Black girls rock — from the polls to the silver screen. We're triple threats. We're politically correct at the ballot box and refuse to waste a drop of the blood our ancestors shed for our voting rights. We take it to the streets and to the boardrooms. We dominate the courts, whether we're attacking the law or a ball going 100 mph.
We burn in the kitchen, and we can get technical, too. We take care of business and share the wealth, for we pull as we climb. We're wellness warriors. We have healing hands. We listen to our Grandmas, 'cause we tell the truth and shame the devil. We're geniuses, but everybody knows that. And we're the greatest girlfriends, ever.
We. Are. Fierce!
We embody the Fierce manifesto, which states in part: “To be fierce is to embrace all that’s wonderful about being a black woman. To live your dreams, celebrate your strengths and appreciate your true beauty. It means being confident and unapologetically you!”
Thanks to your input, here are 15 women who fit this description and made their mark on 2017. Their stories will inspire each of us in the new year and beyond!
Click the "next" button at the top or bottom of each page to see all 15 Fierce sisters. Let us know what you think at the end. Enjoy!
1. You — The Black Woman Voter — for #BlackGirlMagic at the Polls!
By Lisa Canada
The exit polls coming out of Alabama’s Senate race revealed a stunner: Democrat Doug Jones was being lifted to victory in large part by black women, whose nearly unanimous 98 percent showing clearly caught the pundits off guard.
Everybody else may have been shocked, but the sisters were not.
Throughout the year, we’d organized, canvassed, plotted, planned. We signed up to run for political office, or to support a sister candidate, all beneath the radar of analysts and strategists who were too fascinated by political developments on the far right to pay close attention to what we were doing. We applauded Reps. Maxine Waters and Fredericka Wilson for standing up to President Donald Trump. We cheered Sen. Kamala Harris for her tough questioning in the Russian corruption probe, and wondered out loud whether she’ll run for president in 2020.
Come election time, we networked our churches, community groups and sororities, and went to the polls in big numbers. Once in those voting booths, the sisters shunned write-ins and came down hard for the Democrat, the sister on the ballot, or both — not just in Alabama, but also in the Virginia governor’s race and in mayoral races in Atlanta, Charlotte and New Orleans.
That is what makes The Black Woman Voter one of the fiercest sisters of 2017.
“There are moments when we all have to decide to vote,” said Anana Harris Parris, founder of SisterCARE Alliance, an Atlanta self-care advocacy group. “We may be confused by political games, a number of things that can confuse us. But we’re never confused when we are aligned with our purpose.”
Parris uttered those words earlier this month on the steps of Atlanta’s City Hall at a rally in support of Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose campaign was born from gatherings with trusted sisterfriends around her kitchen table. While Bottoms’ opponents questioned her finances and denigrated her as a puppet of departing Mayor Kasim Reed, celebrities embraced her candidacy under the #IStandWithKeisha hashtag and imaginations danced across social media at the idea of a mayor named Keisha. Elsewhere in the South, voters decisively chose LaToya Cantrell as the first woman mayor of New Orleans, and Viola Lyles as Charlotte’s first black woman mayor.
Expect to see more fierceness from black women voters in 2018, which also builds on the surges from 2008, 2012 and 2016. Brookings Institution analyst Andre Perry points out with these tables which majority black cities have the potential to make a difference in Senate races next year and in 2020. In some of those areas, black women outnumber black men among voting populations, below.
The advocacy group Higher Heights for America is already at work identifying black women candidates and building support for issues that matter to us. Blogger Luvvie Ajaye teamed up with three other sisters and began keeping a list of sisters who are on the ballot next year. “I just wanted to make sure that, at the minimum, people realize that black women are out here, running,” Ajaye said.
One person who is well aware of this reality on both sides of the voting booth: Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee.
The morning after Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama, Perez took to Twitter and gave black women full credit for that victory and the election of Democrat Ralph Northam as governor of Virginia.
“Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Perez tweeted,” and we can’t take that for granted. Period.”
ICYMI! ADD YOUR NAME: Thank the Black Women of Alabama! THANK YOU for voting to continue to move the nation forward & stop the rollbacks of the last 50 years of progress. Add your name here to show you appreciation! https://t.co/LBFAj5BL7C #BlackWomenLead pic.twitter.com/EnAqpkJSoK
— HigherHeights (@HigherHeights) December 15, 2017
2. Tiffany Haddish — the Ultimate Girlfriend & Rising Star
By Sydney Davenport
This phrase takes on many meanings for comedian Tiffany Haddish. It's her rallying cry, letting the audience know she is ready to have a good time. Her enthusiasm is infectious every time she is in the spotlight.
