The 💯 Blackest People of 2015

There aren’t actually 100, and they aren’t actually all people, but this MLK Day, enjoy our list of people we loved in 2015 and expect to see more from in 2016.

There aren't actually 100, and they aren't actually all people, but this MLK Day, enjoy our list of people we loved in 2015 and expect to see more from in 2016.

CP time anyone? 2015 went by in a blur and there were tons of amazing things created by black folks. Of course, we’re already two weeks into 2016, but we really wanted to let things marinate. Yeah…that’s it. We also wanted to give our take on the year and look ahead to 2016. There aren’t actually 100 entries, and they aren’t actually all people, but this MLK Day, enjoy our list of people we loved in 2015 and expect to see more from in 2016. All original artwork by Ian Moore

  • Connector.

    Sports

    Our favorite sportspeople of 2015. Click here.

  • Connector.

    Music

    Our favorite musicians and music-related people of 2015. Click here.

  • Connector.

    Film, TV, Performance,& Visual Arts

    If it's on stage, for a camera, or before a live audience, we're paying attention. Our favorite performers. Click here.

  • Connector.

    Writers, Journalists, and Academics

    Our favorite people to read, listen to, and digest. Click here.

  • Connector.

    Social Media and Activism

    Social media has been the wellspring of much of activism recently. Check out our picks for some lighthearted and some very serious aspects of both. Click here.

SPORTS

Artwork by Ian Moore
Serena Williams
by fivefifths

I can’t do justice to Serena Williams, who sits Slam one behind Steffi Graf in Open era slams, in words but I’ll try. She’s 33. She’s probably the greatest global athlete since Michael Jordan, only she’s been relatively underlooked because of her otherness in the sport. She’s destroyed two generations of tennis players and is working on her third, and probably has years and years of dominant tennis left. She’s also a fun person, someone who learned to fight the fights against racism and sexism in her own way, while also keeping her spirit and being a role model for excellence for Black girls everywhere. Serena is my hero. I want my daughters to be like Serena. I want my sons to be like Serena.


Marshawn Lynch

by Frank Jackson

I’m a person who, regardless of the actual sports logic, believes Marshawn should’ve gotten the ball on that last play in the Super Bowl the Seahawks lost. To the goddamn Patriots. I said I was going to act like that game never happened, because I hate the Patriots and the whole situation was trash. Ugh. Anyway, Marshawn played one of those Adrian-Peterson-returns-from-knee-surgery or Ray-Lewis-after-he-beat-that-murder-rap, no-weapon-formed-against-me-shall-prosper type seasons. He was at an elite level. Which was dope, but not unheard of.

But then something truly amazing happened.

The post game interviews. The ones where he wasn’t at all there to answer any questions from the press. Y’all know why he was there (it was so he didn’t get fined, for the person who actually doesn’t know). And they couldn’t do anything about it. *takes a moment to cackle loudly at white frustration* Now it wasn’t his staunch opposition to being effectively displayed for show that was the most impressive aspect of this feat. It was his complete and utter lack of fucks given about how anyone felt about what he was doing. He had filled his obligation to be present and was finna chill with his skittles till time was up and dare you to act funny.

And we all got the gift of “you know why I’m here” as a way of completely dismissing someone and then proceeding to do whatever you want.


Steph Curryby fivefifths

Chef Curry. The Human Torch. The man having arguably the greatest individual season in NBA history on the possible best team season in NBA history. The greatest shooter ever. The man who will eclipse (his own) three-point records some time shortly after the All-Star break. The reigning MVP. The hands-on favorite for the next MVP. The family man who plays 32 minutes a night and goes home to make videos to Frozen with his kids. Wardell Stephen Curry III is living the dream, and it’s even more special because of how unlikely it seemed.

Make no mistake, Steph Curry was born on third base. Hell, he was probably born sliding into home. Dell Curry played for the Hornets, and as a young basketball player in Charlotte myself, the Currys were the gold standard at the head of our system. Steph lit college basketball on fire and was drafted accordingly, with only his injuries as the knock on his trajectory. But even considering all that, his trajectory changed somewhere from “useful NBA starter” to “is this guy the best ever?” in an incredibly short time frame. Shoot the J. Shoot it.


Aidy Ward & Raheem Sterling

by Trey Smith

Let’s start with Raheem.

For those not familiar with Raheem Sterling, he’s a 20 year old English international who broke into Liverpool Football Club’s first team a couple seasons ago and has since become one of the best young players in the world. Over the past few months he’s expressed that he would like to leave the club. He doesn’t see Liverpool as a place he can win trophies, or make as much money as he’d like to. He’s demanded £150k a week (*dancehall airhorn*) and want’s to play for whoever is willing to pay that salary as Luis current employers have made it clear they won’t. I’m a Liverpool fan. One of most depressing things ever is watching one of your players so openly express that they want to leave the club, but luck me, one of my favorite things as a human being is watching a young black guy refuse to budge on what he knows he’s worth. And a big influence behind Raheem’s decision making right now is his agent Aidy Ward.

