Welcome to Essence’s 2019 Woke 100. This year’s list includes women who exemplify the true meaning of being change agents and power players. Working in areas from social justice to politics to entertainment, they inspire not only us here but also others around the world. Although the list is numbered, which is not indicative of a ranking and stops at 94, there are 100 women being honored.
She might just be the greatest gymnast of all time. Biles is not only the most decorated American gymnast in history, but in 2019 she became the first in her sport to land a double-double dismount. Having spent three years in the foster-care system, she now uses her voice as an advocate for displaced children and has been vocal about ending the stigma attached to those living with learning disabilities.
Manuel knows how to make history. In 2016 she became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in swimming, and in 2019 she became the first woman to take home seven medals at the World Championships. Over the summer the stellar athlete offered free swimming lessons to third and fourth graders at LeBron James’s I Promise School.
The executive editor of Out magazine is making sure that Black trans women and Black queer women are front and center. Her direction brought about the March 2019 cover with Miss Major, Black Lives Matter cocreator Alicia Garza and Black feminist icon Barbara Smith.
As a national organizer for the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, Cooper helps communities of color to reclaim and reimagine their foodways. A 2018 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award recipient, Cooper has outlined five “race-explicit recommendations” for “creatingracially equitable food outcomes for all.”
Moore—the executive director of the Chicago chapter of NORML and the co-owner of Mission, a marijuana dispensary in Chicago’s South Side—is fighting to ensure that African-Americans in her city won’t be shut out of the cannabis industry.
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Whether it’s onstage or on TV, the legendary Dreamgirl delivers a commanding performance. But it’s her real-life roles as a fierce HIV/AIDS activist in the community and host of her podcast, Diva Defined, that truly deserve a standing ovation.
Jenkins wants to change the way people in her community eat. As the founder of Fresh Future Farm, a farm and grocery store, she helps to provide aordable, healthy food to the people of North Charleston, South Carolina’s ChicoraCherokee neighborhood.
Henderson wants more people to be happy, healthy and free. That’s why the Yale grad founded BLK+GRN, a marketplace that highlights all natural products from Black artisans and encourages its customers to “buy black and live green.”
When Allen was 14, her parents helped her open her first bank account. Now she is the mastermind behind CapWay, a banking app for the “unbanked” and “underbanked” that will provide bank accounts, debit cards and financial education.
Braswell fell in love with technology as a child and grew up to work for industry giants like Apple, Google and Bank of America. In 2014 she founded INTech Camp for Girls, a nonprofit that inspires middle school girls to innovate in the tech space.
Davis is out to prove that “hockey is for everyone.” In 2017 she became an executive vice-president with the National Hockey League, where she oversees social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. The corporate trailblazer previously served at JPMorgan Chase and Teneo.
Johnson is a communications adviser for FedEx’s Global Citizenship Group. An industry professional with a wealth of experience, she manages the shipping giant’s relationships with nonprofits specializing in entrepreneurship, especially in diverse communities
Jannah Handy & Kiyanna Stewart
When the adjunct professors created BLK MKT Vintage, their goal was simple: to be unapologetically Black with their collections. Selling everything from campaign buttons to vintage paperbacks, they’ve succeeded.
When Jones and her husband noticed a pattern of people appearing in court without representation, they created Court Buddy, a service that helps users find lawyers on demand and on a budget. In 2018 the duo raised $6 million in series A round funding to expand on their mission.
Keshia Knight Pulliam & Ariane Simone
Through their Fearless Fund, the two have earmarked $5 million to go toward start-ups. The goal is to add 20 companies to the duo’s portfolio of five and bridge the funding gap for Black women entrepreneurs.
As the cofounder of Brooklyn’s HealHaus, Shankle has established a welcoming community space for Black folks to improve their mental, emotional and physical health. The donation-based programs provide a rich resource for all who want to get their ohm on.
After 24 years of clawing her way to the top, the star of the hit series Claws was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us.
