member at the Columbia University School of Social Work and sells digital courses on everything from racial and social justice to Gender 101 on her website.
9. Six Nashville Teens, Overnight Success. The girls first connected on Twitter, responding to a call to action in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. They didn’t know one another, but each knew she wanted to be a part of the movement. Soon the group chat led Emma Rose Smith, Kennedy Green, Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas and Mikayla Smith — ages 14 to 16 — to decide to organize a protest. Within days, they amassed 10,000 people for one of the nation’s biggest marches. READ MORE.
10. Assa Traoré, 35, French Connection. “A country with no justice is a country that calls for a revolt!” Assa Traoré posted in French on social media just days after George Floyd’s brutal killing in Minneapolis and just four years after her brother Adama died at the hands of police. “Justice for Adama, Justice for George Floyd, Justice for all!” And soon, hundreds of people swarmed the streets of Paris, listening to her call. In fact, reports suggest that so far more than 20,000 people, which included a visible white population, have joined in her fight. READ MORE.
11. Xiye Bastida Patrick, 18, America’s Greta Thunberg. Both in her native San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, and her current home of New York City, Patrick has seen the ravages of climate change–induced storms and droughts up close. And so she became a leader of the student climate strikes in the U.S. — with an extra emphasis on indigenous and marginalized communities (she’s part of the indigenous Otomí-Toltec tribe). Given the disproportionate impact of climate change on people of color, her voice is only becoming more important.
12. Husenjan Asqer, mid-40s, Voice of the Voiceless. He’s the Uighur community’s most prominent linguist, the author of its most popular Uighur-Chinese dictionary and, until early 2019, was a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He would appear on state TV sharing the party’s perspective. Then he disappeared — and his name appeared on a list of Uighur intellectuals detained by Chinese authorities. His sister believes that because he was working on a dictionary of historic Uighur sites, the party deemed his research into the community’s culture seditious. In April, he was released but remains under house arrest. His dictionary serves as a critical bridge between the Uighurs and mainstream Chinese, yet he’s suspected by both sides: Uighurs criticize him for his career with the party, while the detention shows that the party doesn’t trust him anymore either. Asqer is the face of the ultimate Uyghur dilemma: Trying to integrate can mean getting caught between two stools.
13. Aalayah Eastmond, 19, A Different Kind of Parkland Survivor. After surviving the shooting at her Parkland, Florida, high school, Eastmond wasn’t sure she wanted to speak out, but once she started, the need for a voice like hers became even more evident. “I recognized the imbalance between Black voices and white voices of my classmates so … it felt like my duty to speak out even more,” she says. Today, Eastmond is a leading advocate in the fight for gun violence prevention, not just around mass shootings like the one she experienced, but also the disproportionate ways in which gun violence impacts marginalized Black and brown communities. “People fail to realize that mass shootings are only 2 percent of gun violence, and gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth.” You may not have heard Eastmond’s name as often as those of some of her classmates, but that too is an intentional zig on the part of the unorthodox activist. Her organizing focuses on “stepping back and making space for others who look like me. It’s about sharing space and sharing my platform.”
The Business people
14. Thasunda Brown Duckett, 46, Taking Over Wall Street. The CEO of Chase Consumer Banking and one of the few Black female executives in the financial industry, Duckett has championed economic initiatives aimed at bolstering African American jobs and businesses — while also talking about racism in the workplace and how she broke through the old boys’ network of banking. Both Fortune and American Banker have called her one of the most powerful women to watch, and she was recently appointed to Nike’s board of directors, showing that her corporate star power is here to stay.
15. Jewel Burks Solomon, 31, Putting the Black Dollar to Work. As policing policies and Confederate statues tumble amid America’s racial reckoning, here’s a statistic to consider that gets at America’s skewed power structure: A mere 1 percent of companies that secure venture capital funding have Black founders. Enter Solomon, the head of Google for Startups, a newly created position designed by the tech giant to help empower a diverse range of startups. Solomon is also a managing partner at Collab Capital, a venture fund that is backing Black-owned businesses — building a path to sustained wealth for a community that lacks it. READ MORE.
16. Alexis Ohanian, 37, r/StepAside. Activism needs allies, and Ohanian, the husband of tennis star Serena Williams and co-founder of Reddit, led by example by leaving his board seat to make way for a person of color (his replacement ended up being Michael Seibel, CEO and a partner at Y Combinator). Raised in Maryland, Ohanian originally imagined life as a lawyer before becoming an entrepreneur, starting multiple companies and venture firms after selling Reddit in 2006.
