35 Under 35 Young, Black & Amazing

35 Under 35 Young, Black & Amazing
ESSENCE.COM Jul, 13, 2012

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Willow may be the daughter of superstars Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, but she's surely not living in her their shadows. Her first single, "Whip My Hair," peaked at #11 on the charts when it was released in 2010. Fast forward two years and she's still making big moves. For her latest single, "I Am Me," the 11-year-old shows a personal side, singing "Your validation is just not that important to me/I'm me."

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Quvenzhane Wallis is the film world's little darling thanks to her awe-inspiring performance in the indie film Beasts of the Southern Wild. Wallis auditioned for the leading role of Hushpuppy at the tender age of 5, beating out 4,000 other local kids, and instantly stealing the show. Her performance in Beasts is already getting lots of Oscar buzz.

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Venus and Serena Williams continue to stun the world with their fast serves and strong returns. The faces of tennis for over a decade, the Williams sisters clearly have no plans on stopping anytime soon. Most recently, they won their fifth Wimbledon doubles title and Serena won her fifth Wimbledon title.

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Venus and Serena Williams continue to stun the world with their fast serves and strong returns. The faces of tennis for over a decade, the Williams sisters clearly have no plans on stopping anytime soon. Most recently, they won their fifth Wimbledon doubles title and Serena won her fifth Wimbledon title.

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Jennifer Hudson is not only a talented singer and actress, she’s also an example of strength. After losing her mother, brother and nephew in a senseless murder in 2008, the Chicago native found the courage to continue making music and pursuing her dreams. Most recently, she’s excelled in her personal weight-loss journey, inspiring millions of women to take their health into their hands.

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Olympics hopeful Lolo Jones has triumphed in her professional while overcoming homelessness and poverty. She won the 60-meter hurdles in the 2007 USA Indoor Nationals and the IAAF World Indoor Championships in 2008. Equally impressive is Jones’ vow to remain celibate until she’s married.

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Being personally hired by President Obama to lead campaign operations doesn’t happen to many people — unless you’re 31-year-old Stefanie Brown. The director of the NAACP Youth and College Division now works as the National African American Vote director. She’s in charge of creating strategies to engage black voters.

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Puerto Rico-born model Joan Smalls is poised to be the next great supermodel. At 24, the soft-spoken 5’10 stunner is a Victoria’s Secret angel and the face of Estee Lauder. Smalls decided to devote her time to modeling after she graduating Magna Cum Laude from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico. She is a beauty with brains.

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Sorority sisters Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks will not let their hair stop them from exercising. As the founders of Black Girls Run, a website that offers advice and resources for sisters looking to be more active, Carey and Hicks refuse to settle on a stereotype. “Black girls do run!”, they proclaim. Black Girls Run has become a national movement, resulting in running groups in more than 70 cities.

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Dee Rees is one of the most promising filmmakers to hit the indie film scene. Mentored by Spike Lee, Rees has proven that she is a force to be reckoned with. Her first film Pariah earned stellar reviews and a Breakthrough Director award for Rees at the 21st annual Gotham Independent Film Awards and the Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival.

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She may be the daughter of former NFL player Mike Jones, but Coco Jones is shining her own light. After winning a Radio Disney contest, the songstress had her first hit song with “Real You.” Now two years later, the 14-year old has a starring role in the Disney Channel movie, Let It Shine, and recently headlined the ESSENCE Music Festival’s “New and Next” concert.

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Ballerina Misty Copeland made history in 2007 when she became the American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American female soloist in two decades. At 29, the California native is working to expose new audiences to ballet — she recently toured with Prince. She’s also encouraging young girls of all ages, and sizes, to dance. Her dance wear line, M by Misty, goes up to size 16.

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A rocky upbringing in Oakland, California never stopped Keyshia Cole from making a success of her life. Since her 2005 debut Cole has enjoyed a platinum recording career. In 2010, she married hubby Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, and gave birth to a son named Daniel, Jr. These days her new music reflects a happier place. This fall, she will have a new BET reality show called Family First.

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Lauren Von Der Pool was one of the first names to come to mind when it came to finding a chef for First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. The founder and CEO of Von Der Pool Gourmet, Von Der Pool specializes in vegan and raw food cuisine and dedicates her work to educating people about the importance of healthy diet. Her celebrity clients include Common and the Williams sisters.

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As the youngest player named in the Women’s Tennis Association Tour top 100, Sloane Stephens represents the next generation of Black women in tennis. In 2010, she won three of the four Junior Grand Slam Doubles titles, including the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Even with all her success, she is still a humble teenage girl who cites Venus and Serena Williams as heroes.

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Since the tender age of three, Raven Symoné has graced our homes with her witty characters on television and film. From her self-titled sitcom That’s So Raven, to her Wal-Mart clothing line, and Broadway run with Sister Act, Raven has done it all!

