Coloring outside of the lines can often lead to inspirational results. Here are 10 people of color who are breaking barriers, glass ceilings, and news headlines, all to be the best at what they do. No doubt they are changing the world by creating the most exceptional future for us all. Color this year a success.
Noteworthy because: Award-winning writer; executive producer
Lena Waithe, 33, is the embodiment of comedic genius and now she has the Emmy to prove it. She became the first African-American woman to win for co-writing the “Thanksgiving” episode of the Netflix comedy, Master of None. The semi-autobiographical episode (co-written with the show’s co-creator, Aziz Ansari) is based on Waithe’s own experience coming out to her family. Next up, the Chicago native is taking on another personal project as the creator and executive producer behind The Chi, an hour-long drama for Showtime. In it she’ll present the coming-of-age story of several characters feeling the push and pull of living on the South Side of Chicago.
Noteworthy because: Award-winning actor and director; writer, producer, songwriter, and retiring rapper
Donald Glover doesn’t want to do just one thing in Hollywood. He wants to do it all. When he’s not rapping as Childish Gambino (he recently announced his last album is on the horizon), he’s pouring his creative energies into acting and directing—and it is paying off big time. This year, the 34-year old became the first African-American to win an Emmy for Directing a Comedy Series for his FX show, Atlanta. He also picked up the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a comedy. On top of winning two Golden Globes earlier this year, Glover revealed during his Emmy acceptance speech that he and his girlfriend are expecting their second son. Glover for the win!
Noteworthy because: Award-winning actor
For as long as he can remember, Riz Ahmed has been the odd man out. The 34-year-old actor was born and bred in London as the son of Pakistani immigrants. Even though he had the chops to make it to Oxford University, studying politics, philosophy, and economics, he was often bullied and excluded for being different. It only fueled his fire to be even better than before. He dabbled in music becoming a hip-hop artist, known as Riz MC, and released his first single in 2006, which ultimately led to a role in one of his first films. Fast-forward to this year and Ahmed continues to defy expectations becoming the first Asian and first Muslim to win an acting Emmy (for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie for HBO’s The Night Of). Even better, he did so without succumbing to stereotypical roles like Terrorist No. 4. Look for Ahmed next in the Spider-Man spinoff, Venom.
Noteworthy because: Grammy award-winning singer, designer, entrepreneur, and beauty icon
She’s bold, brazen, and completely unapologetic. After just 12 years in the business, Rihanna has dominated the charts, sold millions of records worldwide, and won numerous awards and accolades including eight Grammys. What do you do when there’s nothing left to prove in the lane you’re in? You put the pedal to the metal and make a sharp left turn. After years of testing products and taking a little of this and a pinch of that from friends and advisors, the 29-year-old singer swerved into new territory launching her new makeup line, Fenty Beauty. The response has been nothing shy of outstanding. Unlike other lines, Fenty Beauty boasts an assortment of 40 foundation shades to fit just about every skin tone on the planet. Rihanna’s message and commitment to inclusivity has flamed the fire in the beauty industry to supply more choices for women of color.
Noteworthy because: Local politics
The people of Birmingham, AL, have spoken and they’ve said they want Randall Woodfin. The 36-year-old former assistant city attorney and president of the Birmingham Board of Education recently won a run-off election for mayor, beating the incumbent, William A. Bell. After a seven-year tenure, Bell will step aside for Woodfin, who is the city’s youngest mayor since 1893. Woodfin campaigned on promises of change and progress, but understands that his city is still haunted by the shadows of its own history. He won’t let that get in the way vying to create an administration that encompasses more transparency, less nepotism, and one that answers only to his constituents. He officially takes over on November 28.
Noteworthy because: Platinum-selling producer and social media breakout star
DJ Khaled is the modern-day hip-hop pied piper whose creativity has beguiled 15 million loyal fans who follow him on Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. His brilliance goes beyond producing albums and making beats. Yes, the 41-year-old producer has had a number one album two years in a row (2017’s Grateful and 2016’s Major Key). Yes, he was behind arguably one of the hottest songs this summer, Wild Thoughts, featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller. Yes, he has music’s brightest stars on speed dial, including Drake, Rihanna, and Jay-Z (who is also his manager). While all of this is true, Khalid’s greatest achievement and priority is outside of music and rests within grooming and raising his infant son, Asahd.
Noteworthy because: Award-winning journalist and social intellect
In an age where people are fulfilled by a 280-character post, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates still finds much favor with long-form writing. As national correspondent for The Atlantic, his pieces typically dissect race and class with diplomacy and elegance. The MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner’s latest book, “We Were Eight Years in Power,” proves what’s old is what’s new again. It includes eight-essays originally published in The Atlantic over President Obama’s eight years in office. Each essay is accompanied by a new forward, offering lessons learned and heartfelt analysis and reflections of having the first African-American president in office.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee
Noteworthy because: Singer-songwriters of the most streamed song of all time
Talk about the sleeper hit of the year! When Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee collaborated on the Spanish reggaetón single, “Despacito,” neither of them could have imagined it would hit hard enough to break the Internet. “Despacito” stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for 16-weeks, becoming the first Spanish-language U.S. No. 1 since 1996’s “Macarena.” Even better, the video lit up YouTube with over 3 billion views (an audio-only remix version of the song with Justin Bieber has over 427 million views), becoming only one of two uploads to ever see those kinds of numbers. Fonsi, 39, and Daddy Yankee, 40, are Latin music megastars, but “Despacito” has opened a whole new world of opportunities and creative ventures for them both.
Noteworthy because: Entrepreneur whose company is slated to make $1.6 billion in 2017
Nina Vaca is no overnight success. The 46-year-old married mom of four is a tenacious executive who started her Dallas-based tech-staffing business, Pinnacle Group in 1996 with $300 and a dream. Over 20 years later, the firm is now worth billions. Some of her clients include Electronic Data Systems (EDS), MetLife, and Comcast. Since becoming a presidential ambassador of global entrepreneurship in 2014, Vaca has willingly shared her brilliance, secrets to work/life balance and keys to a stellar work ethic with other business owners across the world. She credits her Ecuadorian roots for her dedication, sense of family and commitment to community.