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The Root 100: A Who's Who Of Black America

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The online journal TheRoot.com, which focuses on African-American politics, culture and society, recently released its list of the 100 most important black influencers between the ages of 25 and 45. The list includes several known leaders and achievers, including NPR's own Audie Cornish, and Gene Demby and Matt Thompson of our Code Switch team. But there are also religious leaders, community activists and others who may not be household names ... yet.

In an interview with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, TheRoot.com publisher Donna Byrd said many factors went into determining who earned a spot on the list. The factors included the number of Twitter followers, internet mentions, and the extent of their social impact.

Byrd said, "We really look at: Have they achieved something in the last year? Have they contributed something to their community? And if the answer is "no" — they may have done something two years ago or five years ago — and the answer is "no" for this particular year, they're not on the list."


Interview Highlights

On the list's importance

I go around the country and I'm talking all the time. I hear people talk about the Root 100, and I have people say, "You know what, this list shows me people that I can be like, I can aspire to be like." ... They're looking at the businesspeople like Neal Sales-Griffin. They're looking at the scientists. It also showcases from a broader perspective the talent that exists in the African-American community.

On Jay Z

We were looking at the fact that he launched the Roc Nation Sports agency, and that he is really forging new relationships in the corporate world with how to use celebrities, and how to really build businesses and brands around these celebrities. So we really looked at him more as a businessman than we did the music celebrity.

In terms of what he's doing for the community, we step back and say, "Okay, this man has taken this platform that he's had, and beginning to build businesses and he's employing people. He's inspiring young people to think about other things besides just the music industry. How do you begin to build other businesses and franchises? He did take on a little bit with regard to the Zimmerman trial. He and his wife did attend one of the rallies around that. He's starting to use his platform for other things than just music.

On future stars

It's very important for us to make sure that we have some balance between those individuals that are typically recognized as celebrities and influencers in our community, and the people that might not always be in the front pages, if you will, and may not be household names.

We have 51 new, up-and-coming people on the list this year. We have Ryan Coogler, who is the director of Fruitvale Station. This was his first feature film and he's done an outstanding job. We think we're going to see more from him in the future. We have Nina Turner, who's up in Ohio running for secretary of state; and Aja Brown, the new young mayor of Compton.

We also have people in the science field. We have Christine Hendon, who is a biomedical engineer. She's working on the cure for heart disease, and is doing some outstanding work that's been recognized across the country. We have people in the arts: Patina Miller who just won a Tony award for best actress for her performance in Pippin.

Several members of the Root 100 have been guests on Tell Me More. Their conversations are linked below:

Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP

Cory Booker, mayor of Newark and democratic hopeful for U.S. Senate

Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNC host

Benjamin Crump, attorney for the family of slain teenager Trayvon Martin

Joy-Ann Reid, political commentator

Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at The Atlantic

Michael B. Jordan, actor (Fruitvale Station, The Wire, Friday Night Lights)

Issa Rae, writer and owner of Issa Rae Productions

Patina Miller, Tony Award-winning actress (Patina, Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy)

Ava Duvernay, writer and director

Queen Latifah, actress, singer, spokesmodel and talk-show host

Gene Demby, lead blogger for NPR's Code Switch

Octavia Spencer, Oscar-winning actress (The Help, Fruitvale Station)

Van Jones, environmental and civil rights activist, attorney, TV co-host

Matt Thompson, developer of NPR's Code Switch

Ivory Toldson, Howard University associate professor

Adepero Oduye, actress (Pariah, 12 Years a Slave)

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