As creatives, it’s our responsibility to use our gifts to make the world come alive. As Black creatives, we have a double responsibility to use our gifts to impact the world AND keep our culture alive.
As the storytellers, the innovators, the curators, the teachers, and the designers, our work doesn’t just make a difference with what we’re doing now.
Our work will be felt for years to come, in ways that we can’t even predict.
To do this work we have to unapologetically stand in our purpose and what makes us different, even if the mainstream doesn’t understand, accept, or celebrate it. In fact, the professionals on this list don’t create for validation, they create for purpose. We hope their stories and their strengths inspire you to tell your own story and uncover your own power and alignment.
At minimum, digging deeper into the work of these intentional creatives remind us of our theme for 2019: make your own rules. `
[All artwork is by Jonathan Carradine a multi-disciplined artist and illustrator born and raised in Chicago, IL (West Humboldt Park).]
1. Dr. Eve L. Ewing: The one with the superhero powers
Dr. Eve L. Ewing, a Chicago sociologist of education, writer, and author of Marvel’s Ironheart series, is our favorite academic superhero, using her writer powers for good. One of her best feats (in our opinion)? The Ewing-Jones Scholarship, created by Eve and her husband Damon Jones, to support one young person who wishes to attend the Leadership Academy at the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute. Her latest book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side, is available now.
2. Justin Tinsley: The one with the pen
As the Sports and culture reporter w/ ESPN’s The Undefeated, Justin has written some of the most informed pieces we’ve ever read. Whether he’s writing about the feud between Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X (yes, it’s real) or recapping Atlanta, you can always count on Justin to connect the dots in a way that resonates with us and amplifies our cultural milestones.
3. Tabia Yapp: The one with the world changers
Having identified a gap in resources & representation for emerging talent of color, Tabia Yapp founded BEOTIS in 2015, a boutique agency that exclusively reps a roster of multidisciplinary artists of color – and these artists are changing the world. Her work is a reminder that while our art moves the culture forward, it’s the business we take care of that nurtures and sustains our creativity.
4. Bennett D. Bennett: The one with the tightrope
An award-winning writer with an impressive background in advertising, the most important thing to know about Bennett is that he’s not with the bullshit. A true advocate for diversity and inclusion in creative industries, he doesn’t hesitate to speak up and speak out for us.
5. Angela Davis: The one with the Sunday dinners
If you’ve clicked on the #kitchenistasundays hashtag, you’re already familiar with Angela Davis, also known as The Kitchenista. The self-taught home cook is ushering in a feel-good movement to cook at home and actually enjoy it while inspiring a sea of enduring and heartwarming user-generated content. As she continues to expand her business on her own terms, we can’t wait to see what she’s cooking up in the year ahead in Detroit.
6. Joe Freshgoods: The one with the Chicago magic
Brand Architect and Owner of Fat Tiger Workshop, Joe Freshgoods is a seasoned Chicago streetwear veteran who touts one of the industry’s most colorful portfolios. From nationwide brand activations with McDonald’s to pop-ups at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Joe’s creativity holds no bounds as he continues to push the envelope all while staying connected to the people.
7. Eunique Jones Gibson: The one with love for the kids
Having recently just launched the Because Of Them We Can (BOTWC) Box, the first subscription box for children and Black history, Eunique’s made it her mission to empower and invest in the greatest aspect of our culture – our children. Her brand brings back the importance of black kids, family, and community and the necessity of the old adage: It still takes a village.
8. Michael Tonge: The one with the artistic strategy
There are people who curate for the look of it and then there are people who curate from the heart. Michael Tonge flourishes among the latter. You may not know him directly but chances are you’ve come across his work in some way. This culture curator is dedicated to making sure that our art and our artists are nurtured and affirmed.
9. Jasmyn Lawson: The one uplifting strong black leads
After building a cultural foundation over at GIPHY, Jasmyn took her talents to Netflix and hasn’t looked back since. Working in the editorial department at Netflix, Jasmyn is responsible for creating content around Black film and culture for one of the biggest disruptors in the industry under the Strong Black Lead initiative.
10. Ronald Draper: The one with the (art) tools
Ronald Draper is quite possibly one of the hardest working artists on the planet. The Harlem born, NAACP and Urban League award-winning artist is all about making sure that he and the creatives around him are learning how to be in control of their own destiny. Limits don’t exist to him and whether he’s creating art for institutions or classrooms, he creates his own boundaries.
