America’s Up-and-Coming African-American Leaders (Photos)

Clark Merrefield polls the experts to find the up-and-coming African-American leaders you may not have heard about.

From the first black woman to win Sundance’s Best Director award to the CEO of a mobile gaming company, from a brilliant astrophysicist training young South Africans to a trumpet player bringing music to Philly’s urban centers, The Daily Beast has identified some of the rising black leaders in the arts, technology, politics, and more.

In honor of Black History Month, we reached out to established experts across the spectrum and asked them to name up-and-coming African-American leaders who are poised to make a big difference in the United States and the world.

Editor's note: This story was originally published under the wrong URL. It has since been updated.

Schott Foundation for Public Education

Dr. John H. Jackson, education advocate

Nominated by: Dr. Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University

A Harvard Law alum and former national education director at the NAACP, Jackson is president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. As a member of President Obama’s Education Policy Transition Work Group, Jackson had the opportunity to bend the president’s ear on national education policy, with a group-wide focus on early-childhood education and recruiting new teachers, as Obama transitioned into office in 2009.
Jackson speaks out on education issues nationwide and leads the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, an organization that “has drawn attention to the many ways in which students, especially poor and minority, are denied basic learning opportunities,” Noguera said in an email. “He also has been a leader in drawing attention to the plight of black male students in American schools, who are notoriously underserved.”

David DeBalko

Stanford Thompson, musician

Nominated by: Douglas McLennan, director, National Arts Journalism Program; founder and editor, ArtsJournal; board of overseers, Curtis Institute of Music

Thompson is a trumpet player who studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and started Play On, Philly!, a kids’ orchestra program in poor areas of Philadelphia. In less than two years, Play On, Philly! has developed a strong following, teaching more than 200 kids for three hours daily. Yo-Yo Ma, Simon Rattle, and other classical-music stars have contributed time to the program. "If I can teach a kid how to play a Beethoven symphony, I absolutely know that kid's life will be better," Thompson has said.
“Stanford is an extraordinary kid who could have had a career in an important orchestra but is impacting the lives of hundreds of families with his program,” McLennan said in an email.

Victoria Will / AP Photo

Ava DuVernay, film director and publicist

Nominated by: Gil Robertson IV, president and cofounder of the African-American Film Critics Association

DuVernay began her career as a publicist working on high-profile campaigns for films such as Scary Movie, Collateral, Dreamgirls, and Invictus. “In a very short time she has made an indelible imprint in Hollywood,” Robertson said via email. “She has also established herself as a promising filmmaker with a growing list of film titles (I Will Follow and the upcoming Middle of Nowhere) that provide a refreshing look at contemporary urban culture.”
DuVernay has also flexed her business muscle with the creation of the African-American Film Releasing Movement, a grassroots theatrical-distribution entity powered by the nation’s leading black film festivals. At Sundance this year she made history as the winner of the Best Director prize, a first for a black woman, for Middle of Nowhere.

Steve Azzara / Getty Images

Dawn Davis, publisher

Nominated by: Eric Banks, president, National Book Critics Circle

In 2010 it was a big year for Davis, who ascended to publisher of Amistad, HarperCollins’s African-American imprint, and also became the executive editor of Ecco. As editorial director at Amistad for the last decade, Davis turned the imprint into a powerhouse for black letters, producing bestselling titles such as Edward P. Jones's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Known World and Paula Giddings's biography of Ida B. Wells.
“Young, savvy, and equally adept at developing serious literary works and surefire popular hits, Davis is a rising star in the publishing world,” Banks said by email. Her dual appointment at Ecco and Amistad, he said, “should make her a fascinating force to reckon with in decades to come.”

Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Anthony Foxx, mayor, Charlotte, N.C.

Nominated by: Mike Wenger, senior fellow, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

At 38, Anthony Foxx is “an up-and-coming person in politics,” Wenger says. After a successful legal career, a stint as a city councilman, and election as Charlotte’s 54th mayor in 2009, Foxx landed a major political coup last year when Charlotte was selected to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention. When North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue announced in January she would not seek reelection, Foxx’s name popped up on the shortlist of candidates to seek the Democratic nomination.
Foxx decided to sit out the gubernatorial race this time around, but he has plenty of time to make his move to higher office. After all, the DNC’s 2004 keynote speaker was a young and virtually unknown state senator from Illinois.

Michael Kovac / Getty Images for One Voice

Kamala Harris, attorney general, California

Nominated by: Mike Wenger

Harris holds a lot of firsts: the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American California attorney general. The New York Times recently lauded her for her slick and confident, if risky, handling of a nationwide foreclosure-lawsuit settlement, which ultimately netted her state the biggest chunk of benefit dollars.
“She’s written a good bit on reducing crime and recidivism, and she is a potential governor of California,” Wenger says. That is, assuming she doesn’t get an even more high-profile job. With a slew of caveats (that Barack Obama is reelected, that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires), Harris is the most likely candidate to land a Supreme Court nomination in 2015, according to SCOTUSBlog. And she’s only 47.
In March, Harris will participate in a panel discussion on women and justice as part of Newsweek/The Daily Beast’s Women in the World Summit.