A lot of people are upset with Ward’s tactics and have labeled him a “bad influence” on Sterling and his other clients. All of those people are forgetting that this is a business and they can go cry into Dixie Dean’s socks if they feel that strongly about it. Regardless of if this is about him looking out for the kid or being worried about money instead, it doesn’t matter. He knows what Raheem can earn and won’t let him get take any less than that. And that’s as good an example as anyone can set for others.


LeBron James
by Josie Helen

Fifteen or so years ago my uncle, who loves Ohio sports arguably more than anyone living or dead, called my dad after seeing 8th grade LeBron James play and said, “I just saw an 8th grader who is better than anyone playing in the Big 10 right now.”

Fast-forward to today. Now, I like Steph Curry as much as the next guy. But LeBron. LEBRON! He held more than his own in the 2015 finals where he played with, as Cleveland journalist Jim Ingraham put it, “[a] supporting cast that is actually the supporting cast of his supporting cast.” Even my fiancé, who is sadly the world’s biggest Kobe fan, says that LeBron is the more talented player.

Yeah, OK. He beat my Hawks in a painful and ugly and relentless way. Am I good with this? No, I’m not, but I’m also not surprised, since as everyone knows the spirit of the 1996 Olympics and ghosts of the confederacy have cursed Atlanta sports for the foreseeable future if not eternity. Anyway if you ask me, the best parts about LeBron are incidental to basketball. He is on the list because he is 1) the only man in his twenties that moves from Miami to goddamn Cleveland, and 2) even though he is LeBron James, he is still insecure about his hairline. Real.


Cam Newton

by fivefifths

Cam’Ron Dab Newton. MVP-candidate quarterback of the Carolina Panthers and just one game from the Super Bowl at the time of this writing, Newton has been a constantly-smiling do-it-all Superman for a team that likely would be in the gutter without him. And Newton has done it with style and a certain sense of Black Excellence. His celebrations have provoked white tears galore, and with each upset open letter he only gets better. He’s been undeniably good, and an undeniably black superstar at a position that is still less than open to his brand of expression. And he’s spread the dab to locker rooms across the country, including to the 79-year-old owner of the Panthers, Jerry Richardson. Rumble young man, rumble.

MUSIC

Art by Ian Moore
Future
by fivefifths

How many 2015 trends can we uncover that Future has either originated or contributed to? Future has been on a trajectory similar to Drake’s rapid ascent to ubiquity over the past few years. And he’s done it with a decidedly less family-friendly approach. Most of his shit is about being high on prescription narcotics, being depressed, or how many of your girlfriends he can steal in designer flip-flops, but it still influences everything. Who would have thought that the man who made Codeine Crazy would be at the top of the musical world? Who would have ever thought that he would be the lead song on the soundtrack to a Rocky film, even while keeping his subject matter and bonafides? Despite a lot of genuinely trash stuff regarding Ciara, Future is at the top of the music game. Purple Reign indeed.


Erykah Badu

by Eve L. Ewing

Erykah, like Prince, has achieved Perpetual Great Black Person Lifetime Achievement Status. She has a guaranteed spot on every list until the end of time. This year she graced us with a superior version of “Hotline Bling,” and its followup, the mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone. I could take this opportunity to discuss how she challenges normative ideals about relationships and partnership, or how she constantly redefines black femininity, but instead I’m just gonna leave these here. May you spend as many late-night hours sucked into an abyss of Badu-created Vines as I have.



Kendrick Lamarby Eve L. Ewing

Prince—holy thrower of shade, ageless genius, and Perpetual Great Black Person, Lifetime Achievement Status—preached not so long ago that “like books and black lives, albums still matter.” Kendrick reminded us of that fact when he resurrected the art of the concept album for good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and he did it again this year with To Pimp A Butterfly. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: from beginning to end, this is an album that will be remembered as the narrative of the days we find ourselves in. It’s an anthem for being alive, for being in these streets—and does it matter if it’s to drink, to dance, to protest, or all three? Either way, we ain’t got time to waste time. It makes sense, then, that TPAB draws so heavily from the sound of the 1960s, the era when the notion of Black Power as we understand it was born. Seventy-nine minutes of trippy funk influences, thick with bass and psychedelia and drum kits, storefront church proclamations and jazz samples, tugging together Flying Lotus and George Clinton. Kendrick got it set up where you can move your body and get your mind right at the same time, and that’s a hard thing to pull off. Plus he got a bazilliondy-five Grammy nominations, which… I mean, we all know the Grammys are trash, but still.