11. Glory Edim: The one with the book club
#WellReadBlackGirl is much bigger than a book club, although that’s where the movement started. Having evolved from monthly meetups into a festival and an anthology, Glory has crafted a community that makes space for Black women writers in the world.
12. Julian Mitchell: The one with the master plan
An award-winning content creator, Julian Mitchell covers entrepreneurs and startups disrupting industries for Forbes. Every article, every insight shared, is filled with gems that prompt you to get your shit together. Leading with the mantra, ‘Get Paid To Be Yourself’ Julian is a reminder that the best thing you can have as a creative, is an authentic presence, a plan, and faith in yourself.
13. Syreeta Gates: The one with the facts
In a time where “do it for the culture” has been commoditized, Syreeta Gates is actively working to preserve it as a hip-hop archivist. Twenty years from now, we can bet that she’ll be on top, creating behind the scenes to keep our history alive and in our hands.
14. Matthew Cherry: The one with the cinematic eye
NFL Alum and filmmaker Matthew Cherry plays no games when it comes to pursuing his passion and purpose and we love to see him cheering on others to do the same. As a production assistant, he worked on over 40 commercials and directed for over 20 music videos (see: “Say Yes” by Michelle Williams ft. Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé). Forever committed to telling our stories, Matthew’s book Hair Love is on the way and he is now an executive at Jordan Peele’s production Company Monkeypaw.
15. Sakita Holley: The one with the keys to success
One of the things we love about Sakita, is that she’s dedicated to not only pushing out her best but also helping to push out the best in others around her. As the owner of House Of Success PR, Sakita is an award-winning PR strategist and is also the host of the podcast, Hashtags and Stilettos. We can guarantee that she’s one of the smartest people to follow on social media.
16. Kam McCullough: The one with the D'USSÉ
At the top of 2018, Kam and his team announced their new deal in partnership with Roc Nation, thus expanding their boutique festival into Dussepalooza! Calling his own shots and curating experiences that make room for joy AND for other creatives to excel, we’re excited to watch Kam and his diverse team of content creators expand in other ways this upcoming year.
17. Michelle Dalzon: The one with the Black market
Michelle Dalzon is the Founder & Creative Director of theBOM aka The Black-Owned Market, a dynamic pop-up experience that connects Black-Owned brands to conscious consumers. Creating mindful and intentional experiences around supporting Black businesses, the brand is departing from the pop-up space to more permanence this year.
18. Drew of Enstrumental: The one for the ancestors
When we think about what’s at the intersection of culture, creativity, and community, no one embodies that more than Drew of Enstrumental. And whether it’s about how the Chicago police killed Fred Hampton or the fact that “Rap – Lies = Hip Hop”, director of “The Revenge of Emmett Till” film, and art collector, is guaranteed to always remind us that the ancestors are always watching.
19. Shavone: The one with the range
Shavone doesn’t just take on roles, she creates them – demanding access for herself and ultimately for her community. Whether it’s creating her own job title at multi-billion dollar companies like Twitter and Instagram, or paving a lane for fellow creative women who refuse to be fenced into one box, this self-proclaimed underdog (who is also a skilled poet, songwriter, and flutist) is sure to come out on top.
20. Charles Preston: The one with the truth
Charles A. Preston is an activist-organizer, published writer, artist, and spacemaker. He was also the Lead Organizer of the #SaveCSU campaign, a campaign to save the closing Chicago State University in the midst of the 2015 Illinois Budget Crisis. No matter the forum, you can always count on Charles to give us the real and keep us on the right side of history.
21. Evette Dionne: The one with the bitch
Evette Dionne, has been one of our favorites for a while and this culture writer, editor, and scholar carries Black feminism in her bones. As the EIC of Bitch Media, Evette leads the charge of the outlet, which is feminist’s response to pop culture and for that, we’re grateful. We’re patiently waiting for back to back moment – she has two books coming out within the next two years.
22 and 23. Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings: The ones with the nod
Brittany and Eric host The Nod, a podcast by Gimlet Media that celebrates the genius, the innovation, and the resilience that is so particular to being Black in the country and worldwide. From an oral history on Knuck If You Buck to Josephine Baker to chiltlins at Bergdorf’s, we love how this podcast displays the complexities of Black life in America.
24. Krystal Scott: The one with the well
Krystal is the Founder and CEO of The Well, a social club + global community for Black women at work. Black women are often underpaid, undervalued, and under represented at work, and The Well’s mission is to build a real community and create real opportunities for Black women to level up.