The model is passionate about championing the beauty of Black people. In 2017 Davis gave a TEDx Talk titled Black Girl Magic in the Fashion Industry, and she recently founded Daughter, a nonprofit to foster our connections to Mother Africa.
The former supermodel turned agent opened doors for generations of Black men and women. After Gucci came under fire for using blackface in one of its designs last year, the brand tapped Hardison to consult on its new diversity initiative.
Daniel is the founder and CEO of Harlem’s Fashion Row, a platform that has showcased the talents of emerging designers of color. This year the organization partnered with Nike to host a retreat for Black designers.
The principal goes above and beyond for the scholars at Homer Drive Elementary in Beaumont, Texas. To “bridge the gap between home and school,” she reads bedtime stories to students and their families over Facebook Live on “Tucked-In Tuesdays.”
Megan Ming Francis
The University of Washington professor studied the complex relationship between the NAACP and White donors during the Civil Rights Movement. She’s now exploring how such relationships impact Black Lives Matter.
Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead
Dubbed the #blackmommy activist, the associate professor at Loyola University Maryland has been a much-needed voice in addressing issues such as gender and institutional racism in Baltimore.
American Book Award winner Due is a leading voice in American Black speculative fiction. The author, professor and filmmaker teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA.
Maori Karmael Holmes
Holmes wants to help Black narratives reach wider audiences. As the founder and artistic director of Philadelphia’s BlackStar Film Festival, she does just that, bringing together writers, directors and artists to celebrate and discuss the beauty of Black cinema.
As the senior vice-president of programming talent development and inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studios, Horne is working to make prime time more diverse. In her role, she oversees NBC and Universal Television’s diversity initiatives, which include NBC’s Writers on the Verge Program and the Emerging Director Program.
There’s no denying that this Tobago-born Black trans actress, author and model is fierce. On FX’s hit series Pose, which tells the story of ballroom culture in the 1980’s and 1990’s, she plays Elektra Abundance
One of the best fantasy writers in the world is a Black woman. The three-time Hugo Award winner is the author of ten novels, and her latest How Long ’til Black Future Month?, which has been hailed as “marvelous and wide-ranging” by the Los Angeles Times.
When Candy died this season on Pose, it felt as if we had lost our best frenemy, but, thankfully, Ross is here to stay. The actress, producer and activist uses her influence to speak out about the violence her sisters face and will hold everyone accountable for not speaking up for Black trans women.
It’s rare that a TV performance is so moving that it inspires us to be better people. But that’s the light Rodriquez exudes as Blanca Evangelista on Pose. The Black trans actress is also an outspoken advocate for trans representation.
The actress caught the world’s attention for her role as the mother of one of the Exonerated Five in Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, earning her an Emmy nomination for Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie.
Bond wants to make sure every Black girl and woman know she rocks. In 2006 the former Wilhelmina model turned DJ founded Black Girls Rock!, an organization that recognizes their strength and accomplishments.
Clemons uses her Instagram profile to help reduce the stigma of mental illness in the Black community. A graduate of the Weill Cornell Medicine Medical College, the psychiatrist regularly hosts #BeWell conversations with celebs like June Ambrose and was selected as a presenter for a groundbreaking live therapy show on VH1.
When Patterson’s then 3-year-old daughter said she was a boy, the mother of five was shocked. Acceptance allowed her to gain a son, a new perspective and a best-selling book, The Bold World, that chronicles her family’s journey and advice to families of transgender children.
For the past three years the Long Beach, California, resident has been providing makeovers, haircuts and manicures to the homeless community of L.A.’s skid row—all while mothering six kids, holding down a full-time job and cooking for 400 to 600 people each week.
Duffy owns For Keeps bookstore in the Sweet Auburn Historic District of Atlanta. The artist and bibliophile opened the shop to serve as a place to sell Black books and highlight a history that is often overlooked.
Brittany Noble Jones
When the Jackson, Mississippi, news anchor was told her natural hair was “unprofessional” and was later fired, she refused to leave WJTV quietly. Instead she shared her story on social media and has joined the fight to end hair discrimination in the workplace.
