UPDATED: 9:45 a.m. ET, Feb. 4, 2021:
The importance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) has arguably never been greater. And now, in the year 2021, that notion is being lived out in real-time thanks to the overwhelming number of HBCU graduates who have been making Black history through their tireless work that is literally helping to change the world.
From the arenas of politics to entertainment to corporate America and well beyond, some of the most successful Black folks are — and have been for a long time — the proud products of HBCUs.
So, in honor of Black History Month, scroll down to find out who made our list of 20 HBCU graduates who are changing the world.
1. Stacey Abrams, Spelman CollegeSource:iOne Digital/Creative Class
Stacey Abrams’ name rings bells like Sunday at 12 o’clock. The former Georgia State Rep. who was cheated out of becoming the nation’s first Black woman governor has been hard at work making sure the voter suppression she faced as a candidate never happens again. The leader of the Fair Fight organization was largely credited for flipping Georgia blue in the 2020 election and helping to secure Democrats’ wins in crucial Senate runoff elections last month. The sky is literally the limit for this modern-day voting rights icon.
2. Rev. William Barber II, N.C. Central UniversitySource:Getty
The good reverend has not only been busy waging war on the criminalization of poverty but also on the front lines of the presidential campaigns offering sage advice to candidates and the American political system as a whole. The former North Carolina NAACP leader who rose to prominence behind the Moral Mondays movement has also helped to resuscitate Dr. Martin LUther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.
Pictured: Barber speaks during the Democratic Presidential Committee’s summer meeting on Aug. 23, 2019, in San Francisco.
3. Kenya Barris, Clark Atlanta UniversitySource:Getty
This media maven responsible for writing and/or producing the likes of “Black-Ish,” “Grown-ish” and “Mixed-ish” has laid down a strong foundation to keep creating hit TV shows that are responsible for diversifying images of Black people on television.
Pictured: Barris speaks on stage at the Hammer Museum Los Angeles Presents MoMA Contenders 2019 Screening and Q&A of “Dolemite Is My Name” at Hammer Museum on Dec. 02, 2019, in Los Angeles.
4. Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida A&M UniversitySource:Getty
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is coming off a huge year for her during which she was applauded for her approach to Black Lives Matter protests in her city, turned down a role in President Joe Biden’s cabinet and ultimately accepted a chance to be the DNC’s vice chair for civic engagement and voter protection, two things she knows especially well following her hard work in Georgia’s general and Senate runoff elections, both of which had national implications.
Pictured: Mayor Bottoms speaks to a crowd at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta on June 6, 2019.
5. Rosalind G. Brewer, Spelman CollegeSource:Getty
The first woman and African American to be Starbucks’ president and chief operating officer is now the new CEO of Walgreens. Prior to that, the Spelman College alum held several leadership roles at Walmart and is a former Sam’s Club CEO. Forbes magazine in 2016 ranked her as the 57th most powerful woman in the world. Brewer has also has been known for speaking out about diversity and faced backlash for fiercely advocating for women in the workplace.
Pictured: Rosalind Brewer, then-Executive Vice President and President of Walmart East, speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Dream Gala at Hilton Hotel on Oct. 15, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
6. Ruth Carter, Hampton UniversitySource:WENN
The Academy Award-winning costume designer for the blockbuster movie “Black Panther” and recently debuted her collection of clothes that she designed in the colors of red, black and green for retailer H&M.
Pictured: Carter posing with her Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards in 2019.
7. Raashaun “DJ Envy” Casey, Hampton UniversitySource:Getty
From his humble beginnings as the famous DJ Clue?’s protege to becoming even more famous than his mentor as one-third of “The Breakfast Club” radio show, DJ Envy has also recently made a name for himself as a successful real estate developer.
Pictured: DJ Envy spins at Harlem’s Fashion Row The Prelude at Sony Hall on Feb. 05, 2020, in New York City.
8. Louis Farrakhan, Sr., Winston-Salem State UniversitySource:Getty
The controversial minister of the Nation of Islam has been a tireless advocate for Black lives, whether you agree with his philosophy or not. He has maintained a loyal following throughout his career in public life and notably called for racial segregation after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.
Pictured: Minister Louis Farrakhan speaks from behind a bullet-proof shield on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol building for ‘Justice or Else,’ a rally held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March on Oct. 10, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
9. Andrew Gillum, Florida A&M UniversitySource:WENN
The former mayor of Tallahassee made a national name for himself by losing a rigged gubernatorial election to a racist candidate in Florida in 2018. After a brief scandal, Gillum has rebounded and can likely make a successful return to politics if he wants.