John Legend

by fivefifths

Fam. “All of Me” was like everywhere in 2015. There’s like three EDM mixes, a reggaeton mix, and an acoustic version done by a white girl. They played it four times at my wedding and my grandma cried each time. I’m fucking sick of “All of Me.”

I’m not sick of John Legend himself, though. He’s always been a dope dude, and his forays into real social justice have been incredible, especially in a time when celebs seem to be tripping over themselves to say the most awful things possible at all times. It’s rare to find actors who actually give a shit, and John Legend has gone beyond that threshold. Telling the world that #BlackLivesMatter and speaking on our issues, all while having to lug around the vegan hot take machine formerly known as Common Sense, that’s awesome indeed.


Missy Elliot
by Eve L. Ewing

Missy. Dropped. A. New video. A video that is, like everything Missy Elliott has ever done, from the future. In this future, Missy’s army of obscenely talented 10-year-old backup dancers has replaced the police force as we know it. All lipstick looks flawless and never rubs off. In this future it’s the nineties forever. Also, Pharrell is decent again and sometimes people are puppets. It’s a wonderful place.
Also, don’t forget, she (and Left Shark) provided a much-needed reprieve of pure [100 emoji]ness in the midst of Super Bowl 2015.

Fetty Wap

by Frank Jackson

Fetty Wap seemingly came out of nowhere and became what we thought would be the next thug rapper after Yung Thug. We were so wrong, but that’s actually a great thing. For instance, he has one eye, which everyone thought was the result of a gunshot wound to the face. Turns out, he was born that way and is actually quite the mama’s boy. Who knew gangster rappers could be loveable? But THEN, he turns out not to be a gangster rapper at all, but rather a hood crooner who dropped possibly the greatest love song of our generation. He is the book with a cover you should not judge.


Jhené Aiko

by Erika Stallings

To be honest, I’ve never heard any of her songs and I don’t think I would recognize her if i saw her walking down the street in New York. But that “Eat the booty like groceries” line dominated 2015 which means I have to give her props.


Drakeby Trey Smith

I have yet to see a song control a crowd like Know Yourself does. It can’t be too far away from what it sounded like when Moses parted the Red Sea. Something clicks and you morph into your most beautifully violent form and leave a trail of positive destruction in your wake at whichever bar, music festival, baptism, etc you may be at. Yeah, songs have done that to you before, but not songs that sound like this. Mix Oldboy with A Beautiful Mind and this sound is what you get. It makes no sense that he would’ve heard this beat, decided to make this song over it, and it all work out better than anyone could’ve imagined. He did though, and that’s an achievement worth celebrating. And for the record I don’t care if Quentin wrote this one.

D’Angelo

by Erika Stallings

I think we all remember the mugshot. And the fear that D’Angelo might be lost to what his friend Questlove has referred to as the curse of black genius, where the afflicted individual engages in self sabotage. But in December 2014, D’Angelo finally dropped his long awaited third album, Black Messiah.

I saw D’Angelo and the Vanguard perform in March and it was one of the top five concerts I’ve seen in my life. They performed most of the new album and then came out for two encores, one of which included an extended version of (Untitled) How Does It Feel. D’Angelo is back and he’s better than ever.


Image by evangelopoulos
Kanye West
by Frank Jackson<br></br>
Whether good, bad, or somewhere in the middle, Kanye has given us a lot. He’s produced some of the best hip-hop music of the past two decades. He created the Yeezys and their successors. He married Kim Kardashian (cuz he don’t care what none of y’all say, he still love her). He gave us the best “when keeping it real goes wrong” moment of all time when he took the mic from America’s Helen of Troy, Taylor Swift. He’s battling for respect in the fashion design industry just as he did in hip-hop. However you feel about all these things – whether you feel he’s complete trash or is indeed the Steve Jobs of our time – he is undeniably one of pop culture’s most influential people. Now, after having been granted an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the School of the Art Institutes in Chicago (SAIC) last year, Dr. West is in the building. Literally. The degree was conferred upon him by former Morehouse President, Dr. Walter Massey, and Kanye gave a humanizing, though supremely awkward, acceptance speech. What’s important here is that Ye acknowledged the necessity for institutional approval in order to move forward unencumbered, despite having proven worthiness through other means. Plus, Swish might be coming soon. Maybe.

Nicki Minaj

by Eve L. Ewing

For the fact that she’s a really solid rapper, it sure took Nicki Minaj a while to get serious recognition as just that—an artist whose taste in hair color and ability to make pop music sound really good doesn’t undermine the fact that she’s got bars. Maybe that’s why she seems to be in constant battle mode— ‘still the highest sellin female rapper, for the record,’ and she wants you to know it, same way she wanted you to know back in the day she was getting ‘50K for a verse, no album out.’

