As we continue to celebrate Black History Month throughout February, it’s important to also recognize current Black cultural influencers as well as those from the past.
In fact, there is a whole generation of young Black men and women who are rising up to carry the torch of political, economic and social change across the country. These Gen Zers (defined as someone born after 1996) have the power of technology and an almost innate knowledge on how to use the internet to communicate. These skills give this generation more tools than ever to share a message of change, and they are making a difference already.
Here are 11 of the most influential Black Gen Zers working to ensure underserved voices and causes get the attention they deserve.
Yolanda Renee King, Activist
Activism has deep roots in 14-year-old Yolanda King’s family: Her grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was one of the most important and widely known leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
As the only grandchild of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, this young woman seems to know she has the ability to speak out for justice in our society.
Recently, this teenager with auspicious family roots traveled to Clemson University as a keynote speaker. While on stage, she talked about how her parents never pushed her into activism but allowed her to follow her passion.
King’s main causes are voting rights, gun violence, and climate change.
We are beyond inspired by the bravery, passion, and activism of young leaders like Yolanda Renee King. At just 14, Yolanda is a powerful speaker and advocate on issues like gun violence and #climatechange. #YolandaReneKing #youngactivists #SocialJustice #blackhistorymonth pic.twitter.com/3k8YYm2c8u
— Feel Good Action (@FeelGoodAction) February 9, 2023
Maxwell Frost, U.S. Congressman
When Maxwell Frost won his Florida congressional race in November 2022, he was only 25 years old. His victory meant Frost would become the first Gen Zer to win a seat in Congress.
Before he entered the world of politics, Frost served as the National Organizing Director for March of Our Lives, a gun control advocacy group.
— Maxwell Alejandro Frost (@MaxwellFrostFL) February 8, 2023
Amanda Gorman, Poet
On Jan. 20, 2021, then-22-year-old Amanda Gorman became a beacon of hope for millions of people during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The former Youth Poet Laureate for our country recited an original poem for the historic occasion.
Since then, the now almost 25-year-old Gorman has continued to use her words to educate and enlighten the world about the importance of freedom, democracy, diversity and education. She has a new children’s book, “Something, Someday” hitting the shelves on Sept. 26.
2 years ago today, and still so immensely grateful for the moment of a lifetime
thank you to everyone who has followed my journey before and after this life-changing day pic.twitter.com/tnlJ6s8zRu
— Amanda Gorman (@TheAmandaGorman) January 20, 2023
Tiana Day, Youth Activist
In 2020, 17-year-old Tiana Day saw an Instagram post that would change her life. It was a short time after the death of George Floyd, and she happened to see a post in search of a member of the Black community to lead a protest on the Golden Gate bridge.
Despite having no experience in activism and the event being in less than 24 hours, Day volunteered, made a flyer and posted it on her social media. What she thought would amount to a few dozen people turned into a movement of thousands.
After that experience, Day took her desire for widespread change and founded Youth Advocates for Change, an organization meant to “bridge the gap between social activism and creative arts.”
Simone Biles, Olympic Champion and Social/Mental Health Activist
Most people know Simone Biles from her record-breaking accomplishments in gymnastics. She’s won seven Olympic medals and Time Magazine’s Athlete of the Year in 2021. Many people consider Biles the greatest of all time in her sport and an inspiration to girls of color to pursue their athletic dreams.
However, Biles ultimately used her influence to discuss more important things than excelling at sports. She withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics due to mental exhaustion. Biles also openly discussed the sexual abuse she endured from Team USA doctor Larry Nassar.
Following her Olympic career, Biles decided to move on to speaking out about the importance of mental health and aligned herself with organizations promoting health and wellness for young people.
In @USATODAY, Simone Biles shared her experiences with foster care, mental heath, & her work with Friends of the Children. Thank you to @Simone_Biles for being a voice for youth who face many obstacles & for bringing more attention to our important work! https://t.co/TGMgXAZd6P pic.twitter.com/mHtre0sNcb
— Friends of the Children (@FriendsNational) October 19, 2022
Joseph Kitonga, Health Care Advocate/CEO
It’s Joseph Kitonga’s mission to help people who fall through the cracks of the U.S. health insurance system. To help people who can’t afford insurance premiums, but make too much to qualify for federal assistance, Kitonga created Vitable Health as an alternative.
