• Nisha Willis

Melanin and the Mamba Mentality: 24 Black Game Changers

Updated: May 22

History has always been written by the victors, and in early American history, much of the winning team lacked African American representation. Luckily, on February 7, 1926, Carter G. Woodson pushed to change the game. In hopes of studying and celebrating the countless men and women of the Black race rather than focusing on the contributions of two men, Woodson transformed the week reserved for celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass (both credited with playing prominent roles in shaping Black History) into seven days; Admiring the ‘Negro’ race as a whole and our contributions to the public. Since 1926, Black people have continued to be game-changers, extending Negro History Week to the entire month of February and continuously making history to be studied in future years.

Too soon, the nation lost a legend in the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the nine other passengers of their helicopter ride on the morning of January 26th. The country mourned in unison as we celebrated the life and sportsmanship of one of the most iconic players to conquer the game of basketball. Bryant will always be remembered for the dedication he put into perfecting his craft, and the inspiration he has given the world on working hard to become the best at what you do. In honor of the Black Mamba, we are celebrating this Black History month with a list of 24 game-changing African Americans who are inspiring the masses and making history this century.


1. Kobe Bryant

Born Kobe Bean Bryant on August 23, 1978, in Philly, the legendary Black Mamba spent 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers; Not only entertaining fans and haters alike, but winning titles and breaking records. The 13th first-round pick of the 1996 NBA draft led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA Championships and became a role model for young athletes everywhere. He made history earning 18 All-Star selections, four total Most Valuable Player Awards, two Olympic gold medals, and an impressive 81-point game. Bryant ended his career with a 60-point scoring win over the Utah Jazz in the final regular-season game of the 2015-16 season, making him the No. 3 all-time scoring leader with 33,643 regular season career points (a feat recently surpassed by LeBron James). Kobe’s drive and ambition to be the best has secured his legacy as an athlete’s greatest role model, even in death.

Rest in Peace to one of the hardest working men in sports, and may we all strive to embody his mamba mentality as we work on making history of our own – much like the other G.O.A.T.s to make this list.

2. LeBron James

Throughout his career, James has made history on and off the court from passing Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring and All-Star lists, to becoming a notable Philanthropist, especially in his hometown. Through the LeBron James Family Foundation, James has made a $2.5 million donation to the Muhammad Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, a sizable donation to the Boys and Girls Club of America, and a contribution to the Children’s Defense Fund. He is most celebrated for the establishment of the ‘I Promise’ school in Akron, Ohio, offering students who participate in his ‘I Promise’ program full scholarships to the University of Akron upon their high school graduation. Much like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James is influential in encouraging youth to become the best versions of whatever they aim to become.

3. Colin Kaepernick

Former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick has risked his career to make history as an activist for the new Civil Rights movement. His controversial sit during the National Anthem on December 2, 2015, sparked a national outrage, while inspiring many others to kneel in protest of police brutality and systemic racial injustice. Kaepernick, a member if Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., has since launched his “Know Your Rights Camp,” designed to educate youth on advancing black communities through education and self-empowerment to promote the next generation of change.

4. Simone Biles

At just 22, Simone Biles has made history as the most decorated female gymnast in the sport. After being diagnosed with ADHD in her childhood, Biles has gone on to prove to the world that active children can make for amazing role-models if given a medium for activity. Her flawless, show-stopping performances of floor have garnered her such respect that there are two-floor elements named after her in the Gymnast Code of Scoring.

5. Tori Bowie

American track and field athlete Tori Bowie earned the title of fastest woman in the world in her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio. Since earning her title, the three-time medalist has become a sports fashion model, giving women of her complexion a face to appreciate and relate to in fashion. From foster-care to competing alongside some of the other athletically talented women of the world, Bowie is proof that humble beginnings can lead to a lifetime of winning.


