35+ Trailblazing African American Women Making Boss Moves

By Vukosi M

Women have been making moves and doing amazing things since the beginning of time, albeit with little to no recognition. For decades, there have been calls for transformation, representation, and fairness in Hollywood, and well, it’s about damn time! 

Our article today looks at 45 famous black women breaking glass ceilings and making history in their respective fields against all odds. They have not only opened doors to create a name for themselves but also left them open for the next generation of iconic women of color. 

We are fairly certain that you know most, if not all, of them because their impact on the world is phenomenal. So, read on to find out if we mentioned your favorites, and who knows, you just might find your new mentor/idol!


Lizzo has only been famous for a few years, but we can’t imagine a world without her. During her Record of The Year acceptance speech at the 2023 Grammy Awards, where she was rewarded for About Damn Time, she declared her commitment to making positive, uplifting songs throughout her career. 

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The Good As Hell singer is also known for advocating body positivity, especially for plus-size women. With her bubbly personality, catchy tunes, and infectious humor, we just can’t help but love ourselves some Lizzo! She’s also very supportive of planned parenthood initiatives.

Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union has come so far since she began her career on flicks like Bring It On. The NAACP Image Award recipient boasts a successful television career, a beautiful family, and a thriving business empire – proving that, indeed, women can have it all!

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Union’s happy-go-lucky contagious personality transcends beyond the silver screen. Her Instagram page, with over 21.3 million followers, is our window into bits and pieces of the star’s personal life. She’s an open book who generously shares her personal struggles whilst proudly celebrating other female celebrities on her #WomanCrushWednesday posts.

Viola Davis

Who can ever forget the unapologetic “Prof. Annalise Keating” on How To Get Away With Murder? The series might have ended, but she’ll remain alive in our minds, albeit as a fictional character. We’ll tell you who’s real and just as fierce, if not more, Viola Davis – the actress who brought “Annalise” to life! 

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Despite a tough upbringing, she has worked hard to make it as an actress and become the household name she is today. She’s had to persevere as a black actress in Hollywood whilst dealing with the lingering effects of childhood trauma. Viola’s success is remarkable, and her EGOT status bears testament.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Although most of us only came to know Kamala Harris when she was announced deputy president of the US, her “overnight” success took years to build. An attorney by profession, she held prominent positions long before she became the first black female deputy president of the United States. 

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The USVP has worked as a DA, Attorney General, and Senator – roles which she performed competently to bring change. As District Attorney, Harris created a groundbreaking program to afford first-time drug offenders an opportunity to obtain a high school degree. She also passionately defended the Child Care Act and advocated for marriage equality. 

Michelle Obama

If there is any truth to the adage, “beside every great man is an even greater woman,” Michelle Obama bears testament. The awesome wife and mother is so much more than just the former First Lady. She holds her own. 

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As an attorney, she used her position as first lady to advocate for worthy causes such as healthy families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education. After keeping her personal life a mystery during Barack’s tenure as president, we finally got a glimpse through her memoir Becoming, whose audio version earned her a Grammy!

Gayle King

American television personality, journalist, and author Gayle King has been in the broadcasting game for decades, and she’s phenomenal at it. The CBS Mornings co-anchor has found residency in the living rooms of millions of viewers who tune into the program as part of their daily morning routine. 

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As a seasoned broadcaster, King boasts multiple accolades, including three Emmy Awards. Her times on Today and CBS has made her a bonafide maestro in the industry. She will be starting a new gig later this year as co-host of CNN’s primetime slot show, King Charles.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson’s Hollywood journey is one that’s full of resilience and determination. This phenomenal star went from being a finalist on American Idol to bagging an Academy Award! Most recently, J.Hud has added ‘talk show host’ to her growing resumé.

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As the youngest EGOT winner, she is clearly a jack of all trades, and she masters all of them. Hollywood hopefuls got to drink from her deep well on the music contest The Voice, and those who could hold a note as long as she does got to have her stiletto thrown at them! 

Ava DuVernay

American filmmaker, producer, and former film publicist Ava DuVernay is simply television royalty, and her long list of credentials speaks volumes. The Queen Sugar creator and executive producer has a magic touch, effortlessly translating stories from script to screen authentically. 

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After making her directorial debut with I Will Follow, she then directed Selma. She was the first Black woman to direct a film with a budget of over 100 million USD when she worked on A Wrinkle In Time. Ava is also part of the Academy, which is the organization that organizes the Oscars.  

