9 Black Americans Impacting Pop Culture

While it shouldn’t need to be said that celebrating the impact of Black Americans throughout history isn’t something that should be contained to just one month, Black History Month is certainly a great time to do so. However, as we revel in stories of the past, it’s important to remember that history is being created every second of every minute of every day – so let’s take some time to shine the spotlight on some of today’s most influential Black Americans who are making their mark on the history of the future.

Stylish playful girl dancing and playing with curly hairs on pink background.

Happy Black History Month, dolphins!

Black Americans have fought hard and well to see themselves reflected in pop culture, a culture that is very famously known for being a white-dominated space that represses black voices and stories.

From the 20th century to the 21st century, the black community has made significant progress in pop culture from our shows, music, makeup, digital spaces, etc., and while there’s always more work to be done, there are so many who have contributed to getting us into spaces we wouldn’t have originally been allowed in and who are currently having a significant impact on our representation in pop culture by being in the conversation.

Of course, they all deserve to be recognized and celebrated, but for this week’s blog, I’ve compiled a list of 9 Black Americans currently making their mark on pop culture that you should set your eyes on!

Issa Rae arrives for ‘Barbie’ World Premiere on July 09, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA
Issa Rae (Shutterstock)

1. Issa Rae (Actress, Author, Writer, producer)

You may recognize her for her recent role as President Barbie in the box office hit Barbie, but Issa Rae has been in the industry long before she was President of Barbie Land.

Issa is regularly lauded as an ‘OG creator’ because of the way she used YouTube, which was new at the time, to share her 2011 Comedy YouTube web series, Awkward Black Girl. As the name suggests, Awkward Black Girl chronicled the daily misgivings of an awkward, nerdy black girl, which served as representation for black girls who didn’t often see themselves in a role like that very often in the media.

In an interview with Porter, Issa expressed her past frustrations with the stories that were being made while she was creating Awkward Black Girl, saying, she felt that “We’re so much more than what’s being presented here.”

Going on to create her hit, award-winning 2015 HBO series, Insecure, a show partly based on Awkward Black Girl Issa has made an impactful splash in the industry. With the creation of Insecure, which she also starred in, she used the show as an opportunity to allow up-and-coming black talent to get experience in Hollywood.

Her steadfast work in creating unique and underrepresented black stories, along with the opportunities and roles she’s created and continues to create, has cemented her as a cultural icon for other black creatives.

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Quinta Brunson arrives for ELLE Women in Hollywood on October 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA
Quinta Brunson (Shutterstock)

2. Quinta Brunson (Actress, writer, producer)

If you haven’t watched the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning Abbott Elementary, a sitcom/mockumentary about elementary school teachers in an underfunded school—run, don’t walk, to your nearest viewing platform ASAP. The show highlights the issues underfunded schools face and also serves as an ode to the teachers who do everything in their power to make sure kids are successful, and getting the help they need and deserve on their academic journey.

Quinta not only stars as the sweet, optimistic second-grade teacher Janine Teagues, but also was derived straight from her brain, and she serves as the show’s creator, showrunner, co-writer, and executive producer. In short, she’s doing it all, and doing it well!

In an interview with Oprah, when asked how she sees herself and her generation changing the conversation around representation, Brunson said, “I see my generation taking the next steps. We now are able to tell more nuanced stories. And I think Abbott is a part of that.”

Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. At the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, she became the first black woman to be nominated three times in the comedy category, and at the 75th, she became the first black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in Comedy since Isabel Sanford won for her role in The Jeffersons in 1981.

March 04, 2023: Ayo Edebiri attends the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards
Ayo Edebiri (Shutterstock)

3. Ayo Edebiri (Actress, Comedian, Writer)

Since starring as chef Sydney Adamu in the stress-inducing cooking show The Bear in 2022, Ayo Edebiri has completely taken over the hearts of Gen-Z (me included) as one of their favorite actresses and celebrities for her acting skills, hilarity, and relatable Letterboxd reviews.

Originally, Edebiri was going to be a teacher, but told Associated Press that after meeting other successful black female comedians who were able to make a living from comedy, she began to pursue her career in stand-up comedy.

This eventually led her to write for the hit Netflix animated series Big Mouth and have her own comedy show on comedy central, along with a slew of other TV shows before landing The Bear in 2021. Since garnering even more recognition over the past year, she’s starred in three feature films, and recently hosted Saturday Night Live.

Ayo also ruled the 2024 award season, winning three awards, one Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a Critics Choice Award all in just one week! To add to her well-deserved winning streak, she also made history with Quinta Brunson at the 2024 Emmys as being the first time that two black women won Best Lead Actress and Supporting Actress for Comedy in the same year.

Leah Jeffries attends the premiere event for Netflix’s Queen Charlotte Premiere Event.
Leah Jeffries (shutterstock)

4. Leah Jeffries (Actress)

Recently nominated for an Outstanding Performance by a Youth award at the NAACP Image Awards, Leah Jeffries has garnered wider recognition this year for her portrayal as the fearless and wise daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase, in the new Percy Jackson and the Olympians TV show, based on the beloved nearly two-decade-old book series.

Her casting was met with backlash from fans of the book who felt that she couldn’t play Annabeth because she is white in the book series, but Leah hasn’t let it deter her from the fact that the author of the book series, Rick Riordan, cast her for a reason and her role is even more impactful.