This seems like the year that Nicki really did it, though. She became the first female artist ever to appear on four simultaneous top 10 hits on the Billboard charts (“Feelin’ Myself,” “Truffle Butter,” “Throw Sum Mo,” and “Only”); the only two other artists to previously score quadruple hits were her Young Money companions Drake and Weezy. Still, just because she has less of a need to prove herself doesn’t mean she’ll ever stop doing what she does.

And real quick can we talk about the “Feelin’ Myself” video? Yes, Beyoncé killed it in the D. Rose (pauses, says prayer for D. Rose’s knees, continues writing) jersey swimsuit. But y’all know that an afternoon of eating burgers in a ball pit and then going swimming was 110% not Bey’s idea. That’s some Nicki Minaj right there. She’s like, “girl, you got a babysitter? I got this new fur coat. Let’s hit the ball pit and eat some burgers.” And Beyoncé’s like [wide-eyed] “oh… oh-okay!” like terrified and extremely hype at the same time. And they were probably bison burgers from Whole Foods. That’s what Nicki Minaj is about.


Lupe Fiasco

by Frank Jackson

Lupe returned from the depths of what everyone else thought was crazy, but what I saw as desperation born of isolation and a deep feeling of being misunderstood by the people he wished to help the most, with an album that will go down as probably one of the greatest bodies of musical work in the history of hip-hop. I mean did you listen to M.U.R.A.L? It flows sublimely from Summer, the album opener which in itself is an alluring, beautifully comfortable sonic cradle, into a distressed and urgent pace that lupe lyrically matches. I’m like a minute in at this point. Lupe will continue to barrage you with bars – quality bars, all the way through – for almost another 8 minutes. And the greatness continues on songs like Dots & Lines, Chopper, and Adoration of the Magi. In all, the album is varied and textured, each song a layer upon the other, forming the sonic embodiment of the painting on the cover. He has rid himself of the musical tarnish left on his legacy by Lasers. Now if he could only learn how to stop being so trash on Twitter…


Jaden and Willow Smithby Frank Jackson

I’ll admit they’d make my list for simply being Jada Pinkett and Will Smith’s kids. That’s like second to the Obamas, right? Well, in addition to that, they are two very high-vibration teens. They’re indigo kids, who in this Aquarian Age will lead us to salvation *puts on aluminum hat*. The way they both explore themselves and this world with unquestionable self-comfort and confidence is something to be lauded. Especially because they’re teenagers. Especially because they’re teenager with all the access who would simply ride the wave of their wealth into 1% oblivion. Instead, Willow is becoming a great musician and Jaden may be poised to be one of the great philosophical leaders of our time (I mean have you read his tweets?). Wherever they end up, they’re both blazing their own paths and doing things differently, no matter how you feel about a girl with short hair or a boy wearing a skirt.

None of us know for real, but it’s hard to look at the impact they’ve had so far and imagine that there’s any kind of limit when it comes to these two. The Smith siblings are so far ahead of their time it’s nuts. They’re going to keep dressing, behaving, and thinking however they want to, breaking down social norms and stereotypes without even trying. And just by being themselves. Be thankful your children and/or future children will have them as potential role models. Actually, you should be happy to have them as potential role models.


Chance the Rapperby Eve L. Ewing

Chance had a good year. Chance been having good years, but this one was really good. Now, before you hit us with the well actually and remind us that the incomparable Surf is not really, as it is often (mistakenly) referred to, the new Chance the Rapper album (it’s an album from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, stay woke and respect the collective), we’d like to point out that he holds it down. Surf features a series of tracks in which Chance is at his best—playful and meandering in his lyricism, nonchalantly earnest, and clearly showing his roots in Chicago’s youth poetry scene. [‘Who are you to tell me I don’t want you the way flesh wants freedom?’] And although he holds his own against a killer line-up of features (Janelle, Erykah, Busta, J.Cole, your cousin), it’s his rapport with fellow Chicagoans and Great Black People NoName Gypsy and Jamila A. Woods that will leave you swooning.

In addition to writing history’s greatest hip-hop track about grandmas and how great they are, Chance is the type of people that likes to bring his people with him. Perhaps that’s why he’s stayed true to where he comes from by hosting a series of “Open Mike” nights (in honor of Brother Mike, a beloved local teaching artist and mentor) open free to Chicago teens who want to perform for their peers, and hosted the first annual Teens in the Park Music Festival this June 24. And he treated Spike Lee’s life. He kicked off this year by being the SNL’s first independent artist in the show’s history. Can’t wait to see what else 2016 brings.


DJ Esco

by Trey Smith

He went to jail in a foreign country and that inspired the best album of the year. Also he’s a DJ who has a DJ. Also the Where Ya At video.