Quinta Brunson

Quinta Brunson has achieved what many can only dream of at the tender age of 33. The writer, producer, comedian, and actress rose to fame when she starred in the 2014 series The Girl Who’s Never Been On A Nice Date. 

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Since then, she’s created, co-written, and executive produced the hit ABC series Abbott Elementary which she also stars in. Quinta made history at the 2022 Emmy Awards when she became the first black woman to receive three nominations in the comedy category in the same year.

Tamron Hall

From being the first black female co-anchor on the Today Show to hosting and executive producing her own self-titled show, Tamron Hall has been making boss moves for quite some time. The Temple University alumnus has forged a formidable career path, and it shows!

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Hall’s move from broadcast journalist to television talk show host has clearly paid off. She’s created a platform for real, authentic conversations with guests whilst showing genuine interest in the subject matter. So, it’s absolutely fitting that her show has received three Daytime Emmy nominations and a well-deserved win! 

Phylicia Rashad

If longevity was a person, Phylicia Rashad would be it! The actress and director has been on our television screens for as long as we can remember, and she’s always done it with class and a distinctive poise – just like the characters we’ve grown to know and love her for. 

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Rashad is best known for her Emmy-nominated role as “Clair Huxtable” on The Bill Cosby Show. When she’s not acting, she attends to her duties as a Dean at Howard. Judging by how effortlessly she brought “Clair’s” nurturing aura to life, we’d say she’s great at inspiring young minds.

Condoleezza Rice

This phenom is a famous American diplomat whose name speaks volumes in American political spaces. The first African American female Secretary of State has a rich resumé with references, including former US President George W. Bush. She currently heads the Hoover Institution.

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Rice has held multiple positions in the White House, including National Security Advisor, director for Soviet and Eastern European affairs for the NSC, and a special assistant to President George W. Bush. As Secretary of State, she played a pivotal role in negotiating an end to Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. 

Regina King

Regina King’s first television role in 227 served as a springboard for a successful Hollywood career. That said, her “overnight fame” moment came years later when she starred in the Jerry Maguire movie alongside Cuba Gooding Jr and Tom Cruise. 

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King has made a name for herself amongst television royalty both in front of the camera as an actress and behind the scenes as a director. Her long list of accolades which include an Oscar, Emmy, and BET Awards bear testament to her immense talent and unmatched work ethic.

Janet Mock

What comes to mind when you think of the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Pose? Our wild guess would be the iconic ’90s fashion, ballroom culture, and sass. Janet Mock’s handwriting is behind the gripping storylines that kept us glued to our screens.

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As a writer, director, and producer, Mock brought to life stories that resonated with diverse audiences whilst shining light on issues affecting LGBTQ+ communities. As a trans woman and activist, she has ensured that her influence has been used to voice the needs of queer folk.

Shonda Rhimes

“The only limit to your success is your own imagination” – Shonda Rhimes. From Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and Bridgerton, it’s safe to say Shonda’s imagination has no limits. As the creator and executive producer of multiple successful shows, she is a television titan. 

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Shonda Rhimes has brought to our screens shows that reflect the diverse colors and cultures of societies with a positive portrayal of people of color. Her shows attract millions of viewers on television and streaming platforms globally. So, we understand why she’s the highest-paid show-runner in Hollywood!

Sherri Shepherd

This woman is no stranger to television. From tickling viewers in her own Sherri TV Series to executive producing and hosting her self-titled Sherri Shepherd Show, where she cracks audiences with her witty humor and captivating stories, her talent is undeniable.

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Whether it’s doing voice-overs on Madagascar: Escape to Africa or co-hosting The View, Shepherd always brings her A-game wherever she is. Fortunately, her work has not gone unnoticed as she’s received some notable nods, including an Emmy and NCAAP Image Awards. 

Ruth E. Carter

Meet the woman behind Black Panther’s iconic costumes! Ruth E. Carter is the costume designer responsible for dressing Wakanda’s warriors and citizens. The Hampton University graduate didn’t hold back in designing memorable costumes for the first black superhero movie – a significant moment in black history.

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Carter’s envelope-pushing designs have earned her two Oscar Awards in the Best Costume Designer category for both Black Panther movies, making her the first black woman in history with a double win in that category. For all the designers reading this, your dreams are valid!