25. Joshua Kissi: The one with the camera
This Ghanaian creative director and photographer has a visual eye and aesthetic that’s undeniable but don’t think for a second that he doesn’t have the work ethic to match. As the co-Founder of Street Etiquette and TONL, his clients have included Apple, Adidas, GQ, Puma and more and he’s recently been named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People.
26. Jessica Rycheal: The one with the underdog
Jessica Rycheal is a Southern interdisciplinary visual story-teller and Art Director based in Seattle, Washington. Also the Creative Director for The Underdog Company, Jessica has carved space for herself in the pacific northwest with an entrepreneurial spirit, people-centric design sensibilities, and aptitude for providing innovative creative solutions that yield measurable business growth.
27. Lena Waithe: The one with the vision
It doesn’t matter what era we’re in, hard work, faith, and respecting those that came before you will never go out of style. Lena Waithe’s existence is proof. Fresh off the success of The Chi (season 2 is now here!!), this award-winning triple threat is also the head of Boomerang on BET while leading her mentoring program, designed for screenwriters and producers in the Los Angeles area.
28. Marshall Shorts: The one with the creative hustle
Marshall is the founder of Soulo Theory Creative, a brand and advertising agency, who is a creative thinker with a passion for design. He’s also the co-Founder of Ohio’s Creative Control Fest, a conference that prompts the mutual exchange of resources with creatives of color in the industries of art, music, design, activism, tech, scholarship, and entrepreneurship.
29. Yelitsa Jean-Charles: The one with the dolls
The one time her parents gave her a black doll, Yelista burst into tears because it wasn’t the “pretty one”. Since then, Yelitsa has made it her goal to make sure that no other children feel the same way. She is the Founder and CEO of Healthy Roots Dolls, the first line of natural hair dolls to enter the toy industry.
30 and 31. BLK MKT Vintage: The ones with the treasure
BLK MKT Vintage, curated by founders Jannah Handy and Kiyanna Stewart, is a collection comprised of black collectibles, cast-off’s and curiosities, representing the richness of black history and lived experience. We love nothing more than to see Black culture in the hands of Black people, and we love that they provide access for us to own a piece of our history.
32. Kenneth Whalum: The one with his own label
Memphis native Kenneth Whalum has been playing behind your favorite artists – D’Angelo, Maxwell, Jay-Z, and Erykah Badu to name a few – for years. But what makes this jazz artist so dope is that he owns his creativity through his record label, Broken Land records. In an era where everyone is focused on streams, it’s dope that he is focused on soul.
33. Gabrielle Amani: The one with the magazine
Gabrielle is the Editor-In-Chief of Music Entertainment Fashion Eater, an Online Magazine dedicated to discovering creatives while reporting the latest news in fashion, music, & more. Whether on social media or via their platform, Gabby drives the millennial-focused publication to care more about stories and content, than gossip and craziness.
34. Dometi Pongo: The one with the news
Dubbed a “modern-day renaissance man” by Newsy, Dometi Pongo is a Chicago-born journalist committed to elevating the narratives of marginalized people. An undeniable mix of a crazy work ethic, a genuine heart for helping our people, and a community-oriented mission, the new host of MTV News’ #NeedToKnow, is never not working.
35. Shelby Ivey Christie: The one with the fashion receipts
Even under the most oppressive circumstances, Black people have never let their creativity die and you can look no further to fashion as an example. But our imprint and impact on the industry should never be underestimated and Shelby Ivey Christie is here to make sure that’s never the case. The ‘Girl with the Bamboo Earring” podcast host and budding historian has made space for black fashion industry leaders discuss the societal + cultural implications of blackness in fashion. We can’t wait to see what creates during her time at NYU, where’s she’ll be pursuing a Masters of Arts in Costume Studies.
36. Jabari: The one with the R&B flag
Seeing a need for music events that were specifically geared towards R&B music, Jabari Johnson created R&B Only. Not his first foray into the industry – real ones remember his podcast, ‘Words With Friends’ – the creation of this event series has launched Jabari into a new level. In the first two years alone, the event grew over 2,000 percent in revenue and recently, he just turned down one million dollars. If that doesn’t embody the spirit of ‘make your own rules’, we don’t know what else does.
37. Gia Peppers: The one with the mic
There is a unique balance that comes with being a host and it requires equal parts compassion, integrity and the ability to lend oneself to the cause at hand. Multi-talented entertainment journalist and on-air talent Gia Peppers magically masters all three with a heart and spirit for storytelling and uplifting others. We can predict that she’ll be on our screens for years to come.