Lil B

by Eve L. Ewing

We’re superstitious. Curses are not a joke. So the based god gotta be on the list. Typing this with one hand and slowly pouring some out for James Harden with the other.


FILM, TV, PERFORMANCE, & VISUAL ARTS

Art by Ian Moore
Michael B. Jordan
by Erika Stallings

This was really Michael B. Jordan’s year.

When it was announced that Michael B. Jordan would be playing Johnny Storm a.k.a. The Human Torch in the upcoming reboot of Fantastic Four, certain portions of the Internet were in an uproar, claiming that a black guy couldn’t play a comic book character who was originally written as white.

A few weeks later, Jordan addressed the criticism and the haters in an awesome open letter written for Entertainment Weekly:

“I can see everybody’s perspective, and I know I can’t ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books. But the world is a little more diverse in 2015 than when the Fantastic Four comic first came out in 1961. Plus, if Stan Lee writes an email to my director saying, “You’re good. I’m okay with this,” who am I to go against that?…

To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer. Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends’ friends and who they’re interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It’s okay to like it.”

And then there’s Creed. MBJ killed it and opened up perhaps the beginning of a long run as a new boxing franchise and also as an A-list leading man.


Ryan Coogler

by fivefifths

One word. Creed. Ryan Coogler was on our radars after a fantastic collaboration with Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale but who would have thought he’d take on the vaunted Rocky franchise and not only update it, but create a film that could rival the title iteration as one of the best boxing movies ever? Creed takes a formula that could be cliche but transforms it into an enduring story of class, race, and legacy along with some of the tightest cinematography you’ll ever see. And Coogler will be directing Marvel’s Black Panther, which will put him in line for a shot at a summer blockbuster and A-list status. Are you ready?


John Boyega

by fivefifths

John Boyega is living the dream. He’s living my dream at least. After a string of roles in some sneaky good films, including the criminally underrated Attack the Block, Boyega secured the role of Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And he killed that shit, even as disgruntled folks everywhere expressed how upset they were about his race. I hope they have at least 15 more Star Wars films, just so Boyega can keep stunting on everyone.


Vin Diesel

by fivefifths

At some point during Furious 7 it hit me that at least seven of the characters with the most screen time were people of color. Among all of the all-time blockbusters F7 is clearly the most diverse, and Diesel has completed his career renaissance by retooling a franchise around a cornerstone of diversity and family; it’s all held up remarkably. He is almost singlehandedly proving the importance of diversity in popular film from an artistic and sales perspective. Also, we are Groot. Clearly.


Bradford Youngby fivefifths

No feature films out in 2015, but let’s let some goodwill from late 2014 seep over. Not only is 37 year-old Howard graduate Bradford Young the vision behind the brilliant cinematography in Selma, he also handled the cinematography for late 2014’s A Most Violent Year, which just so happens to be a most gorgeous film. Check out a recent interview from Young here, and also check out more of his cinematography in HBO’s documentary Everything is Copy, released in September.

Ava DuVernay

by Erika Stallings

Ava has been killing the game since her first feature film project “I Will Follow.” Her third feature film, Selma, should have been the darling of the 2015 Oscars but instead the award campaign was derailed by critics who alleged its portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson was historically inaccurate. DuVernay rose above the fray and during the South by Southwest Film Festival in March gave this kickass speech:

“The realization at the Oscars that blew my mind –– which was the big deal for me out of the whole journey –– was that it was a room in L.A. That it’s not anything but a big room in L.A. with very nice people dressed up and applauding. And it’s cool, it’s very cool. But my work’s worth is not based in what happens in, around, and for that room. . .This cannot determine the worth of my work.”

She’s reuniting with David Oyelowo to make a movie about Hurricane Katrina and directing/creating a show for CBS starting Anika Noni Rose. And she’s got her very own Barbie doll as a part of Mattel’s new “Sheroes” line.


Lee Daniels and the Cast of Empire
by Erika Stallings

Because Empire was the number 1 new tv show among viewers under 50 in 2015. Because its audience grew week after week, which is unprecedented in the industry. Because it finally made Hollywood realize that black viewers are a force to be reckoned with and the upcoming fall television season now has more actors of color than ever. And oh yeah for the song “Drip Drop.”


Rita McGee

by Erika Stallings

During Empire’s first season, week after week, everyone drooled over Cookie’s fabulous wardrobe (especially the furs). Rita McGee was the woman behind the scenes, making Taraji (and the rest of the cast) look great while only working with a $15,000 per episode budget.


