BHM: The Black Influentials

Who’s Got Next?

Every Black History Month we pay respect to those who have already paved the way to make history. But hardly do we celebrate the young Black women and men who are adding to and changing that very same history. No longer constrained by the boundaries that confined those who came before us, Black culture is moving at the speed of light, and these influentials are part of the change. Whether in fashion, beauty, or entertainment, these young people are determining what is next, and shaping what our future Black history lessons will be. Take a look at 20 Black influencers of the next generation.

Terry Kennedy

Age: 25, The Shot Caller Professional skateboarder Terry Kennedy, not only wrapped the first season of his BET reality series “Being Terry Kennedy,” but he’s also designer of his own sneaker line, and now plans to venture into music.Kennedy shows Black youth there is room for everyone in the world, even in extreme sports.

KeKe Palmer

Age: 17, The Girl Next Door Palmer rose to fame with her lead role in the film “Akeelah and the Bee,” and since then currently stars on the Disney’s “True Jackson, VP.” She also sings, and plans to release her sophomore album later this year. Palmer’s success so far proves that innocent and age appropriate doesn’t have to mean boring.

Tristan Wilds

Age: 21, The Crossover Originally a cast member of HBO’s “The Wire,” Tristan Wilds went from an introspective street kid to everyone’s favorite boy next door on CW’s “90210.” Wilds is serious about his craft, and is an example of what can be achieved when Hollywood ceases to typecast Black actors.

Raven Symone

Age: 25, The Triple Threat Raven first came into our living rooms as precocious Olivia on “The Cosby Show.” As a teen, the singer, dancer, actor graduated to the wildly popular TV shows, “That’s So Raven” and “The Cheetah Girls,” and as an adult, she’s making a name for herself by sharpening her skills behind the camera and starring in films like “Road Trip.” Look out for Symone in the lead role of “The Great State of Georgia,” a sitcom on ABC.

Jurnee Smollet

Age: 24,The Thoughtful Thespian Smollet, who started as a 10 -year-old tyke in the 1997 film, “Eve Bayou,” grew up right in front of eyes. Her roles on the critically-acclaimed TV series “Friday Night Lights,” and “The Defenders,” has us waiting to see how big the win will be for Smollet.

Amber Riley

Age: 25, The Musical Protege Known as the diva on FOX’s hit series “Glee,” Amber Riley also graces our pages this month channeling the legendary Chaka Khan. With every award she has received for her outstanding work in both film and music, Riley continues to influence and challenge Hollywood’s theory of image over talent.

Willow and Jaden Smith

Age: 10 and 13, The Whiz Kids Willow Smith, 10, put more than a few of us in neck braces when her smash hit “Whip My Hair,” was released late last year. Her 13-year-old brother Jaden also had everyone’s attention after his movie “The Karate Kid” grosses some $358 million at the box office. Born into a family of talent, the Smith children show that age is never a limit to success and influence.

Natasha Eubanks

Age: 27, The Business Blogger If you’re a Black entertainment gossip junkie, chance are you’re already aware of who Natasha Eubanks is.In just few years, one key stroke at a time, her blog has become one of the most popular entertainment sites in the blogsphere. Entertaining us with her witty voice, and known for breaking the Black buzz first, Natasha influences our perception of favorite celebrities on a daily basis.

Nicki Minaj

Age: 25,The Word Chef In a matter of months Nicki Minaj went from underground artist to one of the most talked about artist of the year. The only female rapper currently enjoys success on the charts, Nicki Minaj carries the weight of women in hip hop on her curvaceous frame.Her influence on today’s youth is evident in music, fashion.

Janelle Monae

Age: 25, The Style Icon Janelle Monae is recognized for her eccentric futuristic pop sound, but it’s hard to ignore her eclectic style. Monae’s style is timeless, and her music that much more influential.

Gaius Charles

Age: 27, The Heart Throb As the stars of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” Charles is one of the more understated young Black actors in Hollywood. Featured in roles in box office hits, “Takers” and “Salt,” last year Charles says he has been influenced by the great Sidney Poitier. With the same great looks, ambition, charm, and swag-the influence is evident.

Misty Copeland

Age: 28, The Ballerina The first African-American soloist for the American Ballet, Copeland continually faces the pressures of being one of the few brown faces at the top of her game in dance.

Tessa Thompson

Age: 27, The Stage Stopper Most of the world became familiar with Tessa Thompson, former Veronica Mars cast member, when she played in Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of “For Colored Girls,” in 2010. The actress is slated in for two films set to release in 2012, and delivers memorable performances every time.

Joan Smalls

Age: 22, The Siren This Puerto Rican model is as beautiful as they come. She’s only 22 and making waves in the fashion world. She’s walked the runways for Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Dior and more, and recently became the second Black model to become the face of Estee Lauder. We’re going to be seeing this lovely face for a very long time.

Zora Howard

Age: 18, The Storyteller Not to many young women from Harlem, can say they are undergrads at Yale University, NYC’s first Youth Poet Laureate, and poetry SLAM winner, but Zora Howard can. Howard’s thought-provoking words, delivered with such conviction makes it easy to forget she’s still a teenager.

Evan Ross

Age: 23, The Unassuming Actor Diana Ross’ youngest son is making moves all on his own. In 2006 he starred in “ATL” alongside Big Boi and T.I. Since then he landed a role in “Pride” and a recurring role in “90210.” He’s also starring in the indie film, “Mooz-lum.” We can’t to see what the future holds for Evan.


Age: 25 The Tress Trendsetter Back when we knew Solange Knowles as Beyonce’s micro-braided kid sister, following behind her at MTV TRL appearances, we had no clue she’d become a bona fide hair trendsetter! In 2010 alone, the singer/actress/DJ rocked four different hairstyles, and she’s almost single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of the super-short natural.

Jay Pharaoh

Age: 23, The Ingenue Jay Pharaoh made news when it was announced last year he would be first Black person in seven years and the youngest member ever to join the cast of NBC comedic sketch series, “Saturday Night Live.”Pharaoh, a viral sensation who made a name for himself on YouTube doing impressions of well-known Black actors and comedians, including actor Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy has made a home on SNL and influences us with much need laughter.

LaQuan Smith

Age: 22, The Runway Ripper LeQuan Smith has a position in fashion that most people would covet. He has designed custom pieces for everyone from Gaga and Beyonce, and was given the opportunity to show the world his garments at at NYC’s Fashion Week last year. His fiercely relentless drive, proves hard work always pays off.

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