Black America's Finest

2009 Time 100
ESSENCE.COM May, 05, 2009

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Time magazine unveiled its 100 Most Influential People last week, and some of Black America’s best and brightest made the coveted list. Here’s a look at some of the picks.

A highlight of the Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World Gala was the special remarks delivered by the First Lady and honoree Mrs. Michelle Obama. Stunning in a floor-length Michael Kors gown, the First Lady commended those unsung heroes who tirelessly volunteer to help others while she announced the creation of the Social Innovation Fund as part of the new Serve America Act.

“[This fund will] help innovative nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs expand their successful approaches to tackling our most pressing national challenges.”

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On November 4, 2008, a night we’ll never forget, Barack Hussein Obama became the first Black man to be elected President of the United States of America. The 47-year-old Ivy League-educated community organizer from Chicago brought Black people to the polls that autumn day in record-breaking numbers. But his influence is far beyond the reaches of this country. As England’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown points out, “All around the world people are marching with Barack Obama.”

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Honorees Oprah and John Legend get cozy as they enter the Time 100 gala in New York City’s Lincoln Center.

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Honoree Dambisa Moyo shines in her floor-sweeping gown and fur-trimmed shrug. Educated at both Harvard and Oxford Universities, Moyo, who was born in Zambia, is positively changing the way the world views Africa.

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“Green Guy” Van Jones looks stylish in his bow tie and tuxedo at the Time 100 gala. The White House special adviser is pleased with the President and First Lady’s stance on redefining green living.

“The Obamas are bringing together things that have been separated for too long. They are going through America and reweaving it for the positive,” Jones shared.

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Honorees M.I.A. and Oprah share some camera time at the star-studded TIME 100 gala. M.I.A. expressed her hopes for the First Family.

“I hope the [President’s] kids have me on their iPod and Michelle works out to my music,” the new mother confessed.

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An advocate of quality schooling for all classes and races, Roland Frye (right) has helped lead this country’s fight to improve public education.

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Comedian Sherri Shepherd prepares to join her fellow honorees and cohosts of “The View”, one of America’s most talked about and beloved daytime shows.

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(L to R) Oprah Winfrey, managing editor of Time magazine Richard Stengel, Gayle King, Chairman and CEO, Time Inc. Ann Moore and Sports Illustrated President Mark Ford catch up before the evening’s festivities begin to honor some of the world’s most influential minds.

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Grammy winner John Legend, who performed his hit “Everybody Knows” and a rendition of “Redemption Song” at the end of the night’s festivities, looks quite handsome in a navy Burberry tuxedo. Legend is also scheduled to perform at the 15th Annual Essence Music Festival in July.

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Honorees Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Suze Orman pose for a pic before the gala begins. Orman is a fan of the First Lady’s frugal approach to dressing and applauds her for embracing affordable retailers like H&M and J.Crew.

“If there was ever a time that the women of the United States needed to see that you don’t have to spend a fortune to be elegant, classic and fashionable, it is now. This move by the First Lady has probably done more to help women than anything else.”

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Honoree Tavis Smiley (right) strolls the Time 100 red carpet with his buddy Cornell West. Smiley shared that the love and humanity that Mrs. Obama shows for everyday people is what makes her so influential. He also joked that while he loves the Obamas, his favorite honoree this year was himself.

Keep clicking for a complete list of our favorite winners from Time’s 100 Most Influential list.

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To refer to Judith Jamison as merely a dancer is an insult. Of course she’s a terrific one but the 64-year-old who joined the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 1965 is also the leader of an important part of American culture. As the artistic director of AADT for the last two decades, she has taken the vision of her mentor Ailey to new heights.

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You may not have heard of Roland Fryer, and that’s okay with him. He’s too busy inspiring young people in America’s most troubled classrooms to care. The 31-year-old is the youngest tenured African-American professor in Harvard University’s history. Growing up in the gritty streets of Daytona Beach, Florida, Fryer knows all about beating the odds, as he strives to foster change in our students with a message of hope.

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Cutting government aid to Africa probably sounds jarring to some, but not to Dambisa Moyo. In fact, Moya, 40, who was born in Zambia, writes harshly of governmental assistance in her book, “Dead Aid.” The Harvard- and Oxford-educated Moya argues that the development industry stifles industrial and economic growth and creates a destructive aid dependency in Africa. Her argument has fueled a conversation, and that’s worth something.

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“Green collar” is a phrase that Van Jones helped to coin long before the current eco-friendly phenomenon. The 40-year-old pioneer who was elected as special adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality earlier this year is also the founder of Green for All. Thanks to Jones, it looks like green really is the new black.

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What’s left to say about Oprah? Plenty, actually. She’s the only person to make the Time 100 list every year since it began. This month the 55-year-old media titan will broadcast her 4,270th hour of television. Her magazine continues to fly off the shelves. And her cable channel is set to launch in 2010.

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Rwanda President Paul Kagame is on a mission. While the entire world watched the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide and did nothing, Kagame was fearless plotting and scheming for the betterment of his country. He is now heralded as being the person responsible for ending the senseless slaughter. Since being elected president in 2000, the 51-year-old former solider has skillfully become the face of emerging African leadership.

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At the tender age of 12, most little girls are playing with dolls or jumping rope. However, Hadizatou Mani was being sold into slavery in her home country of Niger for $500. Although Niger outlawed the practice in 2003, child slavery still occurs—primarily woman and children—today. Now, in her mid-twenties, Mani took her country to a West African court for failing to enforce its own laws. She won her case in 2008 and countless 12 year-old girls worldwide won too.

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When poet Maya Angelou penned Phenomenal Woman she must have had Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in mind. Robinson, who became Mrs. Obama when she wed the President in 1992, has been changing the game since she was a youngster on Chicago’s Southside attending the city’s first magnet high school. She earned degrees from Harvard and Princeton and later became a corporate attorney. Today she’s still changing the game as America’s first Black First Lady, and the game will never be the same.

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Loved by everyone from Oprah to the Quincy, John Legend has been winning over fans since he hit the scene in 2004. But he’s more than an entertainer. Last fall he took time out of his schedule to campaign for President Barack Obama, and this spring he announced his upcoming tour will be completely “green,” from the tour buses to the lighting.

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As cohosts of ABC’s highly rated talk show “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg, 53, and Sherri Shepherd, 42, offer a different perspective to every conversation. Whether chatting about Mary J. Blige or Mary Tyler Moore, these ladies never go unheard.

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As host of his self-titled late-night talk show, Tavis Smiley, 44, is comfortable chatting with everyone from musicians to dignitaries. And he’s also quite passionate about the Black experience, having this year celebrated the tenth anniversary of his annual State of the Black Union symposium.

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Maya Arulpragasam, 33, insists that she is not a musician. Yet the London-bred, Sri Lankan refugee—who didn’t speak a word of English before she was 10—has collaborated with some of music’s biggest names including Jay-Z and Timbaland. The modern day b-girl is also a fine artist and had the first public exhibition of her paintings in 2001. The self-professed underdog earned an Oscar nod for her song on the hit “Slumdog Millionaire.”

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It’s no secret Tiger Woods took golf out of the stuffy country clubs and placed it squarely in the center of American pop culture. His phenomenal success has made him an idol for many young athletes everywhere.