David Paul Morris, Bloomberg / Getty Images

Charles Hudson, tech entrepreneur

Nominated by: Angela Benton, founder, BlackWebMedia, Black Web 2.0, and tech accelerator NewME

Charles Hudson is “one of the few people that's able to do two things really well at the same time,” Benton said in an email. He’s a venture capitalist at a firm called SoftTech VC, in an industry that doesn’t yet have many black faces. He's also CEO of Bionic Panda Games, a mobile gaming company for the Android platform. In a 2011 interview, Hudson explained that his day starts at 5 a.m. and his weeks are methodically planned to accommodate both full-time endeavors. “Charles's dedication has allowed him to break stereotypes in both tech entrepreneurship and venture capital,” Benton said.
In addition to managing a full plate, Hudson blogs—a must for anyone in the tech world (he’s been doing it since way back in 2003)—covering a wide range of tech topics, from e-books to search-engine optimization to social media.

Kris Connor / Getty Images

Dr. Griffin Rodgers, public-health official

Nominated by: Dr. Raynard Kington, president, Grinnell College; former acting director, National Institutes of Health

Rodgers directs the National Institutes of Health’s unit on diabetes and digestive and kidney diseases—one of the NIH’s largest, with a budget of almost $2 billion. In that capacity he is responsible for addressing diseases that are among the most important causes of morbidity and mortality around the world. Rodgers is a master of the American College of Physicians and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, and he has conducted important research on sickle-cell disease, which disproportionately affects people of African descent.
At a congressional hearing last year, Rodgers testified that the outlook for children living with diabetes is bright, thanks to decades of public-health efforts and improving technology. “Still, the burden of living with diabetes is enormous,” he said. “And so it's critical to build on the progress to find ways to prevent and cure the disease.”

Western Kentucky University

Dr. Charles H. McGruder, astrophysicist

Nominated by: Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, editor, National Society of Black Physicists Publications; professor of physics and space sciences, Florida Institute of Technology

McGruder was the fifth African-American to begin an astrophysics research career, but the first to study galaxies and extragalactic sources. While president of the National Society of Black Physicists in the 1990s he focused on including students in the NSBP, the largest gathering of African and Hispanic physicists and physics students in the world. McGruder then went on to convince NASA to host a conference for connecting minority scientists with NASA science missions in the developing stages. He then turned his sights to developing astronomy in Africa. Through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation he has worked with the University of Cape Town and the South African Astronomical Observatory to train young African astronomers. Prior to the training program, the university’s astrophysics program had only one or two black students. Now the program is 40 percent black.
“Dr. McGruder's impact on the current and next generation of minority astronomers cannot be overstated,” Oluseyi said in an email. “He has laid the groundwork that will enable many science stars to shine brightly in the coming years.”

Anthony Jewett, education entrepreneur

Nominated by: Dr. Nat Irvin II, Woodrow M. Strickland Chair, University of Louisville College of Business

As part of his quest to make international exchange financially accessible to 50,000 underserved U.S. students by 2020, Jewett has built the National Center for Global Engagement to provide quality international-exchange management services for high-needs schools across America. To date, Jewett has mobilized more than $2.5 million in financial and in-kind support, earned fellowships from Echoing Green and the Tides Foundation, and is pursuing a doctorate in education leadership at Harvard University.
“He is fueled by the belief that the future of our nation—indeed, our world—depends squarely on our ability to equip every student with the critical world perspectives, intercultural competencies, and foreign-language skills necessary for effective leadership in the 21st century,” Irvin said by email. “When this work is successful, the implications for every sector—from nonprofits to business to public policy—will be long-lasting and profound.”

Lanny Nagler / University of Connecticut Health Center

Dr. Cato Laurencin, orthopedic surgeon

Nominated by: Dr. Cedric Bright, president, National Medical Association

He may not be well known in the outside world, but among the community of medical scholars, Laurencin is a rock star. “He is a brainiac,” Bright says of his former mentor. A graduate of Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University, Laurencin served as dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. He is now the Van Dusen Endowed Chair in Orthopedic Surgery at UConn. In 2010 he was honored with the Presidential Award for Excellence. Laurencin also runs the Institute for Regenerative Engineering, which is researching groundbreaking methods to help bone and tissue heal from injury.
“He’s not using bone to make bone—he’s finding new ways to genetically make bone,” Bright says. So, if a decade from now you break a leg and it heals back stronger than it was before, don’t forget Cato Laurencin.

Marc Piscotty / Getty Images

Greg Moore, editor

Nominated by: Greg Lee Jr., president, National Association of Black Journalists

As editor of the Denver Post, Moore might be a familiar name in the Rocky Mountain region, but with his new position as central editor for Digital First Media papers in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas, he is now the man behind the news coverage for millions of readers across a broad swath of the country. As a member of the Pulitzer Prize board, Moore is also one of the judges behind the most recognized journalism award in the country.
“For years, Greg has been one of the industry's unknown stars,” Lee said via email. “For the past decade he has led the Denver Post through a tough period, but has persevered. He has been rewarded with the chance to shape more newspaper coverage in three other states.”

Rich Glickstein, The State / MCT / Getty Images

Coquese Washington, coach

Nominated by: Danielle O’Banion, president, Black Coaches & Administrators; associate head coach, women's basketball, University of Memphis

In the midst of a successful five-year stint in the WNBA—she was an integral member of the Houston Comets 2000 championship team—Washington joined the women’s basketball coaching staff at Notre Dame and helped lead the Fighting Irish to the 2001 NCAA championship. She was named head coach of Penn State women’s basketball in 2007 and has since groomed the raw talent of numerous top-tier players, including Tyra Grant, a second-round draft pick by the Phoenix Mercury, and defensive wiz Nikki Greene. Last season, Washington led her team to 25 victories, the most for the team in nearly a decade, and many over nationally ranked opponents. With her law degree from Notre Dame, Washington is also an exemplar of balancing athletics and academics. “She was just named Big Ten Coach of the Year and is a shining example of ethics and leadership in our field,” O’Banion said by email.