Tracee Ellis Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross embodies humor, beauty, and wisdom. The actress-comedian is best known for playing “Joan Clayton” in the hit show Girlfriends. During her time there, she not only made us laugh but she also scooped two NAACP Image Awards. 

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She tripled those with her role as “Dr. Rainbow Johnson” on Black-ish and even added a Golden Globe. Tracee is passionate about issues relating to race and black lives, and she even launched her own haircare line with products specifically formulated for African hair. 

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Beyoncé is one of few celebrities whose first name requires no last name. The Run The World singer rose to fame as a member of the popular girl group Destiny’s Child in the late ’90s before she went solo to carve a successful music career with hit after hit! 

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As a multi-award-winning singer, songwriter, and actress, Beyoncé has proven to be an all-round performer, with most calling her the greatest entertainer of this generation. As of 2023, the Break My Soul superstar currently holds the record for most Grammy Award wins of all time with her 32 trophies. 

Lena Waithe

Lena Waithe is the brains behind the thought-provoking drama series The Chai and the hilarious BET comedy series Boomerang. As a talented creator, producer, and screenwriter, Waithe shines the spotlight on important societal issues while entertaining audiences at the same time. 

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Waithe became the first Black woman to win a Prime Time Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017 for Master of None. Apart from her television work, she is a Time’s Up advocate, an anti-sexual harassment movement.

Diana Ross

Diana Ross rose to fame as a member of the Supremes in the 1960s before branching out to embark on what would become a successful solo singing career. Her musical journey proves that with determination and diligence there, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. 

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When it comes to Soul music, Ross is a legend with multiple significant accolades, including Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Music Academy (Grammys) and BET. Additionally, the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor was bestowed on her by former US President Barack Obama. 

Misty Copeland

From humble beginnings to becoming the first Black Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland’s story is truly inspiring. It all started when one of her coaches in school noticed her dance talent and advised that she would benefit from ballet classes. 

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Misty’s first-place victory in the ballet category of the Los Angeles Music Centre Spotlight Awards at the age of 15 became the first of many “firsts” in her illustrious career. When she was invited to join the prestigious ABT Corps de Ballet, she was the only black woman among close to 100 dancers.

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph’s first acting gig was a Skippy Peanut Butter television commercial which she couldn’t miss for the world. Yep, the youngest woman to graduate from Rutgers College skipped her graduation ceremony to participate in a TV ad! She was only 19. 

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Ralph’s big break came when she starred in A Piece of the Action. The original Dreamgirl and AIDS activist has carved an illustrious career with many accolades, including a Prime Time Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on Abbot Elementary.

Angela Bassett

Whenever strong female black leads are mentioned, Angela Bassett’s name is bound to make the list. The Oscar-nominated actress rose to fame in the early ’90s when she starred in What’s Love Got To Do With It, where she played Tina Turner – earning herself a Golden Globe. 

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Bassett has broken the glass ceiling for Hollywood’s women of color both on screen and even inside the boardroom. As of 2021, she became the highest-paid black actress in Hollywood for her role in the 9-1-1 series, taking home $450,000 per episode!

Meghan Markle

Long before meeting Prince Harry, Meghan Markle was an actress famous for her role on the legal television series Suits. She’s since gone on to marry the British Prince to become the Duchess of Sussex and the proud mother of two royal babies. 

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Markle and her husband opted for a life of normalcy, away from royal duties and the watchful eye of British tabloids. The former actress has been vocal about the struggles that caused her and Prince Harry to raise their children in the US. They have since won a Ripple of Hope award for their activism.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles is the most awarded gymnast in the history of the sport and the youngest recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was bestowed upon her by the current President, Joe Biden, at the tender age of twenty-five!

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Biles, who currently ties with fellow gymnast Shannon Miller for the most Olympic medals (7) won by an American, grew up in the system before being adopted by her maternal grandfather. When compared to other legends, she’s always gracious and flattered but also quick to affirm that she’s ‘the first Simone Biles.’

Stacey Abrahams

Stacey Abrahams made headlines when she vied for governor of Georgia five years ago. But this wasn’t her first rodeo in the realm of politics. Eight years prior, she served as minority leader in the House of Representatives – another first for women of color. 

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Abrahams began her career as a tax lawyer after graduating from Yale Law. Her first political stint came in 2006 when she was elected to represent her district in the Georgia House of Representatives. Abrahams has always sought to advance voters’ rights, and it’s no surprise she was considered for VP alongside Kamala Harris. 

Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD

Who can forget the year 2020? Well, when the world was turned upside, and everyone was in panic mode amidst a global pandemic, lead scientist Kizzmekia Corbett and her team were burning the midnight oil to develop the first Covid-19 mRNA vaccine! 

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She currently works as the Ass. Professor for Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard. The Times 100 Next-listed scientist is also a research fellow and all-around superstar at the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis team at the NIH! We stan!

Venus and Serena Williams

You can’t mention Wimbledon without a vivid image of the Williams sisters coming to mind. The multi-Grand Slam duo has dominated the world of tennis for years, often alternating between first and second to each other when playing singles. As a combo, they’ve won 22 titles throughout their career! 

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The tennis champions were introduced to the sport by their father, Richard Williams, who taught them the ins and outs of the game. Where representation is concerned, the Williams sisters have redefined tennis and contributed two making the sport relatable to people of color. They are simply legendary!

Halle Berry

Although Halle Berry was once voted the world’s most beautiful woman, she’s not just a pretty face. The talented actress has created a successful illustrious career in Hollywood to become a household name and the first (and only) black woman to win an Oscar award for Best Actress. 

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Berry, who has been a victim of an abusive relationship that resulted in 80% hearing loss in her left ear, is a staunch advocate for raising awareness on issues of domestic violence – using her fame for good. She is also a reader and ambassador for health and wellness.

Allyson Felix

It’s not every day an athlete gets to break a world record, and certainly not Usain Bolt’s. So, when Allyson Felix did when she won her 12th gold medal at the World Athletics Championships – we couldn’t help but marvel in awe. 

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The most successful female track and field athlete in Olympic history hung her trainers in 2022, ending her 17-year-long successful sporting career. As a three-time world champion since 2005, Felix retired with a legendary roll of honors in women’s athletics.

Cleo Wade

Aside from appearing in numerous prominent magazines like Harpers Bazaar and Elle, Cleo Wade is also a very quotable TED Talk fellow. The American artist, poet, author, and mother of two daughters uses her talent to change the world through spoken word.

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She’s a true artist who has mastered how to express her art in various media. One of these is through writing books, and she currently has four of them. She made it onto Fast Company’s 2017 List of Most Creative People in Business and was a finalist in the 10th Annual Shorty Awards. 

Ibtihaj Mohammad

Ibtihaj Mohammad is an American sabre fencer. She’s also the first Muslim African American woman to compete in the Olympics in a hijab – and the first to win an Olympic gold medal! Although Ibtihaj only started fencing at the age of 17, which is considered “late” by Olympic standards, she’s managed to emerge victorious. 

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The Olympian became a symbol against tolerance in America after winning her bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Since then, she’s been invited to meet President Barack and Michelle Obama. In 2018, the sports star was recognized by Barbie when the company created the “Ibtihaj Mohammad” doll as part of their ‘Role Models’ range. 

Indya Moore

You may know her as “Angel Evangelista” in the popular hit series Pose. When Indya Moore is not reciting lines in front of the camera, she’s striking a pose as a fashion model for glamourous magazine covers like Vogue and Elle

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The openly transgender beauty queen is more than just her exquisite face. Indya is also an entrepreneur – she founded the company Beetlefruit Media Inc. which focuses on storytelling on various platforms. If you haven’t seen her in action, trust us when we say you ought to.

Jada Pinkett Smith

Jada Pinkett Smith juggles it all! From being a daughter, wife, mother, actress, producer, and entrepreneur, there’s nothing she can’t do. When she is not developing fresh award-winning concepts, Jada is championing causes in areas of diversity, education, and justice. 

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Her popular Red Table Talk show, which she co-hosted with her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and daughter Willow Smith featured three generations of women engaging in honest conversations. The show received an Emmy in 2021 for the transformative dialogues it sparked. 

Cori “Coco” Gauff

Cori “Coco” Gauff is an American professional tennis player and the second youngest player to earn the Women’s Tennis Association Number 1 Double ranking at the National Bank Open in 2022. Coco made her debut at Wimbledon at the tender age of 15, when she made it to the 16th round.

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Fast forward to 2023, the young tennis champion currently ranks at number 5 worldwide in the singles category and a well-earned number 1 in the doubles category alongside fellow tennis player Jessica Pegula. We know this is just the start!