As the breakout star of “Girls Trip,” she helped the film become the first produced, directed, written by and starring African Americans to make $100 million in ticket sales, reported BlackFilm.com.
Haddish’s performance skyrocketed her career and at times overshadowed that of her well-known co-stars: Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Queen Latifah.
Born in Los Angeles, Haddish has had a tough life, which she is unafraid to make the brunt of her jokes.
Haddish helped raise her four siblings and care for a disabled mom; lived in foster care; experienced bullying, abusive relationships and homelessness; and worked a long stream of jobs, including being the hype woman for Bat Mitzvahs.
She attributes her survival to comedy. In the beginning, humor was a way to avoid being hit, if she made her mother laugh. Now it has become a lucrative talent.
Haddish is transparent about her experiences, because she hopes it will help others in similar situations to persevere and see that survival is possible.
“When I’m onstage, I know nobody can really hurt me,” she told “The View.”
“And if somebody does try to hurt me, I have a room full of witnesses to tell on my behalf what happened”
It is her ability to explain how she used comedy as her defense mechanism for deep-rooted problems that has endeared her to so many people while making them laugh.
Kevin Hart, whom Haddish has called her Comedy Angel, has said that Haddish is a force as a comedian who demands to be heard and respected.
Since “Girls Trip,” Haddish has been the first black female comedian to host Saturday Night Live.” She also starred in her first Showtime comedy special, “Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood,” and released a book titled “The Last Black Unicorn.”
For Haddish, it seems like there’s nowhere to go but up and that’s why this girl is Fierce!
Sydney Davenport is a writer based in Washington, D.C., and a frequent contributor to FierceforBlackWomen.com.
3. Haben Girma Sees Possibility Where Others See Barriers to Change
When she took the stage to take her latest honor — a 2017 Making a Difference award from Black Girl’s Rock for her work as a global inclusion leader and advocate for people with disabilities — Haben Girma instantly filled the room with the wisdom and beautiful smile that have become her trademark.
Girma has been deafblind since about age 5, yet she has worked near miracles by teaching millions to see new ways to use technology and other forms of innovation to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. In addition to her work, she lives her life in ways that show us barriers to opportunities for the 1.3 million people with disabilities around the world exist primarily in our minds, not in daily life.
When told that the deaf could not dance because they could not hear music, she discovered the joys of salsa through rhythm and vibration. When she decided she wanted to know what it was like to surf, without sight, she mounted a board and rode the waves knowing that balance does not require vision and sound.
“As a black woman and disabled, stories sometimes say my life doesn’t matter,” Girma said at a recent speaking engagement. “I choose to live a story that says my life does matter. We all have the power to create our own story. As for disability, I choose to believe that alternative techniques [for reading, working, mobility] are of equal value.”
Girma, who became the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School in 2013, advises policymakers how to make the world a more welcoming, functional place for people with physical and other limitations. She is also an artful storyteller who uses her family’s history and struggles as a way to help us all see that obstacles only exist to be removed.
Next spring, the American Foundation for the Blind will honor Girma with a Helen Keller Achievement Award "for her advocacy and dedication to creating equal opportunities for people with disabilities."
Girma often shares the wise counsel her mother shared with her. Lessons learned as her mother struggled to escape Eritrea, living as a refugee in the Sudan, while making her way to the United States. “Geography does not create justice,” her mother taught her. “People create justice; communities create justice. All of us make the make choice to accept oppression around us or advocate for justice.”
“Disability never holds anyone back,” Girma said. “Disability is never the barrier. The barrier is society.”
4. Sloane Stephens Swings Her Way Into History
By Larry Bivins
When the curtain closed after the semi-final performances at the U.S. Open, the stage was set for a historic encore. For the first time, two African-American women would play in a Grand Slam final, neither of whom is named Williams, with Sloane Stephens emerging as the victor over Madison Keys.
In the amped-up conversation leading up to the semis of the biggest and final Grand Slam of the tennis season, Sloane was considered a dark horse contender at best. She began the 2017 season on the injured list and had only recently returned to playing at a level that had her pegged as a potential No. 1 contender.