17. Edgar Villanueva, 43, Rethinking Philanthropy. As he rose in the nonprofit and foundation world, Villanueva kept seeing the same thing: white decision makers dishing out cash to predominantly white organizations. As a Native American, he often felt out of place. Now a philanthropic executive who helps philanthropies leverage racial justice efforts, he is a premier advocate of putting race at the forefront of funding decisions. His book, Decolonizing Wealth, dissects how funding systems from loans to gifts perpetuate white supremacy, a perfect fit for the current public awakening on slavery and systemic racism. Villanueva says he wants leaders “to think about using money as medicine — to move it, give it and invest it in ways that foster healing in communities.”
18. Robert Smith, 57, Debt Retirement Party. The billionaire CEO of the venture fund Vista Equity Partners made massive waves after pledging $34 million to retire the debt of the entire graduating class of Morehouse in 2019. He’s a crowning example of Black entrepreneurship, having attended Martin Luther King’s March on Washington as an infant before rising to intern at the famed Bell Labs, earn patents as a chemical engineer and advise companies such as Apple and Microsoft on mergers and acquisitions.
19. Val Emanuel, 29, and Anne Therese Gennari, 29, Model Citizens. Emanuel, a Los Angeles native and model of color, and Gennari, a white, Swedish-born model, have together transformed fashion into a movement for change while co-founding The Role Models agency, which reps only socially active models. While environmentalism has been at the forefront of their advocacy, the pair have more recently used their social accounts to draw attention to social justice issues, including organizing the Summit of Hope 2020, a three-part virtual event to help support activism around the Black Lives Matter movement.
20. Maria Ressa, 56, Daring Duterte. The American-Filipino former CNN reporter is the fearless journalist behind Rappler, a media giant in the Philippines known for its unflinching, critical coverage of extrajudicial killings caused by President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Last week, she was found guilty of cyber libel and could face up to six years in jail for a story that she did not personally edit or write, under a law that wasn’t in effect until after the story was published. Despite facing a clearly politically motivated prosecution, Ressa has vowed to continue fighting for justice and free speech.
21. Chinwe Esimai, 41, Anti-Bribery Crusader. Her journey to becoming one of the world’s most influential bankers began when she arrived in America as a teenager with her parents and four siblings. “I remember feeling very optimistic and feeling a strong sense of my ability to do anything,” says Esimai, whose middle name, Ijeoma, means “beautiful journey” in her native Igbo language. READ MORE.
22. Darren Walker, 60, Giving Thoughtfully. This month the CEO of the Ford Foundation issued a first-of-its kind “social bond” on the corporate bond market, to raise $1 billion in an attempt to shore up the nonprofit sector from COVID-19 collapse. “Unprecedented times call for extraordinary solutions,” Walker wrote in announcing the project, the latest innovative move for a leader who grew up poor, Black and gay in rural Texas. His mission now is to help build structures to allow that mobility for others.
Disclaimer: The Ford Foundation has sponsored OZY Fest and the production of OZY’s Breaking Big television show.
23. Jay-Z, 50, Mogul Moves. Aka Shawn Carter, aka Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z rose from selling crack in the projects to become the first hip-hop billionaire, according to Forbes. And he uses his clout: Carter called up Minnesota’s governor to talk about the George Floyd case as “a dad and a Black man in pain.” Meanwhile, his Team Roc social justice organization takes up the cause of protesters, and he backs criminal justice reform efforts across the country as a founding partner of the Van Jones-led Reform Alliance.
24. Ava DuVernay, 47, Auteur of the Moment. Out of college at UCLA, DuVernay decided to make her mark in journalism … just in time to cover one of the most racially complex trials of the ’90s: the O.J. Simpson trial, which drove DuVernay out of journalism. Her new path has made her one of the leading lights of a slightly more inclusive Hollywood, where she’s earned acclaim and awards for films like Selma and the Netflix series When They See Us. Her searing 2016 documentary on mass incarceration, 13th, is a must-watch for context on the post-George Floyd protests roiling the nation. READ MORE.
25. John Boyega, 28, Leading the Charge in London. Wearing a gray sweater, hoodie and leather gloves, the actor best known for the Star Wars franchise gazed out at the crowd that had assembled in Hyde Park in London. As he seized the megaphone, he personified the moment: the breaking down, the getting inspired, and the seeking both solace and justice for George Floyd’s death. “Black lives have always mattered; we have always been important!” Boyega shouted, tears rolling down his cheeks. READ MORE.
26. Lena Waithe, 36, Skipping the Middleman. An actress/comic/writer/producer most recently of the Showtime series The Chi and the semi-autobiographical Twenties on BET, Waithe has become a power broker while remaining authentically herself and speaking up for the Black and LGBT communities without reservation. We first told you about Waithe in 2015, and she’s now at the forefront of the fight, doling out $25,000 from her pocket to protesters in the streets — directly via Venmo and Cash App.
