The Next Generation of Black Influencers

The Next Generation of Black Influencers
ESSENCE.COM Feb, 27, 2012

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Meryl Streep shouted her out at the Golden Globes as an actress to watch, and she currently graces the pages of both ESSENCE and Vanity Fair magazines. All this for her breakout performance in the indie film Pariah, in which she plays a Black teen lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality.

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Bass player and jazz singer Esperanza Spalding, 27, is being heralded as the vocalist that could drive a younger audience back to jazz. She won the coveted Best New Artist award at the 2011 Grammy Awards and most recently dazzled audiences with her stirring performance of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” at the 2012 Academy Awards. And did we mention Prince is her mentor? Enough said.

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At just 24 years old, Svante Myrick is already climbing the political ladder as mayor of Ithaca, New York. He’s also garnering comparisons to President Barack Obama, thanks to their similar backgrounds — Myrick is biracial and was raised by his single White mother and grandparents.

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Though she’s already made her mark as a pop singer, Jordin Sparks is adding Hollywood up-and-comer to her list of accomplishments in 2012. The singer is making her acting debut in the highly anticipated remake of ’70s classic Sparkle, opposite Whitney Houston.

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Behind the scenes for over a decade, director Ava DuVernay is finally getting her moment thanks to becoming the first Black woman to ever win the Best Director award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her film Middle of Nowhere, about a woman who struggles to maintain her identity while her husband serves an eight-year prison sentence.

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At just 30 years old, Internet entrepreneur Angela Benton is already making her mark in the tech industry as the brains behind three web-based startups: Cued, BlackWeb 2.0 and NewMe Accelarator, an “incubator” for minority-owned tech startups.

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Singer-songwriter and ESSENCE Music Festival performer Luke James has the looks and vocal chops to become the next big thing in R&B. He’s already penned hits for the likes of Chris Brown, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. Let’s hope he parlays his magic onto his debut EP, #Luke.

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Never mind that their parents Will and Jada are Hollywood royalty: Willow and Jaden Smith are blazing their own trails in showbiz. Willow is set to release her debut album this year to much fanfare, while Jaden is already working on his fourth major motion picture, After Earth, co-starring his dad.

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More than just a sex symbol, former public school history teacher and Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams is concerned with using media for social good. He recently signed on to executive-produce a traveling multimedia exhibition called Question Bridge: Black Males documenting the life experiences of 150 Black men from 12 cities.

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At just 30, playwright Katori Hall made her Broadway debut with The Mountaintop, a fictional account of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s final night in Memphis. The play stars Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. “It’s really been a life-changing experience to see wonderful actors do your work,” Hall recently told

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There’s lots of buzz around British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo, who most recently starred as Joe “Lightning” Little in Red Tails. Next up for Oyelowo is The Paperboy opposite Nicole Kidman, and One Shot, co-starring Tom Cruise.

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Newcomer Dee Rees’ directorial debut Pariah was funded through donations from friends for less than $500,000. The film earned stellar reviews and a Breakthrough Director award for Rees at the 21st annual Gotham Independent Film Awards. Pariah is also nominated for two 2012 Independent Spirit Awards.

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Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs are the newest designers who’s line of sexy figure-hugging dresses and bold separates have quickly become celebrity favorites. Famous fans include Kerry Washington, Rihanna and Kelly Rowland.

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Harlem-bred rapper Azealia Banks is one of the most talked-about new artists of the year. Her eclectic style and gutsy lyrics have earned her obvious comparisons to Nicki Minaj. “I’m trying to be innovative, I want to be like Missy Elliott was, respected and accepted for doing her own thing,” she told The Hundreds magazine.

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Harvard graduate Baratune Thurston wears many hats, including comedian, political pundit and author. His most recent book, How to Be Black, is a New York Times bestseller. He is also founder of the black political blog