Refinery29 Celebrates 20 Black Women You Need To Know Right Now

At Refinery29, we wanted to make sure that the current long-awaited cultural awakening to the power of Black women is not just a "moment" that will be forgotten after the 28th day of Black History Month.

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Black women are having a moment. We are everywhere, from the vibrant, fictional lands of Black Panther’s Wakanda to the runways of New York Fashion Week and the viral debate clips on CNN.
And suddenly, we're being praised left and right. Thanks to a memorable Emmy's speech, former Master of None writer and star Lena Waithe and her new show The Chi are "hot right now." In last year's Alabama U.S. Senate race, Black women were hailed for saving not just the state but American democracy by showing up to vote, ensuring Doug Jones won the seat over racist sexual predator Roy Moore. And it took pop star Rihanna and her 40 shades of foundation to prove to the beauty industry that customers not only want inclusion — they crave it, rabidly.
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But at Refinery29, we wanted to make sure that this long-awaited cultural awakening is not just a "moment" that will be forgotten after the 28th day of Black History Month. So R29’s Black writers came together to celebrate 20 Black women who are inspiring us right now. We each nominated women in our respective fields, from tech to fashion to entertainment, and then voted for the women we feel kicked down doors this past year, leaving them wide open for the rest of us. Black women who are reminding the world that we’re here — and we’ve been here.
Meet them, know them, share their wisdom. But remember: This is not just “a moment.” This is us, and this will always be us. We’re not going anywhere.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Equal Pay Warrior: Erica Joy Baker
The tech industry loves to glorify rabble-rousers. Unless, of course, that rabble-rouser is a 37-year-old Black woman. This tech engineer learned that lesson very publicly after she left Google in May 2015.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Visionary: Dee Rees
This screenwriter and director doesn’t have your typical Hollywood success story; it took quitting her stable corporate gig as a brand manager, going back to film school, and many nos before she found her breakout hit with the now Oscar-nominated Mudbound.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Zen Mother: Lauren Ash
When a job didn't turn out to be as stimulating as she'd hoped, the Chicago resident turned to yoga and meditation — then founded a wellness destination for other Black women to see themselves included in conversations about mental health and health-conscious living.
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ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Tastemaker: Ayanna James
As the costume director for HBO’s runaway hit Insecure and special projects like Jay Z’s celebrity-filled, Black-excellence-themed “Family Feud” video, the stylist is providing a platform for Black designers.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Activist: Brittany Packnett
She's the vice president of national community alliances with Teach for America. But in her spare time, Packnett also manages to be both a writer and activist and is one of the Black Lives Matter movement's most well-known faces, thanks to her work coordinating the Ferguson protests and cofounding the police reform effort Campaign Zero.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Makeup Maven: Sheika Daley
Daley is proud of the fact that she got her start at the strip club. Her first big break in beauty came as a makeup assistant on The Oprah Winfrey Show: Fridays Live, before word of mouth led to her working with artists like Trina, Kelly Rowland, and Beyoncé. Her strip club days are now long behind her, and she's got one major mentor: Pat McGrath.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Social Star: Jasmine Luv
Since she started making comedy sketches on social media in 2015, the comedian has racked up over one million followers on Instagram alone — plus two million more on Facebook — by writing, performing, shooting, and editing all of her own original content. Now, she makes thousands of dollars per post.
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ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Political Player: Janaye Ingram
Janaye Ingram is the director of national partnerships at Airbnb. She also happens to be the secretary and a logistical coordinator for the Women’s March. Those might not sound like natural matches, but Ingram believes that tech and activism have a synergic relationship.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Athlete: Toni Harris
If the 21-year-old accepts an offer from Bethany College, an NAIA division school in Kansas, she could be the first female non-kicker to ever be on a collegiate football team’s roster via scholarship.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Role Model: Yvonne Orji
Long before she was swapping one-liners with her TV best friend Issa on HBO’s Insecure, the actress was making audiences laugh via stand-up. And in 2018, she has major plans to bring us all even more big laughs.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Foodie: Angela Davis
Also known as The Kitchenista, this mom of two turned her personal passion into a career after being let go from her job as an accountant in 2012. For six years now, her successful blog, The Kitchenista Diaries, has been encouraging food lovers to try their own mouthwatering, healthy spins on Black cuisine.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Hair Goddess: Susan Oludele
Known as Hair by Susy, this stylist has been doing hair since she was 11. She's since braided names like Solange, Beyoncé, and Zoë Kravitz and is committed to making sure natural hair isn't just a passing trend.
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ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Confidence Queen: Lizzo
During last summer's month-long "Good As Hell" tour, the rapper tore up stages across the country with sparkly leotards and pop-star-like choreography, single-handedly shifting representation for plus women in the genre — and she had a blast while doing it.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Writer: Stevona Elem-Rogers
By day, the educator runs a resident program for teachers. But her life’s passion is spreading the gospel of unapologetic Black womanhood through her writing and her digital platform #BlackWomenAreForGrownUps, inspired by the idea that while #BlackGirlMagic is great, Black women deserve to revel in the space of their womanhood.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Lens: Adrienne Raquel
As the woman behind Nylon magazine’s recent Black History Month cover, Nike Sportswear’s FashionAIR campaign, and NARS’ global social media holiday campaign, the art director and photographer is one of the few in her field who’s ensuring stunning images of Black women are a mainstay in fashion visuals.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Voice: H.E.R.
Since her 2016 debut, the R&B singer has kept her persona a mystery. And though her identity has since been figured out — you might remember her as Gabi Wilson, the singer behind the 2014 hit “Something To Prove” — she’d still prefer to focus less on who she is and more on what she’s about.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Boss: Tricia Clarke-Stone
At a time when the future of media is as uncertain as it is exciting, this businesswoman is finding inventive ways for media to thrive, everywhere from Russell Simmons' Global Grind — which she helped turn profitable in just two years — to Will Packer Media, where she currently serves as chief executive officer of WP Narrative.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Wellness Icon: Jessamyn Stanley
In a world of size-two, blonde-haired yogis, there’s Jessamyn Stanley, a full-figured Black woman with natural hair who’s not just a yoga instructor but also an inspiration for Black women looking for a physical and mental awakening.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Visual Artist: Deun Ivory
The former art and English teacher is now a multidisciplinary artist who celebrates Black womanhood through photography, illustration, and writing. She's the art director for Lauren Ash’s Black Girl in Om and cofounder of the social affirmation brand Lifestyle with Ivory + Ash.
ILLUSTRATION BY NICHOLE WASHINGTON
The Future: Marsai Martin
It’s impossible not to feel excited about the future when you hear Marsai Martin’s story. The ABC actress has crafted an already-iconic sitcom character with the Johnson family’s youngest daughter, Diane, on black-ish. She's also scored the title of executive producer for Little, a film out next year that she dreamt up herself — all at the ripe age of 13.

All photos are courtesy of the subject.
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