21 Brilliant Black Voices We’re Thankful For This Year

Let’s be honest: 2016 was one of the worst years ever. For black people, it was especially trying thanks the the racism that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (and eventual election) incited amongst white nationalists. Then there was, of course, the numerous unjust shooting deaths of black men and women at the hands of police

And did we mention Donald Trump was elected as president?

But, in spite of all of this, there were still some things to be grateful for this year, especially when it came to black people using their voices and their talent to do amazing things.

From Ava DuVernay’s stellar documentary “The 13th,” to Colin Kaepernick’s controversial (but necessary) stand against racism, below are just some of the brilliant black voices we were thankful for in 2016:

  • 1 Solange Knowles
    Jacopo Raule via Getty Images

    In September, Solange Knowles dropped her third studio album,”A Seat At The Table.” With songs like “F.U.B.U.” and”Don’t Touch My Hair,” it has been hailed by many as the blackest album of the year.
    It’s not only a meditation on what it is to be black, but a celebration of blackness — something we sorely needed this year.

  • 2 Simone Biles
    Elsa via Getty Images

    GymnastSimone Biles was part of the medal-winning dream team at the 2016 Olympics, encompassing everything that is #BlackGirlMagic. With four gold medals, the 19-year-old athlete is now the mostis the most decorated gymnast in America.

  • 3 John Legend
    Craig Barritt via Getty Images

    John Legend may have a beautiful singing voice, but it’s how he has used his voice to effect change and spread awareness that makes him even more amazing. Legend is unapologetically vocal via social mediaabout racial injustice, but he also uses his platform to make a difference in the real world, establishing charities like the Show Me Campaignand FreeAmericato target poverty in African countries and mass incarceration.

  • 4 Gwen Ifill
    Cindy Ord via Getty Images

    Gwen Ifill, who passed away on November 14 after a battle with cancer, was one of the most respected journalists in the industry. Over her decades spanning career, which included hosting the PBS NewsHour, Ifill built a legacy that paved the way for other black women in journalism. Though she’s gone, her contributions and achievements during her lifetime will continue to stand as an inspiration to us all.

  • 5 Jesse Williams
    Paras Griffin via Getty Images

    Jesse Williams has been praised for his “wokeness” for years, but he really made people stand up and take notice during his BET award acceptance speech in June. The speech crystalized so much of what many black people were feeling in the wake of heightened police brutality. “Just because we’re magic,” Williams said, “doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

  • 6 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Leigh Vogel via Getty Images

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie may be known by some as the woman speaking during the interlude in Beyonce’s “***Flawless,” but this year she cemented the fact that she is one of the most compelling, intelligent, and talented authors today. From dispelling the myth that feminists can’t love makeup, to her beautifully-written meditation on the power of Michelle Obama, to shutting down whitesplainers on national television,Adichie proved time and time again this year that she is a voice worth listening to.

  • 7 Barry Jenkins
    Santiago Felipe via Getty Images

    With “Moonlight,” director Barry Jenkins gave us one of the most beautiful cinematic explorations of black manhood. The film follows Chiron, a young boy growing up in Liberty City, Miami who must navigate his sexuality and his masculinity in a world that wants to tell him who he is. Jenkins has made a film that not only has a gay black man at the center, but was also written by and stars an entirely black cast.

  • 8 Angela Rye
    Larry French via Getty Images

    Angela Rye is one of the most important political commentators in news, with an unbending dedication to fostering positive political change. She has had many amazing moments as a commentator for CNN, but her greatest her perhaps the time she quoted Beyonce lyrics to shut down a Trump support.

  • 9 Marc Lamont Hill
    Mireya Acierto via Getty Images

    It’s been an amazing year for Marc Lamont Hill. The former HuffPost Live host and CNN commentator has been on his hustle all year, getting his own late night show on VH1. In July he also released an important new book, “NOBODY:Casualties of Americas War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.”

  • 10 Issa Rae
    Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

    Issa Rae’s highly-anticipated HBO show “Insecure” finallypremiered this year, and it is as glorious as we all were hoping it would be. Rae first came to prominence with her web series “Awkward Black Girl” in 2011, but with “Insecure” she’s honed her comedy style and provided the television landscape with a badly needed black girl point of view.

  • 11 Colin Kaepernick
    Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images

    Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing protest against racism in the United States might be controversial (especially since he did not vote in the recent presidential election), but his dedication to it must be respected. In addition to speaking out against police brutality, Kaepernick has also launched a “Know Your Rights” camp for underprivileged young black men in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • 12 Franchesca Ramsey
    Michael Loccisano via Getty Images

    Franchesca Ramsey, also known as “Chescaleigh,” is an internet personality and activist best known for hosting the stellar MTV web series “Decoded.” In each episode of the series, Ramsey breaks down myths about race and racism, including black female stereotypes, ridiculous excuses for racism, and the dangers of Voter ID laws.

  • 13 Ava DuVernay
    NurPhoto via Getty Images

    This year Ava DuVernay not only gave us the captivating family drama “Queen Sugar” on OWN, she also released “The 13th,” a seminal Netflix documentary about the racist origins of mass incarceration. DuVernay continues to use her success and her platform to not only educate, but to create more opportunities for other black filmmakers.

  • 14 Darnell Moore
    Paul Zimmerman via Getty Images

    As an activist within the Black Lives Mater movement and the senior editor of Mic’s “The Movement,” writer Darnell Moore has become an indispensable voice in the black community. Moore is currently writing a memoir about being a black, gay man in America titled “No Ashes in the Fire.”

  • 15 Joy-Ann Reid
    NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

    Joy-Ann Reid is one of the bright, shining lights of truth and integrity in the journalism world. Reid, through her work on MSNBC and her show “AM Joy,” is not afraid to call out racism and misogyny, as demonstrated by her brilliant message to the American people after Donald Trump’s election.

  • 16 Donald Glover
    Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

    Donald Glover is not only a talented singer and musician, he’s also the creator of one of the best new shows on TV, “Atlanta.” With an all-black writers room, Glover has offered up a quirky and authentic perspective on the black experience that has never been seen before.

  • 17 Zadie Smith
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images

    Beloved British novelist Zadie Smith released her latest novel, “Swing Time,” earlier this year, a brilliant addition to an already stellar library of work that features richly and vibrantly drawn portraits of black people throughout the diaspora.

  • 18 Van Jones
    NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Political commentator Van Jones became a star of the 2016 campaign, thanks to his unflinching and intelligent commentary as a CNN analyst. The former White House advisor has stood out the most during debates about racism in America, where he has consistently held his own against fellow commentators who choose to deny or downplay its reality.

  • 19 Luvvie Ajayi
    Marla Aufmuth via Getty Images

    2016 wasLuvvie Ajayi’s year. The Nigerian-American blogger and social media star released a New York Times best-selling book called “I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual” full of black girl magic.

  • 20 Barack And Michelle Obama
    NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images

    For their leadership.For their humor. For their tireless work to improve the quality of lives of millions of Americans. For their grace and poise in the face of hatred and disrespect. Thankful.

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