27. Kendrick Lamar, 33, Alright. Go to a Black Lives Matter protest in the past five years and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the crowd sing along, in syncopated rhythm, to “We Gon’ Be Alright.” Perhaps the finest rapper of the last decade, Lamar has been making socially conscious sounds straight from Compton that make him this era’s counterpart to N.W.A. But the music — including the darkly prescient 2017 release DAMN — speaks largely for itself: Lamar is not a constant social media presence, doesn’t do a ton of interviews and is not the type you’ll see at the barricades. Rumors abound about just when his next release might drop. Regardless, it’ll be thoughtful.
28. Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson, 33, Bringing Back D.C.’s Rhythm Section. Johnson grew up performing go-go, an offshoot of funk born out of Black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., characterized by the use of Caribbean drums in covers of popular music. Amid gentrification, you started hearing go-go less and less on the streets — with many business owners actively discouraged from playing it or holding shows, with white residents not fond of the noise or rowdy crowds. In 2019, after organizing a musical protest alongside the organization Save Chocolate City, Johnson launched LongLiveGoGo as a means to protect the music and the original culture of the neighborhoods. It’s now evolved into a campaign against police brutality. READ MORE.
29. Dave Chappelle, 46, No Jokes Needed. When we look back on all this in the decades to come, there’s a good chance we’ll still be talking about 8:46. The searing surprise performance from Chappelle, one of the planet’s most famous and mercurial comedians, was nearly devoid of laughs — and packed with raw anger and grief as he seems to process in real time what it’s like to be Black in America. Always racially transgressive and conscious in his comedy (from the Black White Supremacist to the Racial Draft), Chappelle had veered too far over the line in recent years by punching down against marginalized groups like trans people. In this moment, he found his sweet spot.
30. Killer Mike, 45, Feeling His City’s Burn. The Atlanta native just released RTJ4 on June 3, with El-P, the other half of his rap group, Run The Jewels. And the timing could not have been more perfect. With songs like “Yankee and the Brave,” referencing Eric Garner’s death in “Walking in the Snow,” to a reminder that “no revolution is televised and digitized,” one would assume that they’re catering to today’s moment of turmoil, but the Grammy Award–winning Michael Render has been politically vocal for years. He is a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter, caught flack for sitting down with the NRA and gave an impassioned speech at the Atlanta mayor’s press conference following riots in Atlanta in response to George Floyd’s killing — urging calm in the streets.
31. Amanda Seales, 38, The Weight of the Real. Amanda Seales punched the Dave Chappelle ticket. The one when, in one fell swoop, you become a refusenik in the most public of ways. After making her way to co-host on Fox’s The Real, the comedian, actress, DJ, VJ, singer, writer and poet said screw it. She did so for a lot of the same reasons as Chappelle, primarily the inability to be herself in a workplace that didn’t know what, or who, that self was, even when it was waving a pink slip in their faces. READ MORE.
32. John Legend, 41, and Chrissy Teigen, 34, Power Couple. Other than seemingly being first on everyone’s list of “couple goals,” the musician and the television personality together have been sources of light and inspiration — first amid the COVID-19 outbreak and then against the backdrop of the George Floyd protests. “We’ve spent too much money and too much of our societal energy on policing people, on locking people up,” Legend recently said, echoing calls to #DefundThePolice.
33. Jameela Jamil, 34, A Better Place. Having survived her own near-death experience as a teen, the model-actress is fearlessly frank about issues like racial beauty standards, representation in media, mental health, body positivity and, lately, police brutality. “It’s impacted the sort of brand relationships because I’m trying as hard as I can to stick to my principles and not work with problematic people,” Jamil recently told the Hollywood Reporter of her outspokenness. And it comes with reverberations at times too. Still, Jamil’s reach seems to be ever-expanding. Now that The Good Place has come to an end, Jamil is a judge on the HBO Max reality show Legendary, about the world of ballroom and voguing.
34. Common, 48, Rapping With a Purpose. There is not much that Common can’t do. The rapper, actor and entrepreneur has been in comedies, romance films and rap battles. But he also has been at the forefront of prison reform, far before the intensified focus we’re seeing today. Between throwing free concerts to promote criminal justice reform to urging jail release of inmates amid the coronavirus outbreak, when you list the Chicago native’s accolades, make sure you include activist.
35. Noname, 28, The Rapper’s Book Club. What happens when a socially conscious rapper who is fed up with the systemic and patriarchal oppression of modern society decides to start a book club on Twitter? It gets very popular very fast. And then it also gets very real. Noname’s Book Club isn’t just an online gathering of book lovers. This club, with the Twitter tagline “Reading material for the homies,” is devoted specifically to uplifting the voices of the marginalized, including writers of color and those in the LQBTQ community. Noname’s social consciousness recently made her a target of rapper J. Cole, but she’s pressing on. READ MORE.