6. Nipsey Hustle

On March 31, 2019, the hip-hop community mourned the assassination of Ermias Joseph Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hustle. The 33-year-old rapper was notable for his unwavering hustle to make it out of poverty, his innate desire to give back and create an opportunity for others to do the same, and his desire for peace in ‘hoods much like the one from which he emerged. Through conscious rap and community service, Nipsey endeavored to remedy and eliminate gang violence in the Los Angeles community. He was sadly murdered the day before he planned to meet with the LAPD and Roc Nation to discuss such efforts. An activist for the greater good, Hustle left a legacy of peace, leadership, and community through his music, relationships, and business ventures, bringing unity to several black communities even in death.

7. Chance the Rapper

Born Chancelor Jonathan Bennett in Chicago, Illinois, Chance the Rapper has made a name for himself has a top-selling independent artist. His socially conscious music speaks to an array of rap-loving ears, but his greatest accomplishments lie in his activism off the mic. He is vocal on many issues affecting the black neighborhoods of Chicago, such as gun violence, public school funding, and mental health. Since his 2013 album “Acid Rap,” Chance had become a prominent figure in improving and advancing the black communities of Chicago.

8. Kendrick Lamar

Another socially conscious artist making strides in promoting black pride and excellence, Kendrick Lamar made history in 2018 as the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his album “DAMN.” His knack for storytelling has credited him with giving today’s black experience a strong voice.

9. Cardi B

Belcalis Almanzar is the epitome of unapologetic. Whether you like her or not, Cardi B has secured her place in music history as the first female rapper to have two No. 1 hits from a debut album on the Billboard Hot 100. From the streets to the big screen, this Afro-Latina is making money moves while celebrating blackness and authenticity. She is a symbol of black pride along the African diaspora in its purest forms, giving hope to brown girls everywhere who are dismissed for their strong personalities. Let Cardi be proof that success is achievable without assimilation.

10. Childish Gambino

Donald Glover is a true treasure. This multi-talented king is responsible for sparking conversations about the dangers and hardships of being a black man in America with his Billboard Top 100 No. 1 hit and Emmy nominated project, “This is America” and Atlanta, respectively. The song was meant to bring attention back to the death of Trayvon Martin and how common that situation is amongst many black men throughout the country. The FX television series Atlanta, which he features as Creator, Writer, Actor and Co-Director, is meant to highlight the black experience in the South. Glover aspires to inspire black youth to become creators, making their own worlds and sharing themselves without fear of judgement.

11. Lil Nas X

Born Montero Lamar Hill, Lil Nas X rocked the Country genre last year with his Country-Rap hit “Old-Town Road.” The rapper became the first openly gay black male to secure the longest leading No.1 single on the Billboards Hot 100, win a Country Music Award, and make Forbes’ Highest-Paid Country Acts list. If that isn’t game changing, I’m not sure what is.


12. Marsai Martin

Best known for her role as Diane on ABC’s sitcom Black-ish, Marsai Martin is one of the most promising young talents in Hollywood. With the role of Actress already on her belt, the 15-year-old powerhouse has recently added Director and Producer with the production of Little, a black-girl magic twist on the body-swap genre. This project makes her the youngest ever Executive Producer of a big-budget movie, and it goes up from there. This young lady is dripping black girl magic!

13. Viola Davis

How to Get Away with Murder’s lead actress Viola Davis added her name to the Black History book in 2015 as the first African American woman to win an Emmy Award for best actress in a drama series, breaking diversity barriers in the television industry. Her acceptance speech touched thousands as she explained how difficult it is for black women to be cast in award winning roles. She has also collected Oscar and Tony awards for her role in Fences both on screen and on Broadway. She is one trophy short of achieving EGOT status.

14. Kehinde Wiley

Inspired by black and brown muses, Nigerian American painter Kehinde Wiley has blessed the culture with various portraits of black-girl magic and black-boy joy. His most notable piece of work, however, is the Presidential portrait of the United State’s first black President Barack Obama. Wiley is the first black artist to paint a Presidential portrait,which resides in the National Portrait Gallery’s Hall of Presidents. Though surrounded by controversy, Wiley’s portrait of black excellence amidst a bed of blossoming nature attracted a 300 percent increase in visitors to the gallery.