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
This marine biologist and policy expert is working to protect the world’s coastal communities. She does so as the founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a conservation consulting firm, and founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank that creates climate policy.
When journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, Attiah refused to remain silent. As the Global Opinions editor for The Washington Post, she issued blistering critiques of both the Saudi and U.S. governments, providing a powerful profile in courage.
The award-winning New York Times reporter has written extensively about school segregation and racial injustice. Recently, she helmed the newspaper’s landmark 1619 Project, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in the U.S.
Adrienne Banfield-Norris, Jada Pinkett Smith & Willow Smith
This trio is breaking barriers on Red Table Talk, a weekly show on Facebook Watch that tackles controversial topics like sexual orientation and race, as well as marriage and the challenges of motherhood. By putting themselves and other celebs in the hot seat to discuss pressing issues, the three generations of women have managed to offer hope, humor and understanding to the multitude of people who appreciate their wisdom and unflinching candor.
There should be no question why the CBS This Morning lead anchor is worth every last penny of her new $11 million deal. Not only did she keep her calm in a contentious interview with R. Kelly but she continues to be the face of leadership, poise and dignity on morning network news.
Her miniseries, When They See Us, chronicled the Exonerated Five. It racked up 16 Emmy nominations. One prosecutor in the case resigned from her job and another lost a book deal because of their role in the men’s wrongful conviction.
This year our #ForeverFLOTUS proved that she can sell out stadiums and bookshelves while inspiring millions of men and women around the globe. In Becoming, her best-selling memoir, she wrote about what it’s like to defy expectations and simultaneously challenged others to do the same.
Glenda Baskin Glover
The president of Tennessee State University and international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority pledged $1.6 million on behalf of the group to 32 HBCUs and gifted $100,000 to Bennett College, which was in danger of losing its accreditation.
The human rights lawyer wants Black people to get their “40 acres and a mule.” As a commissioner of the National African-American Reparations Commission, she helped draft the Slavery Reparations bill that had a hearing on Junteenth.
Clarke has worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and headed the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Oce. Today she is president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the nation’s notable civil rights organizations.
At one point, the ex-poet and writer was prepared to throw in the towel and give in to her depression. Thankfully, she wrote a critically acclaimed essay collection instead. In The New York Times best-selling book I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying, Ikpi masterfully writes about her struggles with mental illness.
It’s no wonder that Jones’s American Marriage won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her heartbreaking novel explores a middle-class Black couple whose marriage is tested when the husband is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison.
It’s been 54 years since A Raisin in the Sun’s playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, died from pancreatic cancer, but Perry’s 2018 masterpiece, Looking for Lorraine, helped bring the beloved writer back to life. It won the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award. The Princeton African-American studies professor continues to inspire through her latest work.
In 2016 the typically humorous Spicer got serious and checked into a psych ward after experiencing postpartum depression. Since then she’s been raising money for a documentary that will remind other Black women suffering from mental illness that they are not alone.
Imani J. Walker
Walker is a Los Angeles–base psychiatrist who is adamant about erasing the stigma surrounding Black people discussing mental health and a cast member of Bravo’s Married to Medicine Los Angeles.
While the face of abortion rights activism is often White, Jones makes it clear that reproductive justice is our issue too. Enter her Afiya Center’s campaign, which unapologetically declared, “Black women take care of their families by taking care of themselves. Abortion is Self-Care.”
When Nyandoro realized impoverished women in her Jackson, Mississippi, community needed additional support, the CEO of Springboard to Opportunities created Magnolia Mother’s Trust to provide single Black mothers money for necessities, financial empowerment classes and help in building their credit.
Blay is a professor, producer and native ethnographer. She’s launched several viral campaigns, including #PrettyPeriod, to highlight the beauty of dark skin, and #ProfessionalBlack Girl, to celebrate “the everyday magic” of Black girls.