Susan Rice

Suzan Rice is a diplomat and policy expert. She has also been the Director of the United States Domestic Policy Council since 2021, where she spearheads the development and execution of the President’s domestic policy agenda. A job she does quite well.

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Rice is not new to the White House. During Obama’s time, she served as a Permanent Representative to the UN and was consulted on issues of National Security. The former New York Times contributing opinion writer is also the author of the best-selling memoir.

Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish is simply hilarious! The actress-comedian is best known for her roles on Girls Trip and Night School. Her success didn’t come overnight, though. In fact, she lived in a car in Beverly Hills for some time before her career took off. 

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Remember her hilarious skit when she hosted an episode of SNL? Well, it was so outstanding that she got an Emmy for it! Her history-making moment came in 2019 when she won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album, which made her the second African American to win the award since Whoopie Goldberg in 1986!

Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke is behind one of the most powerful hashtags on Twitter – #MeToo. She started the #MeToo Movement for survivors of sexual violence and abuse to facilitate healing and empowerment through empathy. Time crowned her Person of The Year 2017. 

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The Sydney Peace Prize recipient wears many hats, juggling every responsibility seamlessly. As executive director of the Black Belt Cultural Arts Centre, Tarana creates programs for underserved youth. She was also a consultant for Ava Duvernay’s 2014 award-winning film Selma thanks to her role in helping to organize the annual Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee.  

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an American transgender actress and LGBTQ advocate best known for her Emmy Award-nominated role as “Sophia Burset” on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Cox has come a long way since her acting debut on an episode of Law & Order many moons ago.

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She’s the first trans woman of color to have a leading role in a mainstream television series! Cox is just as fierce behind the camera. In 2015, she won a Daytime Emmy as the executive producer of Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word – another first for transgender women. 

Amy Sherald

Amy Sherald is an award-winning artist who came into the spotlight in 2016 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s Out Boochever Portrait Competition for her painting titled Miss Everything (Unsurpassed Deliverance). She was the first Black woman to win the award, which comes with a $25,000 prize. 

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The Maryland Institute College of Art MFA graduate has received numerous other awards, including the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, Mary Sayers Imboden Prize, and the prestigious David C. Driskell Prize. If you love art, especially portraits, you should check out her work.

Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas knew by the age of 9 that she wanted to be Olympic champion 5 years prior to moving from Virginia to Iowa to train with popular coach Liam Chow. Her first taste of a championship came at 16 when she became the first African American to win an Olympic gymnastics gold medal. 

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Gabby’s road to sporting success was not without challenges. In fact, the Olympic champion fell seven times during the 2011 USA National Championships! Her confidence was later restored by a new coaching team. Gabby’s awards include BET 2013 Sportswoman of the Year and Associated Press 2012 Female Athlete of the Year.

Loretta Lynch

Loretta Lynch was our first female Black U.S. Attorney General. The Harvard Law School graduate used her position to ensure the Department of Justice prioritized police reform by pushing the department to conduct investigations into law enforcement departments following a series of high-profile allegations of police brutality. 

Image courtesy of Lonnie Tague for the Department of Justice / wiki commons / public domain

Lynch is also known for her focus on minority rights. In 2016, she announced the DOJ’s plans to sue North Carolina for civil rights violation over a law that required people who identified as transgender to use public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms that matched their biological sex. 

Carla Hall

Carla Hall is a jack of all trades. The former accountant, then runway model turned chef and television personality first won the hearts of Americans with her hearty recipes when she competed on Bravo’s Top Chef and Top Chef: All Stars years ago. 

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The Howard University Business School graduate has authored award-winning cookbooks, including her NAACP Award-nominated Carla Hall’s South Food: Everyday and Celebration cookbook, which made it onto best cookbook lists countrywide. Hall also does charity work with Hellen Keller International, which improves the lives of those living with blindness.

Sheila Johnson

Sheila Johnson is the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and an all-round entrepreneur with a diverse business portfolio, including hotels, real estate, and sports franchises. Following the sale of BET to Viacom in 2001 for $3 Billion, Johnson became the first billionaire African American woman. 

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Johnson has since become the owner, team president, and managing partner of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. She also owns stakes in three professional sports franchises. The self-made entrepreneur also executive produced the 2013 film The Butler, which depicts the story of a former slave turned White House employee.