20 Black Leaders Under 25 Who Are Making History
History has shown that Black youth are continually silenced and dismissed. Our children constantly hear that they are not good enough. Our young girls and boys are told not to dream rather than to dream big. This Black History Month, we want to praise the young Black men and women who silenced their critics. We want to commend them for pursuing their passions with poise, diligence and humility.
There are plenty of Black youths who are killing the game today, but we want to curate a diverse group. We want to mention highly praised leaders, as well as lesser-known talents from all over the world. This is our pick of 20 Black leaders who are 25 and under.
1. Thandiwe Abdullah, 15
Thandiwe Abdullah is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard. She is also an organizer for Black Lives Matter. Speaking at social justice rallies since she was 6-years-old, Thandiwe uses her platform to speak out against police brutality and criminal injustice against Black and Brown youth. Growing up in a community filled with activists in Los Angeles, including senior members of the Black Panthers, Thandiwe was encouraged to speak out against injustice, discrimination, and police brutality.
An essay that she wrote in response to the media surrounding the Parkland school shooting went viral. To continue the discussion surrounding the topics discussed in her essay, she organized her classmates to remove police officers from Los Angeles public schools. Her goal is to change the perception of Black and Brown youth and to ensure that safe spaces are made for them. If you would like to find out more about Thandiwe’s work, you can read her essay on the Black Lives MatterYouth Vanguard here.
2. Kelvin Doe, 23
Born and raised in Sierra Leone, Kelvin Doe is a self-taught engineer. At 11-years-old, he built a radio transmitter, sound amplifier, three-channel mixer and microphone receiver from scrap metal that he found on the side of the road. Using this equipment, he started a neighbourhood radio station that he operated under the name DJ Focus. At 13, he built a battery that had enough energy to power the surrounding homes around him. He gained international attention after a video of him on the YouTube channel THNKR went viral in 2012.
Kelvin has an extensive list of accomplishments, including winning the top prize at Innovate Salone, lecturing to students at Harvard College, speaking at TEDxTeen, and signing onto a $100,000 solar project with Sierra WiFi. He also has two organizations, KDoe-Tech and the Kelvin Doe Foundation, which both launched in 2016. He credits his success to his unlimited creativity and resilience.
3. Marsai Martin, 15
You have had to hear the name “Marsai Martin” come up in conversation over this past year. This girl is making boss moves that many adults only dream of making. Marsai made her television debut in 2014, playing Diane Johnson on ABC’s hit comedy series ‘Black-ish’.
Many people have recently come to know about Marsai from her 2019 comedy movie ‘Little’. What a lot of people do not know is that Marsai sold the pitch for the movie when she was only 9-years-old. At the age of 14, Marsai was named an executive producer for ‘Little’, which makes her the youngest producer in Hollywood. ‘Little’ opened the box office in the number 2 spot, which a strong start to Marsai’s big-screen debut.
But hold on – her accomplishments don’t stop there.
Marsai founded her own production company, Genius Productions. Genius Productions aims to create films and projects with diverse casts that can relate to young people. Their first film, ‘Stepmonster’, is currently in production. Marsai has accredited roles in several other television shows and films, in addition to winning two NAACP Image Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Her goal? Easy. “To be a legend”.
4. Andre De Grasse, 25
Andre De Grasse is a Canadian sprinter and the current national holder for the 200m sprint. Andre first gained international attention when he participated in the NCAA Championships in June 2015. There, he won the 100m and 200m sprints. He had astonishingly fast times in both races running 9.75 seconds in the 100m and 19.58 seconds in the 200m. The next competition that garnered Andre international attention was the Pan Am Games in his home province of Ontario, Canada. There, he won the gold medal in the 100m sprint and the 200m sprint.
Andre made his Olympic debut in 2016 at the Rio Olympics. He made history becoming the first Canadian to win Olympic medals in all three sprinting events, challenging the fastest man alive in the process. Andre won a bronze medal in the 100m and a silver medal in both the 200m and 4x100m relay races.
5. Elizabeth Wathuti, 23
Elizabeth Wathuti is an environmental activist from Tetu, Nyeri County. Since she was 7-years-old, Elizabeth has been planting trees and participating in environmental conservation initiatives. As a former student at Kenyatta University, Elizabeth served on the executive council of the Kenyatta University Environmental Club. This allowed her to organize events and activities to bring awareness to environmental issues like climate change.
