2016 is finally over and there are some people who deserve recognition for their influence they’ve had in my life and undoubtedly the world at large. In no particular order, here are my personal favorite people of 2016.
1. Shaun King
Every single article or social media post that Shaun King writes is perfection. He writes for almost a million followers concerning social justice, politics and, of course, his love for his family. Within seconds of posting, his content spreads like wildfire bringing light and perspective to cases of injustice. I don’t believe Shaun’s intentions were to ever become a #blacklivesmatter leader in this capacity, but his passion and sharp writing skills have made him a beacon of hope and change for so many activists seeking to be the change. Recently, he’s used his voice and deep desire for racial equality to create 25 solutions for police brutality and an injustice boycott for our generation.
2. KevOn Stage
Funniest guy in America right now, hands down. His YouTube and Facebook videos are the most relatable I’ve ever come across and for that reason alone he’s made this list. Seriously, just check him out. His work even made it to the Smithsonian. #Nayhoo
3. Sarah Bessey
The word “feminist” puts a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. They shy away from the term like it’s Hilary Clinton’s pneumonia or Donald Trump’s tweets. But Sarah Bessey, filled my very being with the sweetest aroma in her first book, “Jesus Feminist.” I have never been so moved by someone’s writing in my life and I’ve always been a book nerd. This Canadian mother loves Jesus to her core and so eloquently tells about His goodness. She reminds us that God has a heart for women’s issues, social justice, mothering, politics and so much more. When she talks about herself, she says that she is “liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal in matters of both religion and politics” and for that, I’ve never been more able to relate to someone.
In a world of technology and transparency, there are very few taboo topics, but sadly, depression and anxiety are still not often talked about, especially in the church. The church is supposed to be a place of healing and yet people who suffer from mental health-related issues still do not feel safe to talk about what they’re dealing with on a daily basis. Jarrid Wilson and his wife, Juli, have made it their mission to break down these walls. He is a blogger from the West Coast who has struggled with thoughts of suicide and acceptance in community for a long time. For a while, a lot of his blog posts were about relationships, but this year he has shifted towards sharing these more vulnerable parts of his life. He’s hoping that his blog, his story and his organization, Anthem of Hope, will raise awareness of these issues that are affecting so many and also equip others on how to love and help their loved ones that are going through similar hardships.
I hope I didn’t lose you here. Beyoncé made it on this list for 2 reasons. 1) She has the best marketing team in the world. Just a few days before the Super Bowl she released a new song, Formation, that she then performed at the Super Bowl. And then, immediately after her performance, she announced her “Formation World tour” in the most epic of ways. She just has a way of dropping the mic, walking away, and leaving the rest of us inadequate human beings in awe. 2) She took a stand. Beyoncé has always had her beyhive, the most radical fan base this decade has ever witnessed. But she was willing to risk so much of her fame by standing against police brutality and standing with #blacklivesmatter this year. In the past, she seemed to be quieter on those issues, but it seems that this year she chose to step out with her Black Power fist and remind the world of who she is, where she came from and where she stands. I thought that was a powerful and creative way for her to use her platform and influence.
6. Ajay Nair
Society is pretty bored of the board of education, but Emory University’s Dean of Campus Life, Ajay Nair, has really livened things up. He has become one of the most relatable and dependable leaders in the collegiate sphere. He listens to the concerns of students and responds accurately. News outlets have been on the tails of universities as they combat injustices, sexual assault and so much more, but Dean Nair has never once buckled under the pressure. In fact, he defies the odds and publishes think-pieces with The Huffington Post, like this, as a voice for the student body, even if it goes against the norm.
7. Simone Biles
Let’s talk about this #blackgirlmagic. She is THE best gymnast in the world. Her success is personal for me because there was not a lot of representation in gymnastics when I competed, except for Dominique Dawes. Simone brings joy and spunk to the competition and America has not been able to get enough of her. In the midst of the controversy surrounding her Olympic counterparts, she always delivered with her performance and her bright personality.
Even if you don’t listen to rap (that’s fine I love Tori Kelly and others too), the success of Chance is undeniable. He has been anti-labels from the very beginning and yet has managed to go on tour, win album of the year for his new mixtape “The Coloring Book” and make powerful performances on Ellen, Saturday Night Live, and Jimmy Fallon Tonight. On top of that, he made history with 7 Grammy Award nominations. Listen to him, his music is FREE.99 and is the perfect mixture of gospel soul and rap.
Not only would I consider Tracee to be #bodygoals, but she’s also crazy smart (*cough cough* she graduated from Brown University) and the first African-American woman in 30 years to be nominated by the Emmy’s for outstanding lead actress in a comedy. She shines as Rainbow in Black-ish and through that role, she shines a light on topics that most black mothers really do have to address like interracial dating, religion, police brutality, voting and getting into college. She’s also used her platform to empower women like she did at the 2016 Glamour Women of the Year Awards, where she encouraged the women there that “we must remind each other that we are free, equal, worthy of respect and safety even if the world tells us something different.”
10. Van Jones
THE BEST CNN COMMENTATOR EVER. Reason #1: He’s taken initiative. He started a video series called #TheMessyTruth where he focuses on exposing the humanity of people from all perspectives and encourages others to listen even in the midst of disagreement. Reason #2: He spreads the truth in love. This was extremely necessary during this election season. He sat on the panel of other commentators and unashamedly told others when he disagreed, represented the thought process of a lot of his fellow black people and consistently surprised those that opposed them by listening and sometimes even agreeing with them if they made a good point. Reason #3: Again, he takes initiative. He matches his words with his actions and started the #LoveArmy. The #LoveArmy is an alternative to the hate and divisiveness gaining momentum in our communities and in our country. He believes that “despite our differences, our common pain should give us common purpose.”
11. BONUS – Kermit The Frog
How would we have made it through this year without a little bit of humor? Kermit has taught is how to properly sip tea, face our evil alter egos (aka “me to me”) and plenty other memes this year. We are so thankful. I’ll never overlook a Muppet again.