The 24-year-old was out for 11 months, including the first half of the year, with a foot injury. Sloane, who defeated Serena Williams to reach the 2013 Australian Open semi-finals and had been ranked as high as No. 12, had plummeted to No. 957 on the WTA tour. When I saw her play at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., in early August, a tournament she won in 2015, she seemed listless and out of sorts. But she rebounded to reach the semi-finals of her next three tournaments, including the U.S. Open. For the first time ever, three of the four women playing in the women’s singles semi-finals were African American.
The semi-final matchups pitted Sloane against Venus Williams and Madison versus Coco Vandeweghe at night in the 23,000-plus-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest in tennis. In the first match, Sloane’s athleticism and defense proved to be too much for Venus to overcome. Sloane won 6-1, 0-6, 7-5.
“I have no words to describe what I’m feeling, what it took to get here,” Sloane said.
A little later, Madison’s power game prevailed to give her a 6-1, 6-2 victory and set up a championship match against Sloane. It was the first Grand Slam final for both players. The last time two Americans played in the U.S. Open women’s final was in 2002. That was Williams vs. Williams. Serena won.
When Sloane hoisted this year’s silver Tiffany winner’s trophy after the final, it represented another milestone in black tennis history. Although she called it the "Best.Day.Ever." the WTA's Comeback Player of the Year claims that a bigger highlight was joining other college grads in her family by earning a bachelor's in communication studies through Indiana University East's online program for athletes.
Larry Bivins has worked as a journalist in Miami, New York City, Detroit and Washington, D.C. An avid tennis player, he writes theTennis in the Hood blog to instill a passion for the sport in inner-city neighborhoods throughout America.
Sloane Stephens' victory came on the 60th anniversary of Althea Gibson's back-to-back championships in the United States and at Wimbledon. Click here to learn more.
Indiana University East Class of 2017 🎓♥️ Made my grandparents proud this morning! pic.twitter.com/nZKeH7CgpV
— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) December 14, 2017
5. Dr. Myiesha Taylor — a Real-Life Doc McStuffins
How do you get a major character named after you on one of Disney’s most beloved shows, "Doc McStuffins"? You stand up for black women in medicine whenever it’s needed, while using your healing gifts to combat the inequities in health care that harm people in some of the nation’s poorest communities. Or at least, that’s the approach of Myeisha Taylor, M.D., founder of the Artemis Medical Society, an organization created to support black women in medicine — and inspired by Doc McStuffins.
The Artemis Medical Society recently released a report, "Breaking Down Barriers," detailing the challenges that women face in pursuing medical degrees and noting that women of color make up only 11.7 percent of active physicians in the United States.
From an early age, Dr. Taylor understood that certain things were just not right in America, especially when it came to the way that race and racism shaped, and often destroyed, life for so many black Americans. Tragically awakened to the need for social justice after her father was shot and killed 25 years ago during the protests that erupted after the Rodney King verdict, Dr. Taylor chose to use medicine to bring about positive change. She’s also found plenty of time to be an activist and to advocate for black women in medicine.
That’s why Dr. Taylor knew she had to do something, when she heard that a clueless (O.K., racist) flight attendant had questioned the credentials of an African-American female physician trying to come to the aid of a fellow passenger. While on a Delta flight, Tamika Cross, M.D., a gynecologist, raised her hand when a passenger screamed for help and the airline staff called for a doctor onboard.
A dismissive flight attendant responded: “Oh no, Sweetie. Put your hand down. We are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel. We don't have time to talk to you.” She immediately turned to a white, male physician onboard.
“In this present day we are shocked that there are individuals and corporations who continue to demonstrate beliefs that certain individuals are unable to be a physician simply because of their ethnicity and/or gender,” Dr. Taylor wrote. “Delta Air Lines, as an Atlanta-based corporation, should be acutely aware of the history of racism and sexism in our nation and how it continues to cast a long shadow in our society.”
It was a natural response as part of her work with Artemis, an organization founded in 2014 to mentor and support women physicians of color globally. The society has more than 3,700 members and representation in every major American city, extending to South Africa, the United Kingdom, Italy and the Caribbean.
Dr. Taylor joined other black female physicians in requesting an investigation of the incident and starting a viral movement with the hashtag #WhataDoctorLooksLike. Delta agreed to comply. At the very least, with Dr. Taylor’s help, we can hope that the next time a black woman physician answers a call for help on a flight, she is met with the dignity and respect she deserves. And that’s why Doc McStuffin’s calls her mom Myiesha — like Dr. Taylor's real-life children who are also interested in medicine or veterinary science.
