All of the people listed below, and so many more that could not be fit on this list, deserve more than a month’s recognition for their hard work and perseverance. Yet, none of these powerful people are doing what they do for the fame. 2018 will be history in the making because of their work and their wish to make a difference and accomplish greatness, one Olympic medal/court case/rally at a time.
1. Tarana Burke
Over 10 years ago, Tarana Burke coined the phrase “Me Too” as a way to help women share their experiences with sexual assault as well as raise awareness of how many people are affected by it. This was after talking with a 13-year-old who had been sexually abused. The idea of empowerment through empathy really took hold years later. In the fall of 2017, that concept became a reality as thousands of women shared the words on social media platforms, following the example of actress Alyssa Milano. Now, Burke has used the power of her idea to speak at events and encourage healing for others.
2. Colin Kaepernick
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem of a San Francisco 49ers game, he sparked a national conversation about the rights of people of color and the issue of police brutality. Now, he is a dedicated activist and philanthropist. Recently, he’s held “Know Your Rights” youth empowerment camps, a campaign to raise awareness on education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.
3. Michelle Obama
For eight years, America loved watching FLOTUS in action. Both her advocacy and fashion sense were watched and adored by many. Michelle Obama is also a lawyer who holds two degrees from Ivy League schools. During her husband’s time in the White House, she was most known for her Let’s Move! initiative for healthy eating and activity, the Joining Forces program to help employ vets, and Reach Higher that was designed to help youth explore higher education and career opportunities. Now, people can expect to see Michelle championing her causes and making an impact on the country beyond the White House, with the newly created Obama Foundation.
4. Sterling K Brown
Shining his light at the Golden Globes in January 2018, Sterling K. Brown won outstanding male actor for his role in ABC’s hit series “This is Us”. Much like Oprah, his speech was inspiring, emotional, and powerful. He said: “What I appreciate so much about this is that I’m being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am, and it makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me or dismiss anybody who looks like me.” He was also the first black man in several years to win outstanding male actor in a drama series at the Screen Actors Guild award. Fans are hoping this will not be the last of Brown on and off the screen.
5. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah captured millions of hearts when she gave her incredible speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards ceremony. After being the first African American woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award, she stood up and gave a speech that condemned a “culture broken by brutally powerful me” and envisioned a day where no one has to say “me too”. Many are secretly hoping to see #Oprah2020 on the ballot in a few years.
6. Dr. Michael Lindsey
This man directs the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at NYU, and is certainly primed to make history this year. His podcast “Black Boys & Men: Changing the Narrative” is educational and features a series of conversations, stemming from mental health issues to the legal justice system that has failed people of color over and over again. Through raising awareness of these issues and advocating for policy solutions, Lindsey aim to counter the long-held stereotypes that black men and boys face.
7. Erin Jackson
One of this historic year’s “firsts” for the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang is Erin Jackson, the first African American woman to be on the speed skating team for the United States. Even more remarkably, she became an Olympic athlete in this sport just four months after starting on ice. Jackson surprised everyone, including herself, when she qualified at the trials. She had come from inline skating where she was a 9-time world medalist and Pan Am gold medalist. The sky is the limit for this skater.
8. S. Lee Merritt
Honored as one of the Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans, S. Lee Merritt is a stellar attorney and social justice activist. He refers to himself as the “people’s lawyer” and is building a reputation for representing folks in police brutality and other racial violence cases. Some of the cases currently on the docket include DeAndre Harris, who was beaten by several white men at the rallies in Charlottesville, and Jordan Edwards, the 15-year-old black high school honors student that was killed by a police officer who shot a rifle into a car full of teenagers. He has recently emerged as a new leader in this space, and is doing the hard work to show people that black lives do matter.
9. Ta-Nehisi Coates
This author and journalist currently writes mostly for the Atlantic focusing on cultural, social, and political issues. As an author, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the bestseller Between the World and Me as well as several other books and works that have earned praise from people like Oprah Winfrey and Toni Morrison. Now, he is writing the screen adaption for “Wrong Answer,” the story about Atlanta public school teachers who participated in a standardized test cheating scandal. 2018 seems to have a lot in store for this guy.
10. Tamika D Mallory
Tamika was the co-chair of the January 2017 Women’s March. The turnout in DC alone mobilized nearly half a million people, and millions of others participated through satellite marches all over the world. Mallory advocates for issues such as reform of gun laws, women’s equality, healthcare, and an end to unfair police brutality. She has been a leader in this space, helping shape policy as a Senior Advisor to former President Barack Obama.