Cody helped to secure the freedom of 33 people sentenced to life in prison for drug offenses. This year the founder of The Decarceration Collective teamed up with Brittany K. Barnett to launch the #90DaysOfFreedom campaign and secured clemency for 17 people.
Epps is dedicated to keeping people out of jail. A former public defender, Epps founded the Colorado Freedom Fund. In January she served 15 days for intervening when police attempted to detain a man she believed to be mentally ill.
Frederique is New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that focuses on policy solutions to help reduce the harms associated with drug use and prohibition.
An innovator in the racial justice movement, Hatch is the managing director of campaigns at Color Of Change, an online organization that pushes for a “more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.”
Haywood has been advocating for low-income women in the Deep South for more than 25 years. The executive director of Women With a Vision does work that cuts across the intersections of reproductive justice, sex workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights and mass incarceration.
In 2018, when the Detroit environmental activist stood her ground to defend her 2-year-old daughter and unborn baby’s life from a woman who wouldn’t leave her home, she ended up in prison. Thankfully, Ra had her conviction reversed in August 2019 and can continue her work in the community.
After her father’s tragic death in 2014 and her sister’s subsequent death in 2017, Snipes-Garner took up the mantle in the fight for greater police accountability. The young activist’s eorts paid off in the 2019 firing of her father’s killer
Fatima Goss Graves
As the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, Graves champions gender equality in every facet of life. As a cofounder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, she helps pay legal fees for sexual harassment and workplace retaliation cases.
This Mother of the Movement has been fighting for racial justice since her son Tamir was killed by the Cleveland police in 2014. This year Rice created the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center for inner-city youth as a way to honor her son’s life.
Brittany K. Barnett
Barnett is the founder of the Buried Alive Project, which focuses on criminal justice reform. Barnett has successfully appealed to both the Obama and Trump administrations to win clemency for her clients.
Locked up six times for drug-related oenses, Burton decided to change. After she got sober, she founded A New Way of Life, a safe house and reentry program that provides housing and legal and advocacy services for formerly incarcerated women.
Brown is an award-winning community organizer who’s been in the social justice trenches. In 2017 she cofounded the Black Voters Matter Fund, which helped to flip Alabama’s senate seat to blue by mobilizing Black voters.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore
The prison abolitionist is the director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her book, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, looks at the state’s extensive prison system.
Stefanie Brown James
James juggles several key positions. She’s the cofounder of Vestige Strategies, LLC, a D.C.-based civic and community engagement firm, and the VP of training and community outreach for EMILY’s List. She also helps run the Collective PAC, an organization that hopes to raise $12 million to help Black candidates win elections in 2020.
As the former president of SEIU Local 2015, the largest union in California, Butler led the fight to end wage theft. Today she’s a partner at SCRB Strategies, a firm that manages communications challenges for companies, organizations and political campaigns.
Tiffany D. Cross
Cross, a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, is the cofounder and managing editor of The Beat DC, a digital platform that covers the intersection of politics, policy and people of color, providing much-needed perspective for the community.
The Arkansas state senator gave new meaning to “stand your ground.” In a committee hearing over removing a restriction to the controversial law that would make it easier to get away with using deadly force, the measure was defeated.
In April Lightfoot made history as the first Black woman and out LGBTQ candidate to be elected mayor of Chicago. Vowing to reduce police misconduct, decrease gun violence and raise the minimum wage, she is working hard to improve the Windy City.
Senator Holly Mitchell
It’s no secret that Black women are discriminated against because of how they wear their hair. But thanks to Mitchell and her CROWN Act, California has made it illegal for employers and schools to ban natural hairstyles like locs and braids. Now, if only the rest of America would follow suit.
Hooks seeks to make the South safer for queer people of color. As the codirector of S.O.N.G.—Southerners on New Ground—she continues to help build a multi-issue movement that centers on LGBTQ people, from all backgrounds, in an eort to foster a more fair and inclusive world.
In November 2018, Hayes became the first Black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. The former National Teacher of the Year focuses her time in Washington on education, health care and protecting the environment.