— Doctor G (@DoctorG777) October 14, 2016
6. Jesmyn Ward Tells Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary People
By Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna
Jesmyn Ward, 40, broke through a literary glass ceiling on Nov. 15, 2017, when her novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, won the National Book Award for Fiction. It marked the second time that she’d won an NBA for fiction, making her the first woman to achieve a feat that other women writers had neared but never accomplished.
But in case there was any doubt about the fierceness of this literary lioness, Ward also received a 2017 “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation for “exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential.”
Ward was relatively unknown when she was awarded her first NBA for Salvage the Bones, her second novel. Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles wrote:
“On one level, ‘Salvage the Bones’ is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy.
But if Salvage put Ward on the literary map, then Sing, the 2017 NBA winner, assures readers that she belongs there. Wrote Adrienne Green in The Atlantic
“Sing is set in Bois Sauvage, a fictional and struggling Mississippi coastal town, where Jojo lives with his maternal grandparents. His mother, Leonie, is a black woman who struggles with drug use, especially ever since Jojo’s father Michael, who is white, was sent to the notoriously brutal Parchman penitentiary. Michael’s absence and Leonie’s general inattention to her children has left Jojo largely responsible for his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, of whom he is fiercely protective.
This is Ward’s “most ambitious [novel] yet. Her lyrical prose takes on, alternately, the tones of a road novel and a ghost story. . . . Told mostly from the point of view of Jojo and Leonie, who narrate by turn, the novel explores both the deep effects of racism and injustice on this fractured family, and the ways its members punish themselves for how they’ve chosen to cope.”
All of Ward’s novels to date take place in fictional Bois Sauvage, similar to DeLisle, Miss., where Ward grew up and lives today.
Ward has been called the heir to fellow Mississippi writer William Faulkner, who won four NBAs for Fiction during his lifetime as well as a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949. Her “world building,” for example, has been compared to his Yoknapatawpha County — a stand-in for Faulkner’s native Lafayette County, Miss. — where many of his novels are set.
“So much of his work was centered in this place that he made up in Mississippi, with this revolving set of characters that popped up in his work again and again,” said Ward in a Time profile. “I understand that in some ways I’m attempting to do the same thing, to create this world and render it real on the page.”
Writer Alice Walker, from rural Putnam County, Ga., is another literary influence.
“When I read ‘The Color Purple,’ I saw that a black woman from the South could write about black women from the South and make a universal story,” Ward said in a 2011 article in The Times-Picayune.
The first member of her immediate family to attend college, Ward received both a B.A. in English (1999) and M.A. in media studies and communication (2000) from Stanford University. She also earned an M.F.A (2005) from the University of Michigan.
Ward, an associate professor of English at Tulane University, also wrote the critically acclaimed memoir, Men We Reaped. She was the editor of and a contributor to The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, which became a surprise New York Times bestseller.
In one of the many interviews she did during this breakout year, Ward was asked if she minded being part of an “emancipatory black tradition.” Her reply:
“I celebrate my blackness. I love the artistic vibrancy of the culture I was born to. I’m proud of the fact that the people of the African diaspora fight to survive, to thrive, all over the world, so of course my work reflects this pride, this investment in telling our stories. And I don’t find that problematic. . . .”
Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna is a writer/editor based in Washington, D.C.
7. Carolyn Hartfield & Rue Mapp: Go Outside & Play!
Twenty years ago, Carolyn Hartfield decided to turn a health diagnosis into a challenge. If a picture speaks a thousand words, these images will explain how she did it. The 69-year-old is now a healthy lifestyles coach and leader of adventure outings. You name it; she does it.
Similarly, Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, which celebrates and inspires African-American connections and leadership in nature. Her goal is to help people take better care of themselves, and she was on the brainstorming team for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative.
8. Janelle Monáe Rocks the Mic & the Screen
By Sydney Davenport
Janelle Monáe is a curious curator of artistic performances from her futuristic funk musical sounds or, most recently, from her powerhouse performances in the films Hidden Figures and Moonlight.
Though she had never acted onscreen before, she contributed to Hidden Figures winning the Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.