Her dedication to environmental issues was recognized by the Greenbelt Movement, the Kenya Community Development Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. She was granted the Wangari Maathai Scholarship Award, which equipped her with the platform she needed to spread her message internationally.
Elizabeth spoke at a conference on sustainable regions in Gran Canaria, Spain courtesy of her scholarship. Her scholarship also provided her with the funding to establish a tree nursery in Tetu. Following this nursey, Elizabeth also created the Green Generation Initiative, which has planted over 30,000 trees in Kenya. She encourages everyone to unite together to create a better world for the generations that follow us.
6. Chloe x Halle, 21 & 19
Dubbed Beyoncé’s protégés, Chloe and Halle Bailey have taken the music world by storm. Chloe and Halle are multi-talented artists, producers and musicians from Atlanta, Georgia. Their unique R&B sound is influenced by a variety of genres including jazz and alternative music. Known for their angelic harmonies, Chloe x Halle is using their platform in entertainment to be a voice for youth.
After their cover of Pretty Hurts went viral on Youtube in 2013, the two sisters were signed to Beyoncé’s music label, Parkwood Entertainment, in 2015. In 2016, the band released their EP ‘Sugar Symphony’. That summer, the sisters opened for Beyonce during the European leg of her historic Formation World Tour. In 2017, the duo released an undefined project titled ‘Just The Two Of Us’. This record was featured on Rolling Stone magazine’s Best R&B Albums of 2017 list. In 2018, Chloe x Halle released their debut album ‘The Kids are Alright’. This album got the band their first two Grammy nominations. That same year, the duo opened for Beyonce again during the American leg of her and Jay-Z’s On The Run II tour.
The sisters also have acting credits to their name. They are most recently known for their characters Jazlyn and Skylar on ‘Grown-ish’. Halle is set to play the role of Ariel in Disney’s live-action version of ‘The Little Mermaid’, which is set to hit the big screens sometime in 2021.
7. Winnie Harlow, 25
Winnie Harlow is a Canadian-born model, spokesperson and activist. Winnie first gained national attention while competing in the 21st cycle of ‘America’s Next Top Model’. After being eliminated in 2014, Winnie modelled for a series of fashion brands, magazines and fashion websites. Included on this list are Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Diesel, and Glamour Magazine.
Winnie Harlow has been open about her experiences with vitiligo. In 2011, she shared a video on Youtube entitled “Vitiligo: A Skin Condition, not a Life Changer” where she discusses and answers commonly asked questions about her skin condition. Winnie made a TEDx presentation in 2014 where she recalled her experiences growing up with vitiligo.
In several interviews, Winnie recalls being bullied for her skin condition. She often explains how bullying negatively affected her self esteem growing up. Winnie commits her platform to help young girls enhance their perceptions of themselves to ensure that other young women do not experience the same feelings of insecurity she once felt. Winnie joined the panel at the Dove Self-Esteem Project in 2015, which strives to help young girls boost their self-esteem.
8. Jahkil Jackson, 12
Jahkil Jackson has a resume that is longer than most people 5 times his age. After distributing food to the homeless at 8-years-old with his aunt in Chicago, he decided that he wanted to do more to help those in need. Jahkil created his company, Project I Am, to raise awareness about homelessness and to help bring resources to homeless communities.
Project I Am gives what Jahkil calls “Blessing Bags” to homeless people. These bags contain many of the necessities that homeless people are unable to get for themselves such as granola bars, deodorant, socks, and more. Project I Am has distributed these bags to over 35,000 people internationally including countries like Barbados, and cities like Houston.
Jahkil is also a motivational speaker. He uses his platform to try and inspire youth and adults alike to try and become more involved in serving and helping others. He has joined several organizations, such as WE International Youth Council and Heartland Alliance, in efforts to help make the world a better place for all people.
Jahkil also has a vast list of honours and recognitions. In 2017, Jahkil was recognized by President Barack Obama and the Obama Foundation as being one of three influential leaders that year. Later, in 2019, Jahkil was voted to be Vice Chairman of the 2019 KidBox Youth Board of Directors, nominated for one of BET’s 15 under 15, joined Nike’s Future Varsity campaign, and was named a CNN 2019 Young Hero. This year, Jahkil also teamed up with Marvel as part of Marvel’s Hero Project. As part of this campaign, Marvel made a comic book about Jahkil and his initiatives to aid homelessness.
9. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 20
Born into a legacy of success and insurmountable talent, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been making waves and headlines in the world of major league baseball. Born in Montreal, Quebec, but raised in the Dominican Republic, Vladimir Jr., known to his fans as Vladdy, has drawn international attention to the North.
In the 2019 MLB season, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays created a storm of cries to management to bring Vladimir Jr. up from the minor leagues. While in the minor leagues at the AAA level, Vlad had a .367 batting average. Prior to arriving at AAA in 2019, Vladimir was soaring through the ranks and besting all of his competitors at the plate and on the field. Finally, in April 2019, Vladimir arrived in the major leagues.
His arrival brought a sense of unity for Jays fans that had not been felt in a long time at the Rogers Center. Since his arrival, he has a .272 batting average with 126 hits and 15 home runs. Vladimir is the youngest player to participate in the Home Run Derby, with an invitation to participate simply months after his major league debut.
At the 2019 Home Run Derby, Vladimir stole the show. He hit a total of 91 home runs that evening, which broke the previous record of 61 made by Giancarlo Stanton in 2016. Vlad broke the record for a set of home runs in one round by hitting 29 home runs in his opening round. He had some of the hardest and farthest hitting balls that evening, which one home run reaching 488 feet. Although he lost the Derby, he was all anyone could talk about the next day.
10. Zendaya, 23
All hail the queen! Zendaya is one of the most influential young people in the entertainment industry today. She has a list of highly praised movie and television roles, producing credits, a song on the Billboard 100, a clothing line, a Barbie doll made in her image… Shall I go on? The girl is a model image of Black Girl Magic.
Not only does Zendaya have an extensive list of accomplishments, but she has an honest and authentic history of speaking out against something that feels or seems wrong to her. In 2015, she spoke out against offensive remarks made about dreadlocks that she wore to the Oscars. She said that she wanted to showcase dreadlocks in a “positive light” to “remind people of colour that our hair is good enough”.
This is not the only instance where Zendaya has used her voice and platform to speak out on sensitive topics. She has taken to social media to talk about issues such as body positivity and criminal injustice. She also stands up for other women and has a track record of shutting down her haters with class.
Zendaya is an inspiration to many, not just because of her fame or accomplishments, but just because she is herself. She is never afraid to post an unfiltered selfie or speak about what is on her mind. She shows her young fans that there is nothing scary about being yourself.
11. Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 20
Even if you are not familiar with classical music, the name Sheku Kanneh-Mason might sound familiar to you. This young prodigy was introduced to the world after playing at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. After his phenomenal performance was seen by billions of people worldwide, he was quickly named one of the best up-and-coming celloists.
In 2016, Sheku won the BBC Young Musician competition, making him the first Black person to do so. Following his win, Sheku signed a deal major recording contract with classical music label Decca Classics in November 2016. In January 2018, Sheku’s debut recording, ‘Inspirations’, was released to the world. His musical debut amassed a tremendous amount of success, which propelled Sheku to enter at Number 18 in the official UK album charts and Number 1 in the classical chart.
In June 2018, Sheku won the Male Artist of the Year and the Critics’ Choice Award at the Classic BRIT Awards for the immense success of his debut album. His list of awards also includes a PPL Classical Award and a South Bank Sky Arts Award.
12. Nyeeam Hudson, 14
Nyeeam Hudson may be young but he is probably wiser than most of the adults that you know. At 14-years-old, Nyeeam is a motivational speaker, author, and entrepreneur. He first gained national attraction by posting videos on Instagram where he would give advice and wisdom. Often speaking about the realities of childhood, such as bullying, Nyeeam’s words began to touch the hearts of adults around the globe.
The main message that he wants to hear is the importance of self-love. In 2016, he crowdsourced for his first book entitled “We Are All Kings!” In this book, Nyeeam relays his message of raising children to love and have confidence in themselves. He believes that all people, young and old, can learn from his book and use its message to achieve greatness.
Nyeeam believes that his work is not complete. He says that whenever he encounters a person with negative energy, he feels inspired to make a video for them. Nyeaam also hopes to write another book for young girls, and one for parents.
13. Koffee, 19
19-year-old Koffee, born Mikayla Simpson, is making waves around the world after becoming the first female and youngest person to win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2020. Born and raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the self-defined “sing-jay-guitarist” was first introduced to music in her church choir. From there, she taught herself how to play the guitar at age 12. Inspired by reggae singer Protoje, Koffee began to write songs and poems. Her talent began to draw in local attention, with her even winning school talent shows. After uploading a musical tribute to Usain Bolt titled ‘Legend’, Koffee began to gain international attention.
