The Most Influential African-Americans of 2008

25mostinfluential2008
ESSENCE.COM Nov, 12, 2008

1 of 8 Getty Images

MUSICIAN, ACTIVIST

Known for the hip-pop of the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am, 33, got political this year. After hearing a Barack Obama speech in New Hampshire, he produced the video “Yes We Can,” setting excerpts to music. Starring such celebrities as John Legend, the video became a viral hit. Even Michelle Obama reportedly forwarded it to her husband’s supporters. The artist says, “[Getting involved in activism] makes me realize…every person on the planet who is pushing for change can see that it can happen.”

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

―PATRIK HENRY BASS

2 of 8 Courtesy of the Democratic National Committee

CEO, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

President-elect Barack Obama made history in grand style when he accepted his party’s nomination in August before 100,000 supporters at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, bringing to life the vision of Leah Daughtry, the Democratic National Convention’s chief executive officer and the party’s chief of staff. Daughtry has held top positions in the Department of Labor and has aided in the Clinton-Gore transition team. Church and state go hand in hand for the political shot caller, who spends Sunday mornings in the pulpit as pastor of The House of The Lord Church in the nation’s capital. “Our responsibility is to reach back and pull through," she told ESSENCE. “It’s how the Black community and women will survive.”

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

—CHARREAH JACKSON

3 of 8 Corbis

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, NBC NEWS

The first African-American to hold the position, which was vacated by Tim Russert due to his untimely death last June, Whitaker, 51, has executive oversight of “Meet the Press,” oversees the bureau management, and supervises the network’s election and political coverage. Whitaker, a veteran journalist who was the first Black editor of Newsweek, is senior vice-president at NBC News and also serves on the NBC News’ Diversity Council. “I care a lot about diversity, but even more about excellence,” he says. “The difference between me and some others is that I may be more likely to detect the combination of the two.

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

—CLAIRE R. McINTOSH

4 of 8 Getty Images

WNBA STAR

There’s no doubt that basketball fans enjoy a good slam dunk, and in 2008 Candace Parker gave them what they wanted—not once but twice. The 6-foot, 4-inch forward became only the second player to slam it in WNBA history (her teammate Lisa Leslie was the first). The 22-year-old Los Angeles Sparks rookie spent the year living up to the extraordinary expectations that had come with her arrival to the big leagues. Parker is becoming for the WNBA what Michael Jordan was for the NBA, a revitalizer of the game and a draw for thousands of fans. She has already nabbed the sort of multimillion dollar endorsement deals once reserved for NBA players, and if the Sparks win the WNBA championship, Parker will be the first woman to accomplish college, professional and Olympic wins in a year.

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

—KATHY-ANN JOSEPH

5 of 8 WireImage

LEAD FASHION DESIGNER, GAP

Black fashion designers have dazzled the runways before. But few have had the mass appeal of Patrick Robinson, Gap’s executive vice-president of design who’s working to reinvent the multibillion dollar brand. A rare Black face in the upper echelons of the fashion world with remarkable stints at Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein and Perry Ellis, the 42-year-old was charged this year with revitalizing the fashion of the once dominant purveyor of cheap and chic wares. Time will only tell if he can remake Gap into a must-have megabrand once again, but so far it looks like he has successfully reinfused an updated, breezy sophistication into the store’s All-American style.

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

—DEMETRIA LUCAS

6 of 8 Getty Images

MUSICIAN, ARTIST

When a series of hurricanes escalated Haiti’s ongoing hunger crisis this year, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, 36, vowed to help. Through his four-year-old nonprofit organization, Yéle Haiti, Jean teamed with the Pan American Development Foundation and the World Food Programme in May to form Together for Haiti, a program set to raise $48 million to create jobs and restore destroyed farmland. Jean has helped give food to more than 3,000 Haitian families and has raised more than $1.5 million. “My charity work comes from watching my mother and father,” says Jean, a Haitian native who left the country when he was 10. “They would do an offering for Haiti and were like, ‘Don’t forget this is where you’re from.’ ”

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

—CANDICE FREDERICK

7 of 8 Courtesy of James Rucker

INTERNET CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

Like the rest of us, James Rucker watched in horror as the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina unfolded three years ago. Frustrated by what seemed like the government’s lack of intervention and the powerlessness of the storm’s victims, Rucker, 39, used a small e-mail list and set up a basic Web site with the goal of strengthening Black America’s political voice. In the three years since its inception, Colorofchange.org—the site where Rucker serves as executive director—has been instrumental in sparking protests and petitions regarding incidents that affect Black people.

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

—AKKIDA McDOWELL

8 of 8 Corbis

PRESIDENT-ELECT

When Obama announced that he was running for president back in February 2007, some had their doubts. Folks were skeptical that this first-term Illinois senator, a Black man, could lead a successful campaign for the country’s highest office. Then in January, Obama won the Iowa caucus, a key battle on the path to the White House. By the time he clinched the Democratic nomination in August, African-Americans were inspired by the genuine possibility of seeing the first Black president.

What Obama accomplished this year wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did.

For the complete list, check out the December issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.

―CYNTHIA GORDY

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