To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: 30 Women of Color Who Are Breaking Barriers and Shaking Sh*t Up
"To be young, gifted, and Black is where it's at," Nina Simone sings in the 1970 ode to her fellow melanated trailblazers. The High Priestess of Soul couldn't have been more correct: the contributions people of color have made on the world are indeed precious, they are indeed significant, and they are more than worthy of recognition.
This Black History Month, we're spotlighting some outstanding women of color who are breaking barriers, thriving in their respective fields, and lifting up those around them. While people like Lauren Simmons and Joy Harper are making their marks on the financial sphere, creatives such as designer Pierre Davis, artist Ilana Yacine Harris-Babou, and actress Taylour Paige are representing in the realms of fashion, culture, and entertainment.
As for the health and beauty space, wellness specialist Lauren Ash is among the many Black women making strides to help WOC understand and openly talk about mental health. And in politics, young activists Naomi Wadler and Marley Dias are diligently working to make the world safer and more inclusive for Black girls.
The breadth and depth of Black women's talents can hardly be summed up in a single gallery, but we hope this feature will inspire women of color everywhere to step into their authority and bask in the glory of their Blackness. Happy Black History Month!
— Additional reporting by Britt Stephens
Frédérique "Freddie" Harrel is a French-born, formerly London-based blogger and public speaker who founded RadSwan, a conscious beauty brand for Black women. Along with being created for and by the Global African Diaspora, RadSwan has raised $2 million in funding from all-women investors.
Where to follow: @freddieharrel
Camonghne Felix is a poet and writer as well as a public speaker and political strategist, currently serving as the director of surrogates and strategic communications for Elizabeth Warren's 2020 presidential campaign. Camonghne's full-length collection of poems, Build Yourself a Boat, was released in April 2019 and long-listed for the National Book Award in Poetry. Her work in the political sphere spans a wide range of issues from racial and criminal justice to gender equality and education.
Where to follow: @camonghne
Lauren Ash is here to make sure Black women maintain their inner peace. As the founder of wellness site Black Girl in Om, the writer and yoga instructor promotes mental health among women of color. Last year, she hosted the Black Girl in Om Expansion Tour that encouraged Black women to gather and talk openly about their well-being. Lauren also connects her audience with other specialists in the health field through her podcast.
Where to follow: @hellolaurenash
Lolly Adefope speaks openly and honestly about body positivity and representation on screen. The British actress and comedian stars as Fran, the best friend to Aidy Bryant's Annie, on the Hulu comedy Shrill. She also has roles in Mission: Impossible — Fallout and The Spy Who Dumped Me and on the TBS anthology series Miracle Workers with Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi.
Where to follow: @lollyadefope
Naomi Wadler is the 13-year-old student and activist who advocates for victims of gun violence — particularly young Black girls — at marches and rallies around the United States. Most notably, Naomi made a passionate speech at the 2018 March For Our Lives acknowledging and representing "the African-American girls whose stories don't make the front page of every national newspaper."
Where to follow: @naomiwadler
Lindsay Peoples Wagner
Working her way from being a fashion-closet intern for Teen Vogue to being the publication's editor in chief, Lindsay Peoples Wagner is a prime example of how Black women know how to handle business. Her career path has been a winding road with various destinations, including O, The Oprah Magazine, where she worked as a freelance fashion assistant, and The Cut, where she worked as the fashion market editor (and turned the industry on its head with her exposé about the experiences of Black professionals in the fashion world). She also made Forbes's 30 Under 30 list of 2020 media notables and was profiled in Fashionista.com and The New York Times.
Where to follow: @lpeopleswagner
As a certified cannabis educator, DeJanae Evins is working to destigmatize marijuana use and promote a healthy lifestyle. She's the cofounder of cannabis tour company High Tide Tours and the pioneer behind Green Goddess Glow, a platform that educates people on cannabis and the industry through blog posts, online courses, and YouTube videos.
Where to follow: @dejanaetanye
Taylour Paige is an actor, known for her role as Ahsha Hayes on VH1's Hit the Floor and her part in 2018's White Boy Rick. This year, she stars in the Twitter-inspired film Zola, portraying the title character — a stripper who sets out on an unpredictable road trip to Florida.
Where to follow: @taylour
Kia Damon is the culinary director of Cherry Bombe, a publication dedicated to sharing the stories of women in the food business. In this role, she cooks for clients, helps conceptualize content, and analyzes ways to expand CB's reach. Formerly the head chef of New York City's Lalito, the 25-year-old Floridian is using her appetite for representation to break down barriers as a queer Black woman in the industry.
Where to follow: @kiacooks
Fatima Jamal is a proud Black trans woman whose creative expression spans from writing to producing artwork to acting. She uses the sobriquet "fatfemme" to embrace her intersectional identity and surveys themes of race, gender, and sexuality through her works. She has appeared on Ryan Murphy's Pose and recently walked the runway to showcase the Fall 2020 collection for independent fashion brand Random Identities, helmed by designer Stefano Pilati.