That both films were Oscar-nominated is a testament to the quality of work to which Monáe commits. Moonlight ultimately won the Oscar for best picture.
“I am moved by stories that humanize us,” Monáe said. “These films are universal stories told in unforgettable ways and they are bringing us together.”
Though Monáe isn’t talking about herself here, she has become someone who is bringing people together and paving a path of light into the future.
Raised in a working-class home in Kansas City with a father who struggled with drug addiction, Monáe has realized that a large part of herself, and her art, is shaped by the women who raised her.
“At some point, I realized that the true heart and glue of the community were the women. My mama and grandmama and my aunties and who to this day, are some of the most powerful beings on the planet,” Monáe said.
As a result, Monáe has put her heart into telling stories through her music and on screen. Between her two albums, “ArchAndroid” and “Electric Lady,” Monáe has six Grammy nominations and has collaborated with artists such as Erykah Badu, Prince, Outkast and Sean “Diddy” Combs. She will also perform in the "Autofac" episode of Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, a series that debuts on Amazon on Jan. 12.
Monáe found a kinship in the marginalized, misrepresented and misunderstood, which resonates in the powerful voice she has found in herself.
Sydney Davenport is a writer based in Washington, D.C., and a frequent contributor to FierceforBlackWomen.com.
9. La June Montgomery Tabron Works to Heal Nation
As she goes about her work as president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), La June Montgomery Tabron may think she is just doing her job. But in these troubled times, she is part warrior, part hero, in America’s increasingly high-stakes battle against a resurgence of racism unlike anything we have seen in decades.
While Kellogg — yes, the cereal people — are known for their work for children, they also have a deep commitment to addressing the need for racial equity in employment, health care, interactions with law enforcement and other critical issues. Tabron is entrusted with one of the most important missions in the country today — using a significant portion of the Kellogg Foundation’s $1.2 billion in resources to combat, prevent and heal the scars caused by racism across the country. A very tough job in the America of 2017.
As the Klan and Nazi Party feel so emboldened by the current climate in the country that they march without masks in broad daylight, Kellogg continues and expands the much quieter work of tackling racism and bias by funding research that explores the impact of racism on adults and children, supporting a national network of civil rights organizations and expanding the foundation’s efforts to spur community-based racial healing.
WKKF’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation enterprise — an initiative the foundation created with more than 130 partners — will roll out in neighborhoods around the country. The foundation will kick off the year with its second annual National Day of Racial Healing on Jan. 16, 2018. We can’t think of a better or more important time for such an effort.
Tabron’s work also extends to a commitment to preserving our history and the lessons it offers the next generation. On December 9, 2017, she spoke at the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, projects supported by a $2.3 million Kellogg grant.
“We want to make sure that Mississippi's young people have the opportunity to learn in this place and continue the healing process however great the challenges,” Tabron said.
No doubt we are in living in very challenging times for black women, men, children, families and people of color all over the United States, but we can take some comfort and find a little hope in knowing a sister like Tabron is leading in the fight against hate.
10. Danielle Poux: Sweet Dreams Are Made of This
By Jacinth Jones
Known for fresh ingredients and no preservatives, Danielle's Desserts is the product of a leap of faith.
Leaving her successful career in Human Resources to pursue her dreams, Danielle Poux founded what Yelp describes as one of the hottest spots in northern Virginia.
Poux has prime locations, too. Founded in 2010, the flagship bakery and café is at the Tyson Galleria. Her newest site is in the heart of the nation's capital on Connecticut Avenue Northwest, where she can meet the growing demand for larger orders from individuals and businesses.
"Our D.C. location's larger size will allow us to prepare more desserts for those high-demand periods, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas," Poux said.
With a menu full of cakes, pies, cookies and cupcakes, the former HR executive showcases more than 57 flavors of desserts made from scratch.
She also offers a number of gluten-free sweets, such as Death by Chocolate and Coconut Macaroons. Specialty items include Blueberry Buckle, bread pudding and cake truffles.
Customer favorites range from key lime pie to her trio of coconut cakes. A food blogger described the Strawberries 'n' Cream cake as "fresh strawberries blended throughout cake layers and frosting, giving you a mouthful of strawberry flavor in each bite." The bakery has also been recognized by media outlets including the Washington Post, Hot 99.5 and Refinery 29.