10. Rep Al Green, Howard University, Texas Southern University, Tuskegee UniversitySource:Getty
The congressman from Texas is credited with being among the first to call for Donald Trump’s impeachment, something that ultimately became a reality through his tireless campaigning for it.
Pictured: Green speaks during an anti-Trump press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 9, 2019.
11. Kamala Harris, Howard UniversitySource:Getty
Kamala Harris is the first Black person to be Vice President of the United States. Is there really anything else to say about this trailblazer?
The now-former U.S. Senator from California made history with her presidential campaign, but she was also a leading voice during Trump’s first impeachment trial. Oh, did we mention that she is a literal heartbeat away from becoming the first Black woman President of the United States?
Pictured: Harris walks outside the Senate chamber during a recess in the impeachment trial proceedings against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 24, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
12. Jesse Jackson, North Carolina A&T UniversitySource:Getty
The civil rights icon’s reputation precedes himself, but he remains resolute in fighting for Black lives. Jackson recently released a new book called “Keeping Hope Alive: Sermons and Speeches of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.,” a riff off his famous catchphrase.
Pictured: Jackson speaks onstage during the CORE Gala: A Gala Dinner to Benefit CORE and 10 Years of Life-Saving Work Across Haiti & Around the World at Wiltern Theatre on Jan. 15, 2020, in Los Angeles.
13. Samuel L. Jackson, Morehouse CollegeSource:Getty
This ubiquitous and prolific actor plays each and every role he accepts as if it was his last, a true testament to his devotion to his craft that brings life to his characters that always seem to resonate with viewers no matter how big or small the parts are.
Pictured: Jackson attends “The Last Full Measure” Atlanta screening at SCADshow on Jan. 20, 2020, in Atlanta.
14. Letitia James, Howard UniversitySource:Getty
The first Black woman New York State Attorney General has been on a mission to bring justice to where it is not, including and especially the previous White House. James has sued the Trump administration over its so-called Muslim ban and remains investigating Trump’s shady finances.
Pictured: James announces a lawsuit against e-cigarette giant Juul on Nov. 19, 2019, in New York City.
15. Kweisi Mfume, Morgan State UniversitySource:Getty
The former Representative from Maryland’s 7th district whose resignation from Congress created the vacancy that was ultimately filled by Elijah Cummings in 1996 until his 2019 death now holds that seat once again. Mfume, a former national president of the NAACP, won the election in November 2020.
Pictured: Mfume gives his victory speech at his primary election night party at The Forum in Baltimore on Feb. 4, 2020.
16. Marilyn Mosby, Tuskegee UniversitySource:Getty
The State’s Attorney for Baltimore is the youngest chief prosecutor of any major American city and has been a major advocate for other Black women serving in the same position around the country. Mosby first gained national attention in 2015 when her Baltimore prosecution office indicted six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.
Pictured: Marilyn Mosby speaks onstage during 2018 Urban One Honors at The Anthem on Dec. 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
17. Bakari Sellers, Morehouse CollegeSource:iOne Digital
The history-making former state representative from South Carolina has become one of the most sought after political pundits on cable TV as well as on the lecture circuit, waxing poetic on everything from the law to current events to HBCUs to, of course, politics. But he’s also carved out an impressive role for himself as an equally effective social media influencer, repeatedly posting his opinion about topics that many times provide a voice for the voiceless.
18. Ruth Simmons, Dillard UniversitySource:Getty
Prairie View A&M University’s president who is also the first African-American president of an Ivy League school (Brown University) is a highly regarded educator who came out of retirement to lead the HBCU in Texas. Simmons’ personal journey, from the child of a sharecropper and maid to the heights of academia, is inspirational.
Pictured: Simmons, then-president of Brown University, photographed on March 28, 2010, in New Delhi, India.
19. Stephen A. Smith, Winston-Salem State UniversitySource:Getty
The bombastic sports news analyst and pundit has been outspoken on nearly any and every topic under the sun, making sure his name resonates for better or for worse. His abrasive, in-your-face style of speaking has inspired countless imitators.
Pictured: Smith looks on before the 2020 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on Feb. 14, 2020, in Chicago.
20. Wanda Sykes, Hampton UniversitySource:Getty
The actress, writer and comedienne has never been one to hold her tongue and has emerged as a leading vice defending Black Hollywood. Most notably, Sykes quit working on the TV show “Roseanne” after star Roseanne Barr compared a former high-ranking Black government official to an ape.
Pictured: Sykes attends Tiffany Haddish Black Mitzvah at SLS Hotel on Dec. 3, 2019, in Beverly Hills.
21. Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee State UniversitySource:Getty
This is Oprah. Nothing more needs to be said.
Pictured: Winfrey speaks during Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour presented by WW (Weight Watchers Reimagined) at Chase Center on Feb. 22, 2020, in San Francisco.