Where to follow: @fatfemme
Before proceeding, take seven minutes to watch comedian Ayo Edebiri on Comedy Central's series Stand-Up. We'll wait . . . back? Good, because we need to talk about how hilarious she is. The 24-year-old Boston-born, Brooklyn-based comic is definitely carving out space for herself in the world of light entertainment. Not only has she written for The New Yorker, BET's The Rundown, and NBC's Sunnyside, but she's also acted in a handful of shorts and miniseries, including 2014's Defectives and 2017's It Was Sometimes Like This. This year, she's set to appear in the romantic comedy Sh*thouse. Additionally, Ayo cohosts her podcast, Iconography, with Olivia Craighead and performs with her sketch group, Lo-Fi NYC.
Where to follow: @ayoedebiri
Freelance stylist and costume designer Shiona Turini is a powerhouse in the fashion scene. Her breadth of experience ranges from working as a contributing editor for The Cut to having a hand in iconic visuals, such as Beyoncé's "Formation" and Solange Knowles's "Cranes in the Sky." She's also served as a costumer for HBO's Insecure and FX's Y. On top of that (yes, there's more), Shiona is an expert at social media marketing and content creation, lending her prowess to notable brands, including Calvin Klein, Kate Spade New York, and Tiffany & Co.
Where to follow: @shionat
A genius behind and in front of the camera, Karena Evans is an actor, director, and filmmaker from Toronto. She's the mastermind behind Drake's star-studded music video for "Nice For What" — among other videos from the rapper — as well as SZA's "Garden." In 2018, she became the first woman to win the Prism Prize's Lipsett Award for her innovative projects. That same year, her work on Drake's "God's Plan" video gave her the merits of best director at the Much Music Video Awards and video of the year at the BET Awards. She was honored again at the 2019 BET Awards, earning the title of video director of the year.
Recently, she worked with Coldplay on the optics for their song "Everyday Life." Visiting four countries and taking seven days to shoot, Karena captured a stunning delineation of a world filled with rich cultures and communities. Additionally, she directed an episode of Starz's show P-Valley, which is set to premiere this Summer.
Where to follow: @karenaevans
As the wordsmith behind book-turned-movie The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas explores the nuances of the Black experience through her works. Her recent novel, On the Come Up, followed in the footsteps of The Hate U Give by earning the No. 1 spot on The New York Times' bestseller list. To help others write their stories, Angie created the Angie Thomas Writing Scholarship to award one creative-writing major at her alma mater Belhaven University with a full-ride endowment.
Where to follow: @angiethomas
Violinist Ezinma, aka Classical Bae, provides sweet symphonies through her four-stringed instrument. In 2016, a friend from Juilliard connected her with late rapper Mac Miller, allowing her to provide some chords for his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine. However, her popularity skyrocketed in 2017 after sharing a cover of Future's "Mask Off." The following year, the one and only Beyoncé invited Ezinma to join her on stage at Coachella.
The classically trained musician often plays violin renditions of hip-hop hits, such as Cardi B's "Money" and Da Baby's "Suge." But she also performs various other genres, as evidenced by her renderings of H.E.R.'s "Hard Place," Lewis Capaldi's "Someone You Loved," and Mozart's Symphony No. 40.
Where to follow: @iamezinma
Sherri McMullen is the founder and CEO of McMullen, a luxury women's boutique with locations in Oakland and Palo Alto, CA. A former Neiman Marcus buyer, the Nigerian-born beauty has been heralded as a fashion innovator, and her namesake store was named one of the top boutiques in the country by WWD. McMullen operates with a commitment to supporting African and African-American designers, and Sherri focuses her time on supporting organizations in the Oakland community that help women, children, and the arts.
Where to follow: @sherri.mcmullen
As if being an account executive at Microsoft isn't dope enough, Safiya Jihan is also the creator and designer of an eponymous fashion brand. Her business is geared toward selling chic staple pieces for "#Bossbabes" — a phrase Safiya also uses to spotlight fellow creatives and influencers on her company's Instagram account. Whether she's formulating sales strategies for a large corporation or recommending a sleek jumpsuit to add to your wardrobe, Safiya is busy securing the bag and inspiring others to do the same.
Where to follow: @safiyajihan
Marley Dias is the 15-year-old founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks — an initiative that involves collecting and donating novels that feature Black leads. The novel enthusiast first started the campaign in 2015 to promote diversity and representation in books, as well as readership. She also created her own zine for Elle magazine and penned a novel titled Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!, which includes a forward from filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
Her accomplishments, which landed her a spot on Forbes's 30 Under 30 list in 2018, continue to grow as she works to promote social equality through speaking gigs and philanthropic trips to countries such as Haiti and Jamaica where she supports the health and education of young girls.
Where to follow: @iammarleydias
You might recognize this 14-year-old New York native as the younger version of Tracee Ellis Ross's character Rainbow "Bow" Johnson on ABC's Mixed-ish. She's also had appearances on CBS's God Friended Me and in 2019's Before You Know It. But we have a feeling this is only the beginning of Arica Himmel's success.