With her own recipes of the southern-style delicacies and passion for baking, Poux demonstrates that although entrepreneurship is not an easy journey, it is possible. Starting, owning and pursuing a business require time, effort and dedication. Poux proves that no dream is too big with the proper effort and commitment for it to come to fruition.
Jacinth Jones is a writer based in Washington, D.C.
— Danielle's Desserts (@DDesserts) November 27, 2017
11. Kathryn Finney Helps Entrepreneurs Go BIG
Kathryn Finney, who is celebrating the fifth anniversary of digital undivided, is committed to ensuring that black women remain the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs and that they’re prepared to succeed.
Their ranks numbered 1.5 million in 2015, according to Nielsen’s analysis of the U.S. Census’ most recent business ownership data for its report “African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic.” While all women-owned business grew by 27 percent between 2007 and 2012, the increase for black women was 67 percent, compared to 13 percent for white women.
Through digital undivided, Finney continues to create a number of initiatives to support black and Latina women. She became even more driven after being infuriated when an investor said he didn’t “do black women.” Turning her anger into action, Finney has raised $25 million in investments, helping to build more than 50 companies and support 2,000 founders.
Her initiatives include a 26-week BIG incubator, culminating in a BIG Demo Day where women pitch their business ideas to investors. They are fueled by digital undivided’s mantra: “Go big, or go home!”
Community-building and mentoring networks offer additional support. #Project Diane is a proprietary research arm to back up everything with hard, cold facts. And it’s all headquartered at digital undivided’s BIG Innovation Center, a 4,000-square-foot space in downtown Atlanta.
In addition to being founder and managing director of digital undivided, Finney is also a general partner in the Harriet Fund. She’s also co-founder of the Harriet Angels Syndicate, which makes the first angel investments to exceptional founders.
12. Nikole Hannah-Jones Preserves Ida B. Wells' Legacy
By Kendra Lee
Covering a desegregation program for her high school newspaper lit the journalism spark for Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Since her days on that youthful beat, Hannah-Jones has spent the past two decades entrenched in reporting on racial injustice in housing and education for print, broadcast and digital media outlets across the United States.
In addition to uncovering the policies and politics that maintain racial segregation in this country, her work has garnered numerous prestigious awards, including the Peabody Award, the George Polk Award, a National Magazine Award and the Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting. She is a 2017 New America Emerson fellow and was named a 2017 MacArthur fellow.
“She combines analyses of historical, academic and policy research with moving personal narratives to bring into sharp relief a problem that many are unwilling to acknowledge still exists and its tragic consequences for African-American individuals, families and communities,” the MacArthur selection committee said of her work and the reason for her selection.
Now an investigative reporter for the New York Times Magazine, Hannah-Jones also is writing The Problem We All Live With, a book about school segregation to be published by the One World imprint of Penguin/Random House.
In 2015, she co-founded the, a training and mentoring organization designed to increase the ranks and profile of investigative reporters and editors of color.
All this hard work and these accolades make Nikole Hannah-Jones the very definition of fierce, but if you need more convincing, listen to her words about school segregation earlier this month during an interview with The Atlantic:
“If the question is, ‘Is there a single place in this country where black kids are getting the same education as white kids?’ No. Not one. I challenge any listener, if you know of a place, and you can send me the data, send it to me. I can tell you places that are doing better than others. But I think the fact that we accept that most black kids will not get an equal education — I think that’s immoral. And I don’t accept it. More places should be trying.”
Kendra Lee is a public information officer for Fairfax County, Virginia, and a freelance writer.
13. For Chrissa McFarlane, Securing Health Records Pays Off for Everyone
Trading med school for business school paid off for Chrissa McFarlane, who combined her interests in both areas. She created the Patientory app to improve universal health records and make them more secure, using the same encryption technology as Bitcoin.
Around Memorial Day, she rounded up nearly 2,000 digital investors, exceeding her goal by raising $7.2 million through blockchain token sales in just three days. She had secured two-thirds of her investors during a month-long pre-sale in May.
As the name indicates, Patientory is patient-centered, McFarlane says. Her goal is to improve patient care and coordination by breaking down the silos in the health-care system. The platform is designed for patients to access their records securely and share them with their health team.
People can use the free app to keep track of their doctor’s visits and medical history, including tests, medications, immunizations and insurance details. If they need more space, they can use cryptocurrency to buy additional storage.