Although relatively shielded from the violence that surrounded her, Koffee experienced the social, political, and economic effects of said violence. Her surroundings inspire her music. While addressing the socio-political climate of Jamaica in her music, she also wants to make her music fun. Rather than doing this for fame, she wants to “bring vibes and positive change“
14. Marley Dias, 14
According to Forbes, Marley Dias is “changing the face of children’s literature”. An avid reader, Marley was tired of the books that she was being given to read in school. She wanted to read something other than another book about “a white boy and his dog”. In 2015, a 10-year-old Marley launched a campaign called #1000BlackGirlBooks. This campaign aimed to collect 1,000 books that had a Black girl as the main character and donate them. As of June 2017, Marley’s campaign collected over 9,000 books.
Marley also has a book of her own. In January 2018, she released “Marley Dias Gets It Done — And So Can You”. Her book is an inspirational guide for kids on how to go after the things that they want and use their talents to improve the world around them. Since 2016, Marley has been an Editor In Residence for Elle.com and has interviewed the likes of Ava DuVernay and Hillary Clinton.
Her efforts to improve diversity in literature have not gone unnoticed. Marley was honoured at BET’s Black Girls Rock! ceremony with a M.A.D. (Making a Difference) Award and won the Smithsonian Magazine’s American Ingenuity Award in the Youth category in 2017. Marley has also been a speaker at several conferences and events, including the White House’s United States of Women Summit.
15. Ja’mal Green, 24
This Chicago native and Black Lives Matters activist is voicing his concern about the issues that young Black people are facing in America. As several rallies and protests, Ja’mal has voiced his concerns about gun violence and police brutality. He was so passionate about securing support for disadvantaged communities that he decided to run for mayor of Chicago in 2018. This made Ja’mal the youngest person to ever run for mayor in Chicago. Unfortunately, Ja’mal withdrew from the race.
Ja’mal still commits his time to mentoring young people and supporting Black Lives Matters initiatives. He mentors young people on financial literacy and entrepreneurship and is working to build the city’s first 24-hour community center in Chicago’s south community. He is also a radio on Chicago’s Soul 106.3FM and is working alongside the Progressive Action PAC in Illinois to support progressive candidates in the 2020 United States Presidential election.
16. Normani, 23
Most commonly known for being 1/4th of the former pop group Fifth Harmony, Normani is stepping out on her own as a solo pop artist and is breaking records in the process. Her most recent, high-energy single, ‘Motivation’, broke the internet and currently has over 83 million views on YouTube.
The bonafide star made her musical debut to the world on the X Factor in 2012. Originally auditioning as a solo artist, Normani made it through the first round of the competition. However, in the second round, she was eliminated. Although this ended her time as a solo artist in the competition, she was brought back to compete. Judge Simon Cowell placed Normani and four other girls in a group. This group was Fifth Harmony. Fifth Harmony made it to the season finale and finished in 3rd place.
In 2018, Fifth Harmony announced an indefinite hiatus, allowing each girl to pursue solo careers. Since the group’s dismemberment, Normani has released a handful of singles. She has collaborated with the likes of Sam Smith, Khalid, Calvin Harris, Ariana Grande, Meg Thee Stallion, and more. Normani is the fastest solo artist to surpass 1 billion streams on Spotify without releasing a debut album. Fear not! She is planning to release an album very soon. Her new sound is described as “grown and sexy“.
Normani is a phenomenal dancer. She put her dancing skills on display for the world to see on season 24 of Dancing With The Stars. She and her partner, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, finished in third place. Normani is currently the first and only ambassador for Rhianna’s lingerie line Savage X Fenty. Moreover, she is a Global Ambassador to the American Cancer Society and a Diversity Ambassador for The CyberSmile Foundation.
17. Mikaila Ulmer, 14
This young entrepreneur and “bee ambassador” is saving our ecosystem with lemonade. When she was 4-years-old, Mikaila was encouraged to enter a local competition for young businesspeople. She was brainstorming ideas when she received a book of her grandmother’s recipes from the 1940s. While brainstorming, she was stung by a bee for the first time. Initially, she was afraid of bees, but then she became enthralled with them. She decided to use her grandmother’s lemonade recipes to fundraise money to donate to organizations that fight to protect honeybees. This is how her company, Me & the Bees Lemonade, was born.