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We first met Monica in the early ‘90s as sassy Miss Thang, the title of her debut album. Since then, she’s gone on to produce seven albums, win a Grammy and sell over 20 million records. We’ve always been able to count on this Georgia peach to keep it real, whether it’s in her lyrics, her reality show or in an interview about her love life.

18 of 46 Michael Rowe

Demetria L. Lucas created the award-winning blog, A Belle In Brooklyn, founded a boutique life-coaching service and authored the book, A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. A former relationships editor at ESSENCE, Lucas has made her mark as one of the most sought-after relationships columnists in the country.

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Journalist Mara Schiavocampo has covered some of the biggest stories of the decade, including the Haitian earthquake and the 2008 Presidential election. The Emmy-award winner is involved in every aspect of production for her stories. Most recently, she won two awards at the 2012 National Association of Black Journalists for her stories “Haiti Rubble Survivor” and “Hudson River Survivor.”

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Born to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father, Zoe Saldana has established herself as an A-list actress, becoming one of the first Afro-Latina’s actresses to make it mainstream. With film credits like Avatar, Star Trek and Colombiana, at 34 she has already established herself as Hollywood royalty.

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At just 9-years-old, Kierra Sheard was belting out “The Will Of God” with vocals well beyond her years. These days the daughter of gospel icon Karen Sheard is a Grammy-winning singer, minister and founder of Bold! Right! Life!, an organization she founded to inspire and mentor youth around the country.

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At 17, Lia Neal has made history as the second African-American female swimmer to make the Olympics. The Brooklyn native secured her spot on the Olympics relay team after finishing fourth in the 100-meter freestyle swim. Neal’s rigorous training includes waking up at 5 a.m. every morning, practicing for two hours, going to school and then working out after class.

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Kerry Washington is known to push the envelope in roles on the big screen and in her personal life. She stars on ABC’s hit show Scandal, serves as honorary member of President Obama’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities and devotes her time to improving low performing schools. Washington proves that women can thrive in Hollywood and still give back to their community.

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Since her debut in the 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee, Keke Palmer has worked her way up to star in her own Nickelodean’s television show — True Jackson, VP — all while pursuing her music career. Palmer has soared in both the music and film worlds and has proven herself to be one of the fastest rising stars of her generation.

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Jordin Sparks made American Idol history when she won at 17-years-old. Her big screen debut will be a starring role opposite Whitney Houston in the film Sparkle, which hits theaters August 17. Jordin is always conquering new projects to further her career and she’s managed to keep a fairly good image while doing it. We can’t wait to watch Sparks sparkle in Sparkle!

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At only 16-years-old, Gabrielle Douglas is being called the next Dominique Dawes. The gymnastic phoneme is best known for her high-flying routines and big difficulty marks. In 2011, she earned a bronze Medal on uneven bars and a spot on the 2011-2012 Senior National Team. Gabby has secured a spot in the 2012 summer Olympics and we are sure she will have a memorable performance.

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The jazz world cheered when Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammy Awards, making her the first jazz artist to win the award. A bassist and vocalist, Spalding has risen from her humble beginnings in Portland, Oregon to becoming one of the most sought after jazz musicians. She still gives back to the music world by teaching at her alma mater, Berklee College of Music.

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R&B diva singer Elle Varner knew she made the right career choice when she was accepted into NYU’s Clive Davis Program of Recorded Music. The program positioned her for her big break as a “Music Matters” performer on the 2010 BET Awards. But Varner’s gifts don’t stop at singing and songwriting. She also plays the piano, flute and guitar. Her first singles, “Refill” and “Only Wanna Give It to You," have received good play on radio.

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Vanessa and Angela Simmons may come from a family of entertainment mavens, but they are not resting on their laurels. The Simmons sisters created their own sneaker line, Pastry Shoes, which earned over $15 million in the first year of its launch. The daughters of hip hop icon, Rev. Run value education as much as their star status. Vanessa graduated from St. John’s University in 2007 and Angela attended the Fashion Institute of Technology.

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After years of processing her hair, Nikki Walton decided to embrace her natural curls. In 2008, she decided to take that experience and develop a platform where women could share their natural hair experiences. Her blog, Curlynikki.com, educates and serves as an online hair therapy session. It currently receives more than 3,000,000 views a month and Nikki has expanded her brand to include natural hair forums across the country.

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Eclectic, bold and fearless are terms that have been used to describe Chrisette Michelle. This Grammy award-winning artist first hit the scene with her debut album I Am. Her powerful presence demands audiences to never forget her style and expressive voice. She plays homage to the greats, saying that Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu all inspire her sound. Chrisette’s vocal talents are a pairing of soul and jazz; she doesn’t follow the flavor of the day.