When President Trump tweeted that the Minnesota congresswoman and her “squad” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib) should go back where they came from, the Somali-born American citizen didn’t shy away from his dog whistles. She rose up to remind the world that she’s right where she belongs, on Capitol Hill
When the 30-yearold ousted a tenterm incumbent, it was clear that the Bronx native was the progressive change Washington sorely needed. This passionate congresswoman takes Republicans to task, as well as the centrist Democrats, all while fighting for green energy, universal Medicare and a free public college education.
The Massachusetts rep is known for delivering one of the biggest upset victories in the 2018 elections, but she’s now creating a name as a fierce advocate. During her short term in oce she’s rallied against ICE, spoken up for immigrants and elevated the conversation on aordable housing.
The Detroit native and proud Palestinian-American is not one to hold her tongue. The freshman congresswoman is the face of the resistance—she’s not afraid to call out White supremacy in Washington and supports the impeachment of Donald Trump.
If anyone owned 2019, it was definitely Lizzo. The “Truth Hurts” rapper not only nabbed her first number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, she also stole the hearts of America with her message of self-love, body positivity and Black joy. Plus, who isn’t impressed that she twerks while playing the flute?
A canceled BET show ushered in the comedy writer’s dream project—HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. Thede’s new baby made history with the first-ever all-Black female writing room. Even better? It’s pretty funny.
Whether they are lighting up the small screen (and our hearts) as Angel on FX’s hit ballroom drama Pose, serving up all the high-fashion lewks for Louis Vuitton, or using Twitter to remind the world that Black trans women matter, Moore is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
In January the activist and writer executive-produced Lifetime’s six-part series Surviving R. Kelly, which delved into the sexual misconduct allegations against the singer. A little over a month after it aired, Kelly was charged with criminal sexual abuse.
The attorney “represents the OJs and the NoJs.” A partner at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, LLP, she’s worked with celebs such as Ice Cube, Snoop Dog and Kanye West. She accompanied Kim Kardashian West to the White House to lobby for clemency for Alice Marie Johnson.
Rhonda Foxx and Keenan Austin
To address the lack of diversity on Capitol Hill and the issues faced by Black women who work in D.C., Foxx (former chief of sta for Rep. Alma Adams) and Reed (chief of staff for Rep. Donald McEachin) helped form the Black Women’s Congressional Alliance.
Ash-lee Woodard Henderson
The Appalachian is the first Black woman to be named executive director at the Highlander Research & Education Center, a social justice organization in Tennessee. When it fell victim to an arsonist, Henderson vowed to rebuild.
Ashlee Marie Preston
When the transgender activist and on-air personality is not fighting for Black trans women’s lives with her “Thrive Over 35” social media campaign to raise awareness about the violence faced by her community, she’s a national surrogate for Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Danielle N. Lee
The animal behavioral scientist is a staunch advocate for women and girls entering the world of STEM. She uses Twitter and her “Urban Scientist” series for the Scientific American to make her case for why a career in research is the way to go for underrepresented communities.
The former U.S. national team gymnast is now making a dierence in the physics lab at the University of Illinois. Through her work and presence, she helps to fill the pipeline of women and minorities who pursue physics.
Titi Shodiya & Zakiya Whatley
The hosts of Dope Labs podcast are making STEM accessible for “errbody.” By using folks like Cardi B and phrases like “cuffing season” to talk shop, the PhDs are redefining who a scientist can be.
Having worked at Facebook, StubHub and now All Turtles, the corporate attorney understands firsthand what it means to be a Black woman working in tech. This is why she’s a leading voice when it comes to advocating for greater diversity in Silicon Valley boardrooms.
Samantha Paige Davis
As the founder of Black Swan Academy, Davis aims to empower youth in underserved areas with political advocacy and community service.
Fletcher is a rocket scientist. The MIT grad is an awardwinning structural analysis engineer for the Boeing Company, helping to design an engine for NASA’s Space Launch System that will eventually power a vessel to Mars.