Former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, once said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” This is the idea behind TIME magazine’s list of 100 most influential people, each one having changed or made an impact on the lives of people around the world. In 2019, Michelle Obama graced the list, along with many other influential African Americans. In 2020, many more influential people of color made the list, with several appearing in each category. While there are many African American pioneers, artists, leaders, icons and titans that made the 2020 list, here are simply a notable few. The full list can be found on the TIME 100 website.
Among the notable African American pioneers on TIME 100’s list, Ibram X. Kendi stands out as a writer, scholar and historian. He is the author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and offers recommendations that people can adopt to help extinguish racism and bigotry. Kendi also popularized the term “antiracist” with his best-selling 2019 book How to Be an Antiracist. Maya Moore is a decorated athlete and role model, earning multiple WNBA championships, Olympic gold medals and back-to-back collegiate national titles. Moore also helped to win the release of Jonathan Irons, a man who spent 20 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
In the last decade, there have been few singers who have matched the power that exudes from Jennifer Hudson. She puts her whole soul into every aspect of her acting career, which won her an Academy Award for her role in the 2007 film adaptation of the musical Dreamgirls, and was chosen personally by legend Aretha Franklin to play her in the upcoming film Respect. Another African American actor, Michael B. Jordan, also made the TIME list. In 2019, he played civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy and continues to push forward the representation of African Americans in Hollywood.
This year, only one American of color made the list in the leaders’ category, but she is significant and arguably one of the most influential. Kamala Harris is the Vice President of the United States and the first woman and person of color. Through her position, she is striving to showcase government as a force for good, bringing down barriers of inequality and systematic racism.
Black icons were featured throughout the TIME 100 list in 2020. Three such icons are Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. While furthering the movement for years, these three gathered much support this year while also providing support for the many African Americans impacted by the tragedies of 2020. Billy Porter, another African American icon, is making a name for himself in the arts. He pioneered the role of Lola in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, and in 2019, he had a historic Emmy win, becoming the first openly gay black man to win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
Lastly, several African American titans made TIME 100’s list, including Gabrielle Union, who is pointing out racial insensitivity in Hollywood reality shows, and General Charles Q. Brown Jr., who made history by becoming the nation’s first African American chief of military service, opening doors for other African Americans in the service. Most notably, Denver native, philanthropist and entrepreneur also made the list for 2020: Robert F. Smith.
Robert F. Smith
Robert F. Smith is noted as one of the most successful investors living in the United States today. He founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000, serving as the company’s Chairman and CEO. However, Smith is known for more than simply his business prowess. He’s also noted for his continued philanthropy to lift up African Americans. In 2019, he gifted over $34 million to the graduating class of Morehouse College and is a partner to an income-contingent alternative program, known as the Student Freedom Initiative, which offers African American students at select Historically Black Colleges and Universities another option for financing their education. Smith also works with the United Negro College Fund to further extend educational opportunities to African American students and was instrumental in persuading Congress to earmark $10 billion for institutions that support investment in lower-income urban and rural communities. For more information on each of these influential African Americans, read their bios on the TIME 100 website. And, be sure to look out for the 2021 list of most influential people, which is due out in fall 2021.