“The [COVID-19] pandemic brought healthcare to the forefront of both employees and employers, especially hourly workers,” he told Forbes.
Congrats to @VitableHealth for announcing its latest funding round! Proud to support this team in its mission to make healthcare more affordable for hourly workers and their families.
— First Round (@firstround) October 28, 2021
In 2021, Kitonga’s company raised $7.2 million to help subsidize health care for people in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Maya and Mica Caine, Fashion Business Leaders
These twin sisters graduated from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and decided to carve their own path in the business world. In 2018, the women created Mive, “a consultancy specializing in operation, product, and urban design” according to the company’s official website.
With a primary focus on fashion, Mive’s goal is to support production with minimal waste and custom order goods, right down to the fabric designers use in their clothing.
Everyday we celebrate Earth Day by collaborating with designers who affirm life through their art. We are super excited to announce the Jae Lenee Whip & Mimosa dresses are now available in Blueberry exclusively on Mive. Both dresses are made-to-measure pic.twitter.com/ohwlGGxXcf
— MIVE (@mivefashion) April 22, 2021
Halle Bailey, Singer/Actor
Multi-hyphenate Halle Bailey is no stranger to fame. At 22 years old, Bailey is already known for starring in number of box office films including “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Last Holiday.” Next, Bailey will bring one of Disney’s iconic princesses to a brand-new generation of viewers.
Bailey, who will turn 23 years old in March, will star in a new version of “The Little Mermaid,” which is set to be released on May 26.
— Halle (@HalleBailey) February 15, 2023
When Disney released the first trailer showing Bailey as Ariel, numerous reaction videos showed young Black girls overjoyed at seeing a Black woman portray the iconic mermaid.
Though she’s only 26 years old, Zendaya is one of the most buzzed about actors in Hollywood today. The former Disney star has made the leap into mainstream media in a big way with roles in the new “Dune” films and “Spider-Man: No Way Home“.
She’s also conquered the small screen. Zendaya recently took home the 2023 Golden Globe for Best Television Actress in a Drama Series for her work in “Euphoria.”
Variety featured Zendaya last year as the youngest woman ever nominated for a producing role, and having two nominations as a leading actress.
.@Zendaya is making history left and right — becoming the youngest woman ever nominated for producing at the Emmys, in addition to being the youngest two-time lead acting nominee ever #EmmyNoms. https://t.co/0SfPgk10nu pic.twitter.com/zWGz61wK7d
— Variety (@Variety) July 12, 2022
Cailey Stewart, Aviator
Cailey Stewart began going after her dream to be a pilot when she was 16 years old. Soon, according to Boeing, she flew her first solo trip and then began work towards being a private pilot.
“I want to be a pilot and get people to places they want to go.” she told the aviation company in 2021. “I really want to see more black female pilots because it is really inspiring to me.”
Last year, Stewart took the next step to reach her sky-high ambitions by earning her instrument rating, which is a key rating that can only be earned after extensive training.
Sisters of the Skies, an organization that promotes diversity in the aviation industry, celebrated their mentee’s achievements on social media.
Look who earned their INSTRUMENT RATING!!! Congratulations Cailey Stewart we’re so proud of you pic.twitter.com/7socvznrWI
— Sisters of the Skies (@SistersoftheSky) June 14, 2022
Nia DaCosta, Film Director/Screenwriter
DeCosta has the distinction of being the first Black female writer/director to have a debut film hit No. 1 at the box office with 2021’s “Candyman”.
Her next project, “The Marvels,” is part of the blockbuster Marvel movies based on the classic comic series and a sequel to 2019’s “Captain Marvel.”
— IGN (@IGN) September 10, 2022
She is the youngest director to work on a Marvel film, according to DaCosta’s interview with Inverse. The film is scheduled for a Nov. 2023 release.