15. Issa Rae

From YouTube to the big screen, Issa Rae has been dishing out laughs and relatable

content to Black America and its fans. Her Misadventures of Awkward Black Girlseries

sparked attention online in 2011, and the creator has gone on to produce

comedic gems ever since. Now holding titles such as Bestselling Author and award

winning Content Creator, Issa Rea is continuing to put on for the culture with her HBO hit

comedy Insecure, and various romantic comedies making their way to theaters. The

Emmy nominated actress is a whole vibe, and we love that she’s “rooting for everybody


16. Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman is the ultimate Black History actor. He’s portrayed James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and Jackie Robinson. But for many of us, his most influential role was that of T’Challa, Marvel’s Black Panther. This African inspired superhero sparked worldwide support from across the African diaspora. Kids were given a superhero that looked like them, and technology that would make any black person want to move to “Wakanda forever.” Grossing $1.3 billion, Boseman and the Black Panther movie proved that black superheroes can impact box offices, too.

17. Jaden Smith

Say what you will about Jaden Smith’s style, but you cannot deny that this young man has a caring heart. The Flint, Michigan water crisis gained national attention in 2014, but has since wavered from many unconcerned minds over the years. The water remains undrinkable, but Jaden Smith, alongside community church leaders, has devised a method to assist in providing clean water to Flint’s residents. Smith has founded a mobile water filtration device called the Water Box which launched in March 2019. These boxes have since been installed around the communities of Flint to service its residents and decrease the amount of bottled water needed to support families in the area.


18. Ryan Coogler

The director of Marvel’s Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, delivered to us an unforgettable black superhero blockbuster that will be remembered as the biggest cultural barometer of the decade. Coogler, alongside Michael B. Jordan, has previously brought to the screen cultured hits such as Fruitvale Station and Creed, and the two are collaborating for a fourth time to produce Wrong Answer, covering the story of 2004’s Atlanta Public School cheating scandal. Who can hate Coogler for bringing black excellence and experiences to Hollywood (and for always finding a roll for Michael B(ae) Jordan)? #WakandaForever!

19. Janet Mock

Born Charles Mock, Janet Mock has become an inspiration to black trans- women. The Writer, Director, and Producer has made history as the first black transgender woman to direct a television episode. Pose, FX’s new LGTBQ drama, centers around the struggles of the LGBTQ community and how the group overcomes them daily. Mock is also a trans activist, sharing her stories through her writing in books and magazines.

20. Jordan Peele

We can thank Jordan Peele for giving us the first black man to survive a horror film in 2017’s Get Out, Peele’s directorial debut. The film landed him three Oscar nominations, and after 90 years, Peele became the first black writer to win an Academy Award. He also holds the honor of being the fourth ever African American to be nominated for best director. His follow up thriller US confirms his plight to creep us out, and make us think, with socially minded thrillers that spark conversation around blackness in America.

21. Ava DuVernay

Director, Producer, Screenwriter (gosh, she wears so many hats!) Film-Maker, and Film Distributer Ava DuVernay has worked primarily for the culture. Giving us gems such as Selma, 13th, A Wrinkle in Time, and the four-part Netflix series When They See Us, DuVernay has dedicated her career to highlighting black stories and showcasing black excellence.


22. Stacey Abrams

Though losing to Brian Kemp by just 55,000 votes in Georgia’s recent governor election, Stacey Abrams still made history by becoming the first black woman to receive a gubernatorial nomination by a major party. The Spellman Alumna was endorsed by Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. Though she failed to secure victory, Abrams served as an inspiration to young black women of the south, such as myself, that change is attainable.

23 and 24. The Obamas

With President Trump causing all types of mayhem in the White House, it is wonderful to see the first black ‘First Couple’ continue to be the strong, upstanding, and beautiful pair we know them to be. Their biggest accomplishment of the year so far (it’s only February, mind you. There’s plenty of year left) is securing an Oscar for the Netflix documentary American Factory, produced by their company Higher Ground. Regardless of what they are up to, we still consider the Obamas to be the black power couple of the century.

There are countless black people achieving greatness who didn’t make it to the list. Share some of your favorites with us in the comments section.

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