"Patientory is disrupting an antiquated health-care model by empowering patients globally to take an active role in their health-care delivery by giving them access to their information regardless of what system their provider uses," McFarlane explained. "Using blockchain technology — the most secure method of information storage and transfer — my team and I are creating the new phase of personalized health-care delivery."
With Patientory, she said, health-care providers can avoid the data breaches that have impacted other electronic medical record systems.
At just 27, McFarlane is already a pioneer in health-care cybersecurity. She developed her entrepreneurial genes from her parents. Born in Jamaica, she helped out in a family-owned restaurant as a teenager in New York.
To these skills, she added degrees from Cornell and Wake Forest with health-care industry experience and research as her foundation for launching Patientory.
“It’s a real game changer for health-care organizations, doctors and patients.” — Yanick Rice Lamb
14. Roxane Gay's Hunger for the Truth
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is not a typical book about food or weight, which makes it stand out all the more.
“This is not a story of triumph,” Roxane Gay says of her best-selling memoir. “This is my truth.” And she tells it all in a confessional on everything from sexuality to how a childhood assault led to building a "fortress" of fat as a barrier.
A prolific and renown writer, Gay admits that completing Hunger was her “most difficult writing experience.” She thought it would be easy to write about the skin she’s lived in for four decades. Yet, in this weight and size-obsessed world, Gay’s truth is cathartic for legions of readers whose stories are “ignored, dismissed, derided.” Her words literally brought some of them to tears.
“I am determined to be more than my body.”
To so many, she is so much more. They hang onto her every word. For some, those words are in Bad Feminist and Difficult Women. There’s also Ayiti, a collection of short stories on Haiti, where her parents were born; her debut novel, An Untamed State; and Marvel’s World of Wakanda; plus other essays, short stories and op-ed pieces.
On top of all of this, she’s pursuing television and film projects. She’s also an associate professor of English at Purdue University with a research focus on the “intersections between race, gender and popular culture.”
15. Ava DuVernay — Telling Stories & Changing the Game
Ava DuVernay is only the second woman to reappear on the annual 15 Fiercest Sisters list, after First Lady Michelle Obama. What makes DuVernay stand out to her Fierce fans is not only her success, but also her willingness to share it with others.
One of her biggest moves has been pulling in a slew of women directors to join her on the set of “Queen Sugar,” a television series on OWN that has been praised for its visually arresting cinematography, multidimensional characters and emotionally gripping storyline. The series focuses on the challenges faced by the Bordelon siblings who are determined to save their father’s sugarcane farm after his death.
After adapting Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar novel, Duvernay directed the first few episodes, collaborating with Oprah Winfrey as executive producer. Then she started reaching out to directors whose work she’d long admired. A terrible truth that she learned along the way was that “Queen Sugar” would be the television directorial debut for too many of them — even those with stellar bonafides.
Here are some of the directors on DuVernay’s dream list, along with previous credits — and some new ones after their work on “Queen Sugar”:
- Neema Barnette (“What’s Happening Now,” Grey’s Anatomy,” “Being Mary Jane”)
- Kat Candler (Hellion, "12 Monkeys," “Being Mary Jane”)
- Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust, The Rosa Parks Story)
- DeMane Davis (Black & White & Red All Over, Lift)
- Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman, Angel Inside)
- Aurora Guerrero (Mosquita y Mari)
- Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us, “American Crime,” “Greenleaf”)
- So Yong Kim (Lovesong, Treeless Mountain, “American Crime”)
- Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned, “Dear White People”)
- Salli Richardson Whitfield (“Eureka”)
Up next for DuVernay is Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time. Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture can watch her short documentary August 28: A Day in the Life of a People.
She was nominated for Academy Awards for Selma and 13th Amendment. She is the first African-American woman to receive the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival, winning in 2012 for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere. Her earlier work also included an inside look at the LA hip-hop scene in the documentary This Is the Life and a feature film on loss, I Will Follow.
The California native, who worked 14 years in film public relations and marketing, is still promoting films, but in a different way through a multi-platform distribution collaborative known as AFFRM, short for the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement.
If it’s true that beauty is as beauty does, she is reaping the benefits of replicating what Shonda Rhimes did for DuVernay in allowing her to direct one of the most scandalous episodes of the hit series “Scandal.”
DuVernay had a banner year in 2017 with a long list of nominations. She took home two Emmy Awards for 13th, an NAACP Image Award for Queen Sugar and two BAFTA Awards. — Yanick Rice Lamb