When talking about the backlash she received, Leah told BET she wants to be an inspiration to young girls watching her, saying “[They’ll] automatically put you in some type of superhero role, or as the villain, or try to stereotype people with certain hair and eye colors, you know? That's not how it should be. I want people to take from this that you could be anything, anywhere, at any time.”

Colman Domingo at the "Jackie" Screening - AFI Fest Centerpiece Gala at TCL Chinese Theater IMAX on November 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA
Colman Domingo (Shutterstock)

5. Colman Domingo (Actor)

Whether you recognize Colman Domingo for his Emmy Award-winning performance as Ali, Rue’s sponsor, in HBO’s Euphoria, or his more recent roles as Bayard Rustin in Rustin and Mister in The Color Purple, it’s safe to say that he’s made a strong, respected name for himself in Hollywood.

Domingo made history in January with his recent Oscars nomination by being the first Afro-Latino to be nominated for Best Actor, and the second openly gay man to be nominated for playing a gay character since Ian McKellen in 1999.

On whether he’s experienced pushback as an openly black gay man playing straight and gay roles, Domingo told Deadline, “I don’t think I’ve had any pushback. If I have, I wasn’t aware of it because I’ve been too busy creating my own work and creating my own lane in many ways, which is why I go between being a playwright, screenwriter, singer, dancer, and actor. I always have somewhere to go and create.”

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musical group Infinity Song
Infinity Song (Spotify)

6. Infinity Song (Music Group)

Formed in 2014, Infinity Song is a soft rock sibling band located in New York City. I first heard of the band back in 2015 after seeing a video of them performing with singer/songwriter Tori Kelly under a bridge in New York and was completely blown away by their soft, captivating harmonizing and melodies.

They signed to Roc Nation Records by Jay-Z in 2016, and have grown an extremely large fan base, with one of their songs “Haters Anthem” going viral on TikTok and amassing over 200 million listens in 2023.

“It really strikes a chord with my heart when I see Black people, Black teenagers or older Black people of any age message us and say that this is something that they’ve been looking for and that they have not seen this until now…I feel very successful when all people message us with those sentiments but it just hits harder when somebody who looks like my 15-year-old self says that because I think I would’ve needed somebody like me when I was 15.” Momo, one-fourth of the sibling group, told BET.

While their sound is reminiscent of 70s groups we know and love like Fleetwood Mac, Abba, and The Mamas and Papas, they still maintain a unique sound of their very own that cements them as future icons in the soft rock genre.

social media influencer and lifestyle creator Toni Bravo
Toni Bravo (Toni Bravo Instagram)

7. Toni Bravo (Lifestyle Creator)

When I first stumbled across Toni Bravo showcasing a hair tutorial on TikTok, I immediately had to follow her!

She garnered recognition by making roller skating TikToks in the spring of 2020, then moved on to work at Rare Beauty, Selena Gomez’s makeup brand, in 2022 where she made makeup content for their social media before quitting to pursue making her own content full time. Now, Toni makes beauty and lifestyle content full-time job, with 478k followers amassed.

From videos trying different beauty products and showing how they look on dark skin, hair tutorials for a wide range of hairstyles, outfit try-ons, and more, Toni is a kind, refreshing, relatable, and inspiring face for black girls to see in the digital landscape.

podcast host Sequoia Holmes
Sequoia Holmes (tinkmedia.co)

8. Black People Love Paramore (Podcast)

To be short, this podcast is brilliant! Though the title may seem like it’s a podcast discussing strictly Paramore, host Sequoia Holmes starts her episodes by introducing it as “A podcast diving into the common and uncommon interests of black people to help us feel seen.”

These topics can range anywhere from music, like the rock band Paramore, to TV shows, games, people, and more!

Sequoia has done an amazing job at cultivating a safe space for black people to bond over, laugh about, and express our love for niche interests that others may not realize we even care about, and by having guests on, gives a voice to more than one perspective across a wide range of special interests.

artist Christina Martinez with some of her pieces of work
Cristina Martinez (King 5 News)

9. Cristina Martinez (Artist)

I first discovered Cristina Martinez, a contemporary visual artist, years and years ago on her Instagram (@sew_trill) through her viral Water Me collection and was instantly drawn to the rest of her emotive, expressive, unique, and refreshing work.

She grew up watching Bob Ross, which she says sparked her first realization that you could be paid to be creative but felt that it was out of her reach due to Bob Ross being an older white man, and her being a young girl of Black and Mexican heritage.

In an interview with Vista Print, she notes this as her motivation to put herself out there saying, “It’s in my mind now because I remember how I felt in that moment. Now, for me, the youth and that feeling I had as a kid is always at the forefront of my mind because I want kids to feel like they can do that…I kind of let that motivate me to just keep trying to put myself out there and allow my kids and other kids everywhere to see a different perspective.”

One Last Thing!

There are way too many Black stories to be told and enjoyed to only be limited to one month. Black History Month is a great way to celebrate Black Americans who have taken significant steps to get us to where we are today, along with those who are up and coming—but it’s important to remember that we exist outside of February, too!

In addition to this list, there’s a multitude of art from Black creatives that is out there to consume and enjoy and even more that is soon to come and make an impact, and I hope you find the time to appreciate all of it this year!

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