36. Stacey Abrams, 46, Voting Rights Lion. From best-selling Harlequin romance novelist and Georgia house minority leader to the face of voting rights … and maybe even vice president? After unsuccessfully running for governor of Georgia amid a 2018 election rife with electoral irregularities and questionable voter purges, Abrams has become an eloquent advocate for fairness in America’s political system.
37. Kah Walla, 55, Beaten but Unbowed. Walla’s presidential ambitions in Cameroon began with a confrontation. It was 2010, and the opposition Social Democratic Front was planning to field its longtime chairperson for the third time in the following year’s election against President Paul Biya. Walla challenged her party leader to a primary. When he refused, she quit. A decade later, the 55-year-old management consultant is a leading face of the Cameroonian opposition. The rare woman in the country’s top political echelons, the president of the Cameroon People’s Party has faced arrests, death threats and beatings. But that has only strengthened her resolve to end Biya’s four-decade dictatorship. READ MORE.
38. Sen. Tim Scott, 54, Forging Ahead. The lone Black Republican in the U.S. Senate gave one of the most dramatic floor speeches in recent history four years ago while talking about how he had been targeted by police officers because of his race. And now the South Carolinian is leading the charge for the Justice Act, a Senate bill to make lynching a federal hate crime, encourage the banning of chokeholds and increase use-of-force disclosures — though it’s been criticized by Democrats for not going far enough. His voice, a leading one on issues of criminal justice reform and racial profiling, will remain critical in the days to come.
39. AOC, 30, The Sensation. Three letters is all it takes to recognize Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman representative who has risen from bartender to leader of the left in the snap of a finger — we first told you about her in spring 2018, what feels like a lifetime ago — and isn’t fading away anytime soon. While Wall Street has been pouring cash into trying to unseat her in the New York primaries on Tuesday, the congresswoman from the Bronx and chief champion of the Green New Deal has been slugging away with calls to defund the police and label white supremacist groups as terrorists.
40. Rep. Karen Bass, 66, The Next Madam Speaker? The Los Angeles congresswoman may be more than twice her aforementioned colleague’s age, but Bass has just as much grit, having sharpened her knives as the nation’s first African American woman to serve as speaker of a state legislative body while leading the California assembly from 2008 to 2010. Now in Washington, she was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2018 and could soon be rubbing elbows with Nancy Pelosi as a top general in Democratic leadership.
41. Jamaal Bowman, 44, The Next AOC? The Bronx middle-school principal who grew up in public housing could take out veteran Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s primary on Tuesday. Engel was recently caught saying that if he didn’t have a primary, he “wouldn’t care”about an event addressing police brutality. Bowman has pinned his candidacy on being more of the moment.
42. Keisha Lance Bottoms, 50, Mayor of the Moment. The Atlanta mayor has dealt with two waves of intense protests in recent weeks — the most recent coming in the wake of the death of Rayshard Brooks, who was shot in the back by police after taking an officer’s Taser. Bottoms has spoken movingly about the need for calm in recent weeks while also frankly discussing her own fear for her children in encounters with the police. She is also rocketing up the charts on watchlists as Joe Biden’s possible running mate.
43. LaTosha Brown, 49, Building Voting Power. She grew up in Selma, with history that could not be forgotten, and her activism started in an everyday setting. Working at a clothing store as a young college dropout mother, she turned her gig into a soapbox when customers asked her what she was reading behind the counter. Through it all, she sang: spirituals and freedom songs, gospel and Americana, with that “dirty voice” — raspy, soulful — her Auburn University teachers had tried to clean up. “There is a heaviness to my voice,” she says, and to her work too, as co-founder of Black Voters Matter. READ MORE.
44. Charles Booker, 35, Dark Horse. Booker grew up in a rough part of Louisville, where neither of his parents finished high school, but he soared through law school — and a Capitol Hill internship hooked him on politics. Now the youngest Black lawmaker in Kentucky’s state house, he’s backed by top progressives in a primary against former fighter pilot Amy McGrath. Running to McGrath’s left, he could well emerge as a surprise Democratic nominee to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.
45. Ja’Ron Smith, 37, The Inside Game. The Cleveland native is one of the highest-ranking African American officials in the White House, serving as a domestic policy adviser to President Donald Trump. And while that makes him a target for many, including some of his fellow Howard University alums, Smith has played a key role in everything from the criminal justice–focused First Step Act to the administration’s forgiveness of hundreds of millions in loans owed by historically black colleges to the federal government. Smith has lately taken a higher profile in pressing Trump’s police reform plans on TV.