Amandla Stenberg

by Frank Jackson

She made white people everywhere angry as fuck in 2012 by being a black girl playing a character in a movie based on a book in which the character she played was black. That was an indirect strike that maybe she didn’t know she was making at the time – when she was 14 – wherein she set up White America to once again expose their racism. And then, as if that indirect awesomeness wasn’t enough, she followed up this year with “Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows”, in which she elegantly treats all white appropriators in a video explaining the cultural significance of black hair. She’s definitely woke. I can’t wait to see how her consciousness develops and how she continues to use her platform, especially in an age where Black stars don’t speak out on issues in the way many would like.


Gina Prince-Bythewood

by Erika Stallings
Technically her latest film Beyond the Lights was released in 2014 but I wanted to make sure she was recognized here. Bythewood has been very candid about what a struggle it was to get the movie made (she wrote the first draft of the script in 2007) but I’m glad she kept at it because Beyond the Lights was a really enjoyable love story (with two black leads!)  that you don’t really see in movie theatres anymore.


Lupita Nyong’o
by Frank Jackson

I was late to seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theatres, mostly because I didn’t buy a ticket back in April or whenever the true Star Wars Stans bought theirs. But part of my reason for going was because Lupita was in it. She gets to be a part of the Star Wars legacy, which is but the latest entry in her long run as an exceptional person. After a stellar performance in the Oscar nominated 12 Years a Slave, the Yale-educated Nyong’o began to blossom into a role model for black girls, all the while helping to provide a certain counter to the ills of colorism. She basically been out here showing out in pretty much every way and daring you to try her. This role in Star Wars is just another example to the babies of how to be great.


Rick Fumuwiya

by Erika Stallings

His latest film Dope won rave reviews at Sundance in January and was the subject of a six studio bidding war. If it’s anywhere as good as his previous films (The Wood, Brown Sugar, Talk to Me) we’re all in for a treat. And I generally ride hard for anyone who advances African-American film beyond the caricatures found in the latest Tyler Perry production,


Larry Wilmoreby Erika Stallings

Larry Wilmore had some big shoes to fill when it was announced that he would be taking over the time slot vacated by Stephen Colbert. But so far The Nightly Show has kept it 💯 and has been unapologetically black while also being hilarious.

Misty Copeland

by Erika Stallings

She’s the first African-American soloist at the American Ballet Theatre in twenty years and in April, she made history when she danced the role of Odette/Odile alongside dancer Brooklyn Mack  in the Washington Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake, which was the first time the lead roles were performed by two black dancers. She also hasn’t been afraid to talk about the role that race has played in her career and has become an advocate for increased diversity in ballet. Right now she’s the definition of #blackexcellence.


Devin Allen

by Erika Stallings

The May 11, 2015 cover of Time magazine was a haunting photograph of a young black male running from  charging pack of police dressed in riot gear. The photo was shot by Devin Allen, a self-taught photographer and Baltimore resident. His coverage of the Freddie Gray protests went viral and were circulated by multiple international photo agencies and also by celebrities such as Rihanna.


Jesse Williams

by Erika Stallings

While some people wasted time debating why their favorite celebrity wasn’t making a statement on the #blacklivesmatter movement, Jesse Williams was talking the talk and walking the walk. He joined the protests in Ferguson back in October 2014 and regularly tweets about social justice issues.


WRITERS, JOURNALISTS, & ACADEMICS

Art by Ian Moore
Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton
by fivefifths

I was driving down to North Carolina from DC when my Spotify subscription ended because my credit card expired. What to do? I decided to turn to podcasts. It was the second week of Another Round with Heben and Tracy and I hadn’t checked it out yet because I’m a bad friend. So I tuned in. Two hours later I was hooked.

It’s hard to say what exactly makes a good podcast or what place this new podcast revolution will take in the greater media climate, but it’s easy to see Another Round’s influence already, just a few months into its run. All over the year-end iTunes charts, the show is a testament to Heben and Tracy’s chemistry and timing, as well as their damn-good instincts on running a show, as well as quality content and guests. And they fucking interviewed a presidential candidate.

They’re even rarer on the charts as Black women, with a podcast focusing on an audience of women of color. They are pioneers, and the podcast in addition to all their written work at Buzzfeed has placed them in the vanguard of young Black millennial creation.


Kiese Laymon

by Josie Helen

Kiese Laymon is the one of, if not the, best writers I have ever read. His way with language is otherworldly. He snake charms words, coaxing them into sentences and paragraphs and stories that read like tiny miracles. If you’ve read his books—or even read his Facebook statuses— you know this already. If you haven’t, you should pull it together.

He also happens to be the wisest person I know. He is perpetually wrestling with what it means to be black, southern, male, son, artist, writer, academic; writing about all of these experiences with love and despair and true honesty and defiance. And, in the same way he demands so much from himself in his work, his work also demands much of us. I believe that good writing must stimulate soul searching in the reader. To truly engage with Kiese’s writing you must question yourself, embrace nuance, fight the prevailing narrative.
I am especially and eternally grateful for his relentless support of black women. He listens to us. He asks men to be more open, loving, accountable, honest, aware. He generously supports fledgling writers of color – publishing them, cherishing their voices, working with them to get better. And, on a personal level, his friendship has been a blessing to me. We became friends the same summer I studied for the Bar, and I’m pretty sure he alone got me through it. Amazing writer, amazing fighter, amazing mentor, amazing friend.