Me & the Bees Lemonade began as a small, sidewalk lemonade stand. Today, it is a company worth millions of dollars. As a successful Shark Tank competitor, Mikaila has been able to bring her flaxseed and honey induced lemonade to Whole Foods and other grocery stores across America. Over the decade since Mikaila has created her Me & the Bees, she has sold approximately 360,000 bottles per year.
Moreover, Mikaila is a speaker and advocate for preserving the ecosystem and protecting honeybees. She has led countless workshops and has participated in several conference panels. She has won several awards and honours for her entrepenurialship including being named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2017. Subsequently, in 2017, Mikaila launched her non-profit organization, The Healthy Hive Foundation. This organization conducts research, education and protection projects for honey bees.
Currently, Mikaila is focusing on expanding her company to raise awareness of the importance of protecting honeybees. She released a lip-balm line featuring beeswax and would like to add more products to her company. In addition, she is in the process of writing a book to inspire and give advice to other young entrepreneurs.
18. Jharrel Jerome, 22
22-year-old Jharrel Jerome is quickly becoming a “rising star“. Known for his emotionally driven performances, this New York native is using his talents to tell stories, not just make films. His most recent project, ‘When They See Us’, tells the real-life story of the Exonerated Five. The Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five, is a group of Black and Latino boys ages 14 to 16 who were coerced by police to confess to the rape of Trisha Meili in Central Park in 1989. Jharrel played Korey Wise, the oldest of the group, who was imprisoned on Riker’s Island at the age of 16.
Jharrel is the only actor in the limited Netflix series to play both the younger and adult version of one of the Exonerated Five. What has enticed viewers to Jharrel’s performance is his unfiltered and humanizing portrayal of Wise’s experiences. This performance gave Jharrel his first Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. Jharrel also has an MTV Movie Award, a Critics Choice Award, and an Independent Spirit Award. His upcoming film ‘Concrete Cowboys’ will release sometime in 2020.
19. Yara Shahidi, 20
Is there anything that this girl can’t do? Dubbed as the voice of Generation Z, Yara Shahidi is using her platform to talk about matters close to everyone’s heart. She is best known for her current role as the fashionable and politically conscious Zoey Johnson in ‘Black-ish’ and its spinoff series ‘Grown-ish’. For the former, she has received an NAACP Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy.
While many are familiar with Yara for her acting chops, many are unaware of her involvement in politics. She is the co-founder of Eighteen x 18, an initiative that aims to increase teenage voter registration while educating young people on the issues that face their communities. Moreover, Yara is very vocal about the issues that Black communities experience. She has participated in Black Lives Matter initiatives, advocated for gender equality, and has supported Colin Kaepernick’s social justice organization. In an interview with The Guardian, Yara boldly stated: “I’ll put my career on the line to talk politics”.
Her resume also includes a budding production company and a collaboration line with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Oh yeah, and she currently attends Harvard University, where she studies economics, anthropology, and African-American studies. Michelle Obama proudly gave Yara a letter of recommendation after working alongside her on various philanthropic endeavours. Yes, the Michelle Obama. Despite her multitude of accomplishments, she is nowhere near finished using her voice to fight for equality and youth empowerment. We, for one, can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.
20. Simone Biles, 22
With a total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals (23 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze) Simone Biles is breaking records by being the most decorated American gymnast and the third most decorated gymnast in the world. First trying gymnastics at age 6, Simone has quickly become a household name in the world of competitive gymnastics after captivating the world at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Ohio native has been competing professionally at the senior international level since 2013. Since her debut at the senior level, she has broken many records including being the first woman to win five World all-around titles (2013-15, 18-19), three World balance beam titles (2014-15, 19), and five World floor exercise titles (2013-15, 2018-19). Simone is the most decorated World champion in gymnastics history having won 25 World medals. Among the 25 is 19 gold medals, which is the most ever in gymnastics history.
Simone also has a handful of accomplishments off of the mat as well. In 2016, she published her book “Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance”. In 2017, hit number one on the New York Times best-selling list under the Young Adult category. Later, her book transformed into a Lifetime biopic entitled ‘The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar’, which released in 2018. Simone also was a contestant on season 24 of ‘Dancing With The Stars’. Despite being a fan favourite, her and her partner, Sasha Farber, finished in 4th place.
Simone is expected to add more medals to her collection at the Tokyo Olympics this year. If she wins medals in all of her events, she could be the most decorated gymnast in the world. No matter the case, she has been dubbed the “greatest gymnast ever,” which is already an amazing feat.
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