46. Sybrina Fulton, From Grief to Power. The mother of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen whose 2012 killing at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement, has counseled grieving mothers and advocated against gun violence. Now the former government worker is launching a political career, running for the board of commissioners in Miami-Dade County on a platform of improving local transportation and giving minority-owned businesses a better shot at government contracts.
47. Minyon Moore, 62, The Behind-the-Scenes Player. The founder of Women Building for the Future, Moore is known for being a part of Hillary Clinton’s notoriously exclusive inner circle and as a former strategist to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns. The head of Dewey Square Group’s state and local practice, Moore has quietly nurtured the next generation of civil rights leaders from behind the scenes and is a co-author of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics, a veritable handbook for Black women looking to make a difference.
48. Art Acevedo, 55, Woke Chief. The Cuban immigrant and Houston police chief went viral amid the George Floyd protests for his impassioned speech supporting Black Lives Matter activists, marching alongside them while also calling for nonviolent advocacy. The first Hispanic person to lead the police department of America’s fourth-largest city, Acevedo is using his voice to strike common ground between law enforcement and those desperate for reform.
The Authors and Journalists
49. Charlamagne Tha God, 41, Early Morning Grilling. Otherwise known as Lenard Larry McKelvey, the South Carolinian is a New York Times best-selling author, producer and actor, and he makes up one third of Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, asking the tough questions. What sets this radio personality apart is his fearlessness as well as his ability to make guests feel comfortable. Just ask Joe Biden, who slipped up and told Charlamagne that not voting for him is anti-Black, or conservative talker Rush Limbaugh, who appeared on the show and said he thinks white privilege doesn’t exist. He is not only making space for these conversations but pressing the issue. Expect much more before Election Day.
50. Wesley Lowery, 29, View From Somewhere. The journalist became a national name by getting arrested while covering the Ferguson protests, then won the Pulitzer Prize for documenting police shootings for the Washington Post. But Lowery was never quite free to speak his mind: The powers-that-be kept a lid on his social media presence which they at times felt was too skewed in favor of the Black Lives Matter side of things. Now he’s moved on to become a correspondent on the new short version of CBS’ 60 Minutes on the Quibi streaming platform, and more freely bash the “view from nowhere” journalism of old. As he recently told the New York Times, a newsroom’s “core value needs to be the truth, not the perception of objectivity.”
51. Jemele Hill, 44, A Middle Finger to Power. The sports journalist and Detroit native doesn’t mess around. In fact, she’s lost jobs, peachy jobs — suspended twice and eventually leaving ESPN — because she suffers fools so poorly. Like you would hope any sportscaster not doing PR would do. And the truth that got her suspended had almost everything to do with publicly proclaiming President Donald Trump a white supremacist. True-telling, Oh-No-She-Didn’t moments are the basis of Hill’s claim to continued fame. Or infamy, depending on which side of the sports/political divide you sit. READ MORE.
52. Robin DiAngelo, 63, Not-So-Fragile. It’s hard to imagine a book title more perfectly suited to our present condition than White Fragility, even though DiAngelo dropped the book two years ago — to both acclaim and heavy critique that it’s too simplistic. But the best-seller has now sent the University of Washington professor into the media stratosphere of trying to explain to her fellow white people what they need to do right now. It starts with a simple process of exploring and assessing the benefits of being white, as uncomfortable as that may be. Then comes the harder step: challenging and dismantling the systems that make it so.
53. Nikole Hannah-Jones, 44, Going to the Source. She won a Pulitzer for the 1619 project published by the New York Times, but the Iowa-born journalist’s work on school segregation is just as good … and intensely personal, as she explored in 2016 her own decision about where to enroll her daughter in New York City. She’s also helped establish a group to foster investigative journalism by minority reporters.
54. Angela Saini, 39, Dissecting Twisted Science. A British journalist, Saini is the author of Superior: The Return of Race Science, a disturbing look at the history of racist scientific thought, which global leaders tried to snuff out after World War II, and yet continues to rear its ugly head. Other books of hers include Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World.
55. Dean Baquet, 63, Eye of the Storm. The first Black executive editor of the New York Times has led America’s premier paper on a delicate dance with President Donald Trump — publishing a landmark investigation into his tax dodging and breaking all sorts of damaging White House news, while also pulling punches and watering down headlines too often for critics who say the Times should call a spade a spade (or a racist a racist) more often. Meanwhile, Trump has been unquestionably good for business as subscriptions have soared. A staff rebellion recently forced out the opinion editor, but Baquet will stick in the post at least into next year, with the New Orleans native helming one of the most scrutinized media institutions through an election unlike any other.