Janet Mock

by fivefifths

Janet Mock is an icon. Her book Redefining Realness found its way to many 2014 bestseller lists and she juggles an active life in social commentary, writing, and activism–from positions as contributing editor at Marie Claire, to direct action in protesting for transgender rights, to writing a book and hosting weekly talk show So POPular on MSNBC’s Shift network. She’s everywhere, and all the better for a media landscape still struggling with issues involving the gender and sexual identity, womanhood, feminism, and racism, an intersectionality that she inhabits as a Black trans woman.


Quinta Brunsonby Eve L. Ewing

Remember when Buzzfeed videos went through this weird phase of really bad gender jokes like “If Guy BFFs were Like Girl BFFs” and they were just super uncomfortable and made you feel like you were watching some kind of bootleg Lena Dunham situation except somehow more sexist and creepy?

 

I do. Those were bad times. Quinta saved us from all that, y’all. Not since Issa Rae brought us The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl have the real-life ABGs among us seen ourselves so accurately reflected in the world of YouTube-length cinema. She came out the gate in 2014 with her Instagram series starring The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date(e.g. while at a restaurant, she exclaims “mmm… this water good! Excuse me, waitress, where y’all get y’all water?!”) and since coming on board at Buzzfeed has blessed us with such I-have-so-much-work-to-do-but-I-have-to-click-this delights as “Wedding Season is Coming” and “When You Meet a Kid as an Adult.”


Ta-Nehisi Coates

by fivefifths

If this era represents some new-age Black digital Renaissance, then Ta-Nehisi is a big part of it. The reparations essay changed the entire national debate and brought a sledgehammer to the post-racial myth. Between the World and Me was required reading for anyone having race conversations in 2015. I feel like going on about his work is belaboring a point since I doubt anyone here hasn’t read him, but personally Ta-Nehisi’s work has encouraged me to find my voice as well.


Toni Morrison

by fivefifths

“I’m writing for black people in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don’t have to apologise or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people].” That’s a quotation this year from Toni Morrison, the 84-year-old legend of the Black canon who has served as an influence for countless authors, Black and otherwise, after her. I always found a strength in her works, and like she notes, a calmness radiates from her writing that allows me to just be. I’ve never read anyone in as complete command over oneself as Morrison, and her 2015 book God Help the Child continues the trend.


Bryan Stevenson

by Josie Helen

It is virtually impossible to use the law to change the law. This is one of the ultimate conundrums of progressive lawyers – is it better to be inside or outside the courtroom? This question is, ultimately, a euphemism for a bigger concern– how do we best engage with reform?

Bryan Stevenson chose inside the courtroom. He chose Alabama. And he chose to work for those convicted of violent crimes, primarily black men. This should have been a recipe for failure. Yet he has used the law to change the law. He’s argued in front of the Supreme Court six times and, because of him, juveniles can no longer be sentenced to life without parole. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. He fights for those that no one else will fight for. And a lot of times he wins.

This year he’s embarked on a new kind of reckoning, outside of the courtroom this time. He and other EJI staff spent years researching lynchings in the south, meticulously sorting through all types of material to determine where and when and why each hanging happened. They’ve counted 3,959 lynchings from 1877-1950 – averaging out to more than one a week. And now Stevenson is going even further. He wants to place a marker at every sight that a lynching occurred. He is forcing us to deal with the weight of racial terrorism, he is demanding that we don’t forget. Perhaps there is no better way to ensure change.


SOCIAL MEDIA & ACTIVISM

Art by Ian Moore
The Michael Jordan Face
by fivefifths

For every situation, an MJ crying meme. Cats with MJ faces. The Denzel/MJ mashup. MJ faces on classic works of art. Even MJ crying faces on MJ. Say hello to the greatest meme of all time. This is the pinnacle of the Internet.

 


Black Twitter

by fivefifths

Black Twitter is Twitter. More than a subgroup of users, it is the beating heart and soul of the American social media generation and one of the main exporters of culture around the world, from sweeping movements to viral fun. That ass-eating revolution? Black Twitter. On fleek? MJ memes? Durag History Month? Black Twitter. The President riding the wave of a slick tan suit? Black Twitter. We told the world that Black Lives Matter. We revolutionized the way media is distributed and consumed, and 2015 has already been a strong year for the Negro gestalt. We’re the prospectors, the digital homesteaders and pioneers. Let’s take over outer space next. Black Planet indeed.