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It takes a certain type of entertainer to be as successful in the acting and music industries as Brandy Norwood has. We grew up watching her on Moesha, sang along to “I Wanna Be Down” and watched her win her first Grammy all before her 18th birthday. When you’ve had an almost 20-year career it’s early to loose track of reality. Brandy has handled her success with humility and grace.

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Tika Sumpter is one of Hollywood’s next promising stars. She’s known for characters on The Game and Gossip Girl, but her breakout role is anticipated to be Delores Williams in the soon-to-be released film Sparkle.

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Powerhouse vocals, epic dance moves and stunning red carpet looks have made Beyoncé Knowles one of the most beloved figures in entertainment. The R&B songstress has won 16 Grammy awards, starred in six feature films, and has managed to make it all look easy. Beyoncé understands the importance of family values. She’s business partners with her mother, best friends with her younger sister Solange, and when it comes to her marriage with rapper and CEO Jay-Z, she knows how to separate reality from the fame.

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In 2011 alone, basketball player Maya Moore managed to make the WNBA All-Star team, earn Rookie of the Year and win the WNBA championship. Not too bad for the fourth highest scoring leader at the University of Connecticut. Moore currently plays for the WNBA, the Euroleague and the Spanish league and will be representing the Team USA at the 2012 Olympics.

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Amber Riley is one of the breakout stars of Glee. Last season, she amazed audiences with a tribute to legendary Whitney Houston with a soulful rendition of “How Will I Know” and “I Will Always Love You.” As a plus-sized girl, Riley has also redefined the typical Hollywood it-girl, and is the true definition of loving your curves.

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Outside of her music, Alicia Keys brings her A-game to her philanthropic work as well. As the ambassador of Keep A Child Alive, Keys has traveled across the world to help children affected by HIV/AIDS. We can’t wait to hear what the 14-time Grammy winner has in store on her upcoming album, out fall 2012.

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Gabourey is best known for her role in the Academy Award-nominated film Precious. She’s since had starring roles movies like Tower Heist and The Big C, proving that women of all shapes and sizes make it in Hollywood.

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With a killer body, keen fashion sense and a dynamic vocal range, Kelly Rowland is at the top of her game. She’s won six Grammy awards during her time with Destiny’s Child and since she’s made her mark as a soloist artist with hits like “Motivation.” Kelly continues to branch out in other areas of entertainment, currently as a judge on a Australian reality show.

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Journalist Mara Schiavocampo has covered some of the biggest stories of the decade, including the Haitian earthquake and the 2008 Presidential election. The Emmy-award winner is involved in every aspect of production for her stories. Most recently, she won two awards at the 2012 National Association of Black Journalists for her stories “Haiti Rubble Survivor” and “Hudson River Survivor.”

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A self-made fashion and hair icon, Solange hasn’t allowed her big sister Beyoncé’s fame to keep her in the shadows. In 2009 she left the wig crypt behind by chopping off her weave and rocking her natural hair, thereby influencing a generation of women to do the same. At 26, the singer has thrived as a single mother, overcame stereotypes and made waves as an icon of style and living by your own rules.

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You can always count on Corinne Bailey Rae song to uplift your spirits and make you feel good about life. She proves that you don’t have to sing about falling in love or having sex to have a popular tune. Her hit “Like A Star,” from her self-titled debut album, made the Billboard Top 20 US chart, making her the first British artist in decades to do so. Her career continues to soar, and even after her husbands tragic death in 2007, she’s presses forward and exudes grace along the way.

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Tia Norfleet is breaking barriers as the only African-American woman in NASCAR. It takes a fearless attitude to dream big and excel in a field that’s never been conquered by Black women. “When I dream something, I go for it! I give it 100%,” she says. “Being innovative means being a leader and not a follower.”

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As the creator and star of the viral sensation The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae has proven that you don’t always need a major television network to reach a massive audience. Awkward Black Girl has been viewed nearly a million times and made Issa a Youtube star, and soon enough, a TV star.

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Condola Rashad will be starring in the Lifetime version of Steel Magnolias, alongside her legendary mother, actress Phylicia Rashad. However Condola is stepping out of her mother’s shadow and making a name for herself. The rising star celebrated her 25 birthday on the Broadway stage of the play Sticky Fly, where the New York Times called her performance the"the discovery of the evening."

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Cat walk queen Chanel Iman is one of the youngest and most successful African-American High fashion models of our day. She signed with Ford Modeling agency at 13 and just 3 years later she graced the cover of Vogue magazine. She made the top ten list for the world’s next top models. Hailing from humble beginnings, Chanel never forgets to give back and count her blessings. Before she hits the runway to strunt her famous walk, “I pray and thank God for all of my blessings,” she says.

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