56. Michelle Alexander, 52, Ahead of the Times. She is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a 2010 best-seller that has rocketed up reading lists since the George Floyd protests sparked a new racial reckoning. A visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary and contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, the civil rights advocate’s lessons about modern race relations are only getting more apt with time.
57. Ibram X. Kendi, 37, How-to Guide. The historian is the best-selling author of How to Be an Antiracist. Through memoir-based writing, Kendi makes antiracism accessible — even to children — forcing readers to reexamine their own deeply held biases. A New York native, he is the founding director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University and is now launching a similar center at Boston University.
58. Elizabeth Hinton, 36, From Ivory Tower to Community. In 2017, Hinton, a professor at Yale, released her book, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, in which she examined the implementation of federal law enforcement programs beginning in the mid-1960s, formulating a system of mass incarceration of Black American citizens. Hinton says her book inspired her to transfer her education from the campus to the community — to work directly with law enforcement, community groups and nonprofits. READ MORE.
59. Brittney Cooper, 39, Against the Machine. The author of Eloquent Rage is an educator, activist and cultural critic whose research spans from Black feminist theory to hip-hop. Check out her TED Talk, where she discusses modern racial politics and how it has been stolen from people of color in this country, delaying progress.
60. Stella Nyanzi, 46, Iron Lady. In February, Ugandan security agencies failed once again to exorcise the revolutionary spirit of Nyanzi, one of Africa’s most determined dissidents, after a court order commuted the 18-month sentence the anthropologist had received for “cyberbullying” Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. Her radical rudeness (she once called Musevini “another pair of buttocks”) is significantly deconstructing the system of fear laid from the ground up by the brutally eccentric dictator Idi Amin and reinforced by Museveni, the former rebel chief who helped topple him. Accustomed to a life of civil disobedience and bodily harm as a former journalist, Nyanzi has persistently taunted the nation’s No. 1 citizen for years about poor governance — consequences be damned. READ MORE.
61. Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, 31, Creating Healing Spaces. It’s been a stressful year on so many levels, and mental health practitioners are much harder to access than ever before, given social distancing rules and financial constraints. Add that to how communities of color already face steeper challenges in accessing mental health care, and you’ve got a full-blown crisis. Cargle is stepping in via The Loveland Foundation, which funds high-quality, culturally competent therapy sessions for young Black women. READ MORE.
62. Tom Stritikus, No Reservations. The former director of K-12 education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Stritikus is now president of Fort Lewis College, which began as a Native American boarding school and today offers free tuition for Native American students. Amid a coronavirus outbreak that has exacerbated inequalities, Stritikus has pioneered smart, high-touch ways to connect with students, while helping the college to increase financial aid, make academic fees refundable and implementing online courses.
63. LeBron James, 35, More Than Hoops. Whether you believe he’s the G.O.A.T. on the basketball court, LeBron is surely one of the all-time greats to watch when it comes to speaking out on issues of social importance. While many athletes have lent their support to Black Lives Matter, the Los Angeles Laker has taken his work a step further by launching the voting rights group More Than a Vote, attempting to combat some of the voter suppression that has helped contribute to institutional racism in America.
64. Joey Votto, 36, Mea Culpa. A six-time All-Star and 2010 National League MVP, Votto has been one of the best sluggers in baseball in recent years. But the Cincinnati Reds star had one big hole in his swing: race. And he admitted it in a striking op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, in which he wrote his previous defenses of police made him “complicit” in the death of George Floyd, and he did not properly understand the Black experience. Votto apologized to his teammates of color and vowed to use his platform for racial justice moving forward.
65. Bubba Wallace, 26, Stars and Barred. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, Wallace called for the Confederate flag to be banned at NASCAR events — and the sport’s only Black driver was successful, following that victory by racing in Martinsville, Virginia, with his race car draped in a #BlackLivesMatter-themed paint scheme. His decision was bold (after all, roughly 80 percent of NASCAR fans are white, and traditionally the sport’s viewers have leaned conservative). But the 2018 Daytona second-place finisher’s principled stand will enter the history of powerful cultural moments in sport.
66. Megan Rapinoe, 34, Purple Streak. A goal scorer nonpareil for the World Cup–winning U.S. Women’s National Team, Rapinoe speaks her mind — aggressively — when it comes to Donald Trump, LGBT rights, pay discrimination or any number of social justice causes. She was the first white athlete to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, so U.S. soccer banned kneeling. But just like one of Rapinoe’s bending free kicks, the federation turned a corner and last week rescinded its kneeling ban — and apologized to Rapinoe. She also knows how to pass: Rapinoe recently handed over her social accounts to queer Black woman Fresco Steez to speak out, as part of the #ShareTheMicNow campaign.