Where to follow: @arica.himmel
Let's raise a glass to Brenae Royal, the manager of Monte Rosso Vineyard in California's Sonoma County. As the vineyard manager, she uses her knowledge of agriculture to help harvest and produce the company's longstanding quality wine products, including Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Where to follow: @_cabrenae
Championing her love of fashion and music, Sophia Hyacinthe is a stylist — who's worked under celebrity costume designer June Ambrose — and a DJ, who brings her eclectic '90s- and Haitian-inspired flair to New York City's nightlife. She's used her musical skills to perform at LGBTQ+ parties and events at various venues, notably the Museum of Sex. Recently, she partnered with NYC's Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art to curate a "futuristic queer playlist" for a gala at the artistic LGBTQ+ repository.
Where to follow: @sodagabor
The future of fashion is looking more inclusive, thanks to Pierre Davis. In February 2019, the LA-based visionary became the first transgender designer to show at a collection at New York Fashion Week. Her brand, No Sesso, is a gender-fluid dreamland that threads together hopes for more representation in the industry.
Where to follow: @pierrehommes
If there's anyone out there making money moves, it's this stock trader. In 2017, Lauren Simmons, who was 22 at the time, became the youngest and only full-time woman trader at the New York Stock Exchange and the second Black person to hold such a position in the NYSE's history. Her monumental accomplishment has also inspired an upcoming film about her journey, which will star Dope's Kiersey Clemons.
Lauren has shared her expertise at various events where she's been featured as a keynote speaker. Last year, she spoke with aspiring professionals at the Aspen Ideas Festival and at a gathering hosted by the Always Giving Back Foundation. She also earned the Rising Star honor at the Women of Wall Street award ceremony and starred in an episode of Hulu's three-part series Around the Way, which explores Black experiences and subcultures in major cities.
Where to follow: @lasimmons
Morgan Harper Nichols
This Los Angeles-based artist, writer, and musician channels her faith to spread positivity. Morgan Harper Nichols's Instagram account is splashed with so many inspirational quotes and words of encouragement, scrolling through her page is like taking a much-needed dose of confidence (vitamin C, if you will). On Jan. 21, she published her book All Along You Were Blooming, which features a soul-nourishing collection of poems that celebrate self and human connection.
Where to follow: @morganharpernichols
Need some help navigating your love live? We recommend doing a deep dive into Shan Boodram's repertoire of work. After stepping onto the scene as a host of MTV's Guide to Sex, the certified sex educator, dating coach, and relationship expert has used her platform to share her knowledge of those spheres. Her 2019 novel, The Game of Desire: 5 Surprising Secrets to Dating With Dominance and Getting What You Want, specifically equips and empowers single women who are learning to date in the digital era. Moreover, Shan is a member of the American Sexual Health Association, as well as an ambassador for AIDS Healthcare Foundation and WomensHealth.gov.
Where to follow: @shanboody
Adama Ndiaye is a fashionista through and through. She's the designer of label Adama Paris; the creator of the style-focused Instagram account @FashionAfricaChannel, which highlights the works of African creatives; and the founder of Black Fashion Xperience, an event that celebrates designers who are driving fashion forward through the expression of their cultures.
Where to follow: @adamaparis
Joy Harper embodies Black excellence while working in Google's finance systems, integration, and transformation departments, organizing the financial data of holding company Alphabet. Her reach extends beyond her office as she is a member of the ACLU's Northern California Finance and Investment Committee, as well as an advisory board member of Citizen Schools, an organization that educates young people on how to thrive as adults in the modern economy. But hold the applause, because there's more. Joy is also the cofounder of The Recharge Group — a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advances Black wealth and philanthropy in Silicon Valley — and MHW, an association that aims to empower novice tech professionals in Silicon Valley.
Where to follow: @harperjl
Krista Scruggs is a successful Vermont-based farmer and winemaker for ZAFA Wines. Her craft involves fermenting grapes and apples without additives, herbicides, or synthetic pesticides. As her website says, it's "just f*cking fermented juice from responsibly farmed living fruit." The California native is also the cofounder of Co Cellars bar and winery.
Krista is proud to be a queer woman of color in an industry lacking in such representation. That being said, she prefers people focus on the quality of her work, which isn't hard to do — she's one of the best in the business.
Where to follow: @kristakscruggs
Ilana Yacine Harris-Babou
Ilana Yacine Harris-Babou is a sculptor, videographer, and installation artist who examines the convictions and pitfalls of the American Dream. She's produced a variety of projects, including her 2019 exhibit Clean Lines, which depicted the contradictions between elegant luxury home-goods marketing and exclusionary 20th-century US zoning laws that affect certain areas to this day. She's also been featured in The New Yorker, Vice, and Art in America. In January, Ilana received the Jorge M. Pérez Award from the National YoungArts Foundation for her ruminative contributions to the art world.
Where to follow: @ilanahbhb