The “Why You Always Lying” Guy

by fivefifths
His real name is Nicholas Fraser, but fuck that. He’s the meme guy. The face that has become a universal lie detector. The man whose inexplicable outdoor toilet became a prop for the most epic lean ever. And this video had remarkable staying power among memes, from the short vine loop to the longer video with an intro. Alas, Fraser ruined it by recording a full-length version, but you can’t blame him for trying to cash out. We could post the video here, but you’ve seen it.


Dorothy Holmes

by Eve L. Ewing

In a year in which police violence against black people reached unprecedented visibility, the mothers of those unjustly killed have emerged– as they have since the time of Mamie Till Mobley– as some of the most important truth-tellers and drum majors we’ve got. Dorothy Holmes, who is still mourning the death of her own child Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson, has nevertheless been a tireless advocate for justice in the case of Laquan McDonald, while also continuing her tradition of organizing a toy drive for low-income children in Chicago in honor of her son’s memory. Ms. Holmes, we see you and appreciate you.


Baton Bob

by Josie Helen

My high school was across the street from Piedmont Park, a huge park in Atlanta smack in the middle of the city. There were benefits to being a stone’s throw away, mainly that Piedmont was a great place to skip school. Another benefit was the guarantee of Baton Bob sightings. You’d be in English or Earth Science or whatever, and you’d just be looking out the window and you’d see him bopping up the street. Tall black guy wearing a tutu or costume of some sort, usually with hair adornments, marching up the street, twirling a baton. Always twirling a baton. According to the internet he does this because he wants to be the “ambassador of mirth,” which I didn’t know but oh my god did he ever succeed.

There is some political bravery in this, because while Atlanta is pretty liberal it’s still firmly in Georgia. And this was 10, 12 years ago, when people were less accepting across the board. But I don’t remember really thinking about the politics. I just thought he seemed fun and happy.

I don’t know much else about Baton Bob, but SHOUT OUT to him for bringing me joy during the drudgery of high school 5th period. You are my favorite ambassador.


Black Emoji

by Eve L. Ewing

For years, we suffered a series of cruel ironies: throwing up praise hands in a group text at the latest How to Get Away with Murder­—but they were mayonnaise-colored praise hands. Tweeting about a vicious and well-timed clapback, but representing the clap with an emoji the hue of mashed potatoes. Or, worst of all, texting someone a fist to indicate Black Power—with the curled fingers lookin like raw pasta.*

Gone are those days, friend. Gone are the days when we prayed for black emoji. They are here, and they are lightskin and darkskin and everything in between and it is a glorious time. Sure, in a weird nod to Reagan-era politics, they, um… don’t come in family packs. And yeah, one of them looks like Dennis Rodman and/or the Golden Lords from Meteor Man and/or Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man and/or Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element. But the arc of justice is long. Maybe if we believe hard enough, we can get black children holding hands next year? Or nah? @apple?

*Shoutout to Heben Nigatu for the hookup with all these great food metaphors.


People of Color Murdered by the Police

by Josie Helen

The past year has produced a laundry list of unintentional martyrs. They did not walk willingly to the guillotine, but were caught off guard by death, people who lost their lives at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them. Twelve-year-old black boy shot, black man shot in the back eight times or the chest five times or 117 times in the car, shot in WalMart, tased to death in her jail cell, beaten to death, spines snapped, killed with their hands up, in their front yard, falsely suspected, unconstitutionally stopped. They become all of us, all of these casualties of injustice and despair. We keep learning their names, names I shouldn’t have to know.

Yet, out of tragedy sprouts reform, and for that we are forever indebted to their graves. Don’t get me wrong – their deaths are still in vain. They should not have had to die to spur change, there is no predetermined cosmic justice in the loss. But still, their deaths have opened countless eyes that, until now, were sealed shut.

Sometimes at night I still can’t get their faces out of my head. I imagine those last few milliseconds, how it must feel as the cop points his gun at you. The innocent betrayed and murdered by the state. Anything we have – any step we take forward, any pushback we give – is because of them.


Protesters in the Movement for Black Lives

by Eve Ewing

We thought it was important to use this space to celebrate some of the most notable organizers who have stood up for justice in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and across the country. But they would be the first to tell you that there is no Black Spring, no burgeoning freedom movement, no hope for liberation in our time or in our children’s time, without you. Us. You who are reading this who would not stop talking about extrajudicial police violence even when it made your friends or families or coworkers uncomfortable. You who held protests at your schools, who shared photos and videos and names that cable television would not, who sent money and food and supplies. You who left your apartment on a cold night to march and to cry out and to face the police, to block the highways, to chant and yell and remind them that we’re still here, despite all best efforts. We’re still here. You make this movement possible. We make this movement possible. And we’re not stopping any time soon.


 
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