67. Colin Kaepernick, 32, Taking a Knee. Of all the figures in American life getting a reexamination in these heady times, Kaepernick might be the biggest. San Francisco’s backup quarterback was drummed out of the NFL after kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in 2016, and the contrast between his peaceful knee and that of Officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd’s neck is striking today. So, too, is the uproar over his silent protest, in contrast to the post-Floyd violence and destruction. Even President Donald Trump has said Kaepernick should “absolutely” get another shot in the league — “if he has the playing ability” — and the fan-starved Los Angeles Chargers are mulling giving him a tryout. He’s also just joined the board at blogging platform Medium, where he will be writing about race and civil rights.
68. Stephen Jackson, 42, Where There’s Smoke. A former NBA standout with a reputation for feistiness — and intense loyalty — Jackson found a second career as a compelling podcaster, collaborating with ex-teammate Matt Barnes on All the Smoke. Then came the death of his close childhood friend from the Houston housing projects, George Floyd. Jackson has become a movement leader, sharing the story of his “twin” (Jackson and Floyd’s resemblance is uncanny) and going on the march.
69. Kellen Mond, 20, QB1. The Texas A&M quarterback has thrown 52 touchdowns over three seasons in College Station but just made the most significant attempt of his career by definitively telling his school to take down the statue of former Texas A&M president Lawrence Sullivan Ross, a Confederate general before he joined the university. “I need to see action,” Mond said amid dueling petitions and protests on campus. But in a town like College Station, no one speaks louder than the quarterback.
70. Benjamin Crump, 50, Grievers’ Go-To. The civil rights champion is representing the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but he is no Benny-come-lately, having also represented the poisoned children of the Flint water crisis and relatives of shooting victims Travyon Martin and Michael Brown. Born near Fort Bragg, N.C., the oldest of nine kids, his mother worked as a hotel maid — a humble history for the Omega Psi Phi leader and Florida State-trained lawyer.
71. Larry Krasner, 59, Not So Radical Anymore. The son of a Russian Jewish crime novelist and a Christian minister has sued the police at least 75 times — and that was before the progressive public defender was surprisingly elected to become Philadelphia’s district attorney in 2018. Known for representing groups like Black Lives Matter and Dreamers pro bono early on, Krasner is providing a road map for de-escalation, from decriminalizing marijuana and limiting cash bail to dismissing a third of his homicide prosecutors and pursuing shorter sentences in plea deals.
72. Sherrilyn Ifill, 56, Breaking Educational Barriers. She immigrated to the U.S. from Barbados as a child, alongside her cousin, the late PBS NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill. And as an adult, she has followed in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall, first by attending the University of Maryland law school he helped desegregate and now by heading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund he founded. But Ifill hardly lives in Marshall’s shadow, having been a key fighter in protecting the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action in higher education — among other issues pressing to the forefront amid America’s new racial reckoning.
73. Joyette M. Holmes, 44, New Sheriff in Town. The Valdosta native and University of Georgia grad honed her legal chops as a public defender in Maryland before becoming in 2019 the first woman and first African American district attorney in the historically white Atlanta suburb Cobb County. And now the Republican prosecutor enters the national spotlight, after attorney general Chris Carr named her prosecutor in the killing of unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery by two white vigilantes earlier this year.
74. Judge Henry Franklin Floyd, 72, Crying Out from the Bench. The Democrat has been appointed to federal benches by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and has sat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals since 2011 — the perch from which the he recently reversed a lower court decision granting four West Virginia officers qualified immunity for shooting a homeless Black man, writing bluntly in his decision: “This has to stop.”
75. Bryan Stevenson, 60, Death Row Savior. The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, has successfully won relief (and, sometimes, release from prison) for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. He has also won multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting prisoners with dementia, and is leading on antipoverty initiatives that are critical to addressing inequality in America (bonus: Watch Just Mercy, the legal drama based on his memoir).
The Science and Tech Stars
76. Joy Buolamwini, 30, Woke AI. A Ghanaian-American computer scientist and digital activist at the MIT Media Lab, Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that challenges bias in decision-making software. Her pioneering research shows how automated recognition and artificial intelligence technologies are not optimized for non-white people — leading to disastrous unintended consequences for those with darker skin. From driverless cars to infrared tech to algorithm-assisted policing, her research will be critical to understanding how even computational justice isn’t blind.
77. Dr. Ala Stanford, 49, DIY COVID-19 Offensive. “I reached out to [the] city and the state,” says Stanford, standing in a Philadelphia parking lot where she’s taking a break from testing people for COVID-19, “from my state senator to the city and then the governor’s office. Nothing.” In a burst of activity, Stanford contacted all her Black doctor associates across the United States. The call to action was twofold: Did they have testing kits they could spare, and would they appear with her on Instagram Live to debunk misinformation about the virus? READ MORE.
78. Jedidah Isler, Space Force. The Yale-trained astrophysicist studies hyperactive, super-massive black holes called “blazars” at Dartmouth College — and has now taken aim at the yawning “black hole” that is the complete lack of diversity in the academic world while helping lead the #ShutDownAcademia protests for more representation in universities.
79. Alex Bernadotte, 49, A Virtual Life Coach. A first-generation college student, Bernadotte’s first week at Dartmouth sent her reeling. Despite having stellar grades and near-perfect test scores, she was wildly unprepared. She had even bought the wrong size sheets for her bed. “It was like I had been dropped in a foreign country and left to navigate myself.” Now Bernadotte punctures that feeling each day with Beyond 12, a tech nonprofit in Oakland, California, that provides virtual coaching to graduating high school seniors and college students — with a focus on first-generation college students and immigrants. READ MORE.
80. Kizzmekia Corbett, 34, Vaccine Warrior. The epitome of #BlackGirlMagic, Corbett is a rarity as an African American woman scientist at the National Institutes of Health leading the government’s search for a vaccine to end the coronavirus outbreak. She also hasn’t been afraid to take a professional risk by exposing the lack of diversity around her, particularly when she called out President Trump in February for a lack of scientists of color on his coronavirus task force.
The Social Media Stars
81. Selena Gomez, 27, Passing the Mic. With one of the world’s biggest Instagram followings, some 180 million scrollers in all, the actress and pop star has quite the platform. So the Texas native recently turned over the keys to her vast kingdom to Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, in order to spread the message of the movement — in addition to speaking out herself against racism.
82. Jay Versace, 22, Next-Generation Voice. Modern-day civil rights leaders ply their trade as much on social media as in the streets. In the online regions where wit, fearlessness and brevity garner the greatest rewards, it takes a talent like Versace to break through. He’s the one out there leveraging his 1.5 million Twitter followers to pump out truth and resources during wild times. It can be as simple as “corona so ugly I’ll smack that bitch,” or as intricate as him speaking on why ancestral veneration is important. Either way, he’s seamlessly transitioned his content from funny to informative. READ MORE.
83. Aurora James, Representation on the Shelves. In May, the founder of accessories label Brother Vellies posted on Instagram, tagged retailers like Sephora, Target, Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble, and asked for each to take the “15 Percent Pledge” — a promise to buy 15 percent of their products from Black-owned businesses. James’ call to action wasn’t just about the Black Lives Matter movement, but also about the disproportionate impact Black businesses have experienced from COVID-19 closures. Of those brands, only Sephora has publicly committed, but other retailers, from Rent the Runway to Bando and Nox, soon took the pledge as it went viral.
84. Dometi Pongo, 31, Instagram-Ready Reporter. At a time of plummeting media trust, the time has arrived for Pongo, host of the new MTV series True Life Crime and MTV News’ Need to Know, a Twitter and Instagram TV show covering pop culture. Pongo veers away from what most outlets are covering, doubling down on stories of police violence and racial injustice that quickly fall off the radar of other journalists — and effectively becoming an activist in his own right. From his coverage of the Laquan McDonald shooting, which received Best Radio Feature recognition from the National Association of Black Journalists, to his grassroots reporting on the case of Kenneka Jenkins, a 19-year-old who was found dead in a Chicago hotel freezer, he never fails to bring an authenticity to his work. READ MORE.
85. Kimberly Drew, 30, A New Palate. She has done it all, as an author, a model and the former social media manager for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she used her position to become a major force for diversity in the art world. From curating work for the Obama White House to organizing projects like the Black Art Incubator, her recent book, This Is What I Know About Art, and upcoming title, Black Futures, will become must reads for the Change Generation.
86. Roxane Gay, 45, Razor Wit. She’s has been calling out inconsistencies in rhetoric throughout her entire career. Her most famous collection of essays, Bad Feminist, is a reminder that no ideology is constructed or practiced perfectly, offering honest perspectives as a queer Black woman amid a whitewashed heterosexual narrative of feminism. But her work doesn’t stop there. She’s written Marvel’s Black Panther universe into existence in World of Wakanda, and she’s explored the ebb and flow of body image in her book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Her current work is editing and curating for Medium and GAY the Magazine all while running a podcast centered around influential Black women. Gay’s tenacity is apparent in her tweets, as she easily outwits groundless arguments and bolsters perspectives that similarly question the structure we all live in — as we all should be doing right now.
- Daniel Malloy