Not sure if you noticed, but there is, um, a lot that needs changing. Rights we've long taken for granted are under siege, our healthcare system is in chaos, and the Earth itself seems overwhelmed by our behaviors. To make it worse, it sometimes seems like nobody knows how to fix any of it, like the adults in charge, aren't adulting as we need them to.
Fortunately, there's hope as there are some fresh voices and energy that we desperately need coming from Millennials and Gen Z that may help us heal and move forward.
Here are 22 Millennial and Gen Z people who are blazing a new path forward —changemakers who are the embodiment of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.
Yolanda Renee King, 13
Granddaughter of the civil rights icon and American hero Yolanda Renee King has become an outspoken champion of voting rights. The Atlanta native has been speaking at events and penning op-eds to drive home the urgency of voting rights, though not even old enough to drive. King is proudly continuing the legacy of her grandparents Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and creating a legacy of her own.
Simone Biles, 24
Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the 2020 Olympics exemplified her willingness to be open about mental health issues. As the chief impact officer of the mental health app Cerebral, this Gen Z is helping to undo stigma and encourage millions of people to take better care of themselves.
Amanda Gorman, 23
Most of us met the poet and activist when she delivered an awe-inspired rendition of her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate has long been using her work to combat oppression, racism, and inequality. Amanda Gorman plans to run for president as a graduate of Harvard when she’s eligible in 2036
Justin J. Pearson, 26
Born to teenage parents in Memphis, environmental activist Justin J. Pearson was one of the significant leaders in a fight against a 49-mile crude oil pipeline that would’ve cut through several southwest Memphis neighborhoods––most of them full of Black and working-class people. Thanks partly to his organizing, leading protests, and raising awareness, the project was defeated in summer 2021.
Lindsay Peoples Wagner, 31
With Lindsay Peoples Wagner at the helm of one of the most respected publications in fashion, The Cut, Wagner is one of few Black editors in the field and a voice with tremendous power to shape perceptions of beauty.
Marsai Martin, 17
Marsai Martin grew up before our eyes playing Diane Johnson on black-ish, but don't think for a second that because the show is ending, we've seen the last of her. She's already made moves becoming the youngest executive producer ever at 14 for the 2019 movie Little, in which she was also the lead. We can't wait to see what comes next from her company, Genius Productions.
Zyahna Bryant, 17
Zyahna Bryant was only 15 years old when she petitioned her local city council to take down a monument of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. One year later, hundreds of white supremacists rallied to preserve the statue, resulting in a violent and tragic clash with counter-protesters.
Zyahna’s voice sparked a national conversation about what Confederate monuments like this represent in modern culture and why their lasting presence is hurtful to Black Americans.
Emmanuella Asabor, 29
As a physician, doctoral candidate, and scientist in training—Emmanuella Asabor studied at Harvard, Cambridge, and is pursuing her Ph.D. at Yale. Asabor focuses her research on how structural racism impacts health.
Her work includes illuminating disparities in access to COVID-19 testing, as well as a program at Yale that allows asylum seekers and undocumented people access to free primary care.
Joseph Kitonga, 24
Joseph Kitonga, a Kenyan American immigrant whose family settled in Pennsylvania, is helping transform healthcare with his startup Vitable Health, a health insurance plan for hourly, uninsured workers offering virtual and at-home visits minus co-pays or deductibles. It has already raised more than $9 million from investors.
Taylor Cassidy, 18
Proving that learning (and unlearning) doesn’t have to feel like work, digital creator Taylor Cassidy infuses her social media based Black and LGBTQIA history lessons with joy and fun.
Cailey Stewart, 18
Black folks, are underrepresented in aerospace, and Black women are rarer still. In fact, fewer than 150 Black women pilots in the U.S. have airline transport pilot, commercial, military, or certified flight instructor licenses. That’s why aspiring pilot Cailey Stewart is breaking barriers as she carves her path. The Los Angeles native first flew a plane by herself at 16, and in Feb. 2021, Boeing gifted Stewart $50,000 for flight school. Go Cailey!
Kizzmekia Corbett, 34
If you got a Covid-19 vaccine, you have a Black woman to thank for helping to save your life. In 2014, Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist, graduated from the UNC School of Medicine Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. Program, and thank goodness she did: she helped design the Moderna vaccine. Now, when she’s not teaching at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, she’s continuing to educate People of Color and others about vaccine science.
Telfar Clemens, 35
It’s hard to catalog all the ways Telfar Clemens has revolutionized the fashion game, but here are a few: creating a brand built on genderless, designs decades before ‘non-binary’ and ‘gender fluid’ were commonplace terms; helping turn the durag into a high fashion item; rebuking traditional fashion shows in favor of multidisciplinary art performances; and of course, creating the ever-popular Telfar bag, the affordable, perennially sold-out vegan leather tote that’s a fave among people in-the-know. If fashion had one undisputed game-changer of the past decade, Telfar is it.
Jeron Davis, 28
The notoriously white world of finance has a disrupter in Jeron Davis. His work with RLJ Equity Partners—the equity firm created by BET founder Robert L. Johnson—includes multi-million-dollar buyouts and acquisitions. Outside of work, he’s helping others build wealth and opportunity with initiatives, including his annual grants to young people in elementary, middle, or high school.
Dion Dawson, 31
As founder of Dion Chicago’s Dream, Dion Dawson built an organization devoted to combating food insecurity. By addressing the food desert in the city’s Englewood neighborhood, taking on hunger, and working to serve the nutritional needs of people in an underserved community, Dawson aims to create financial, physical, and emotional stability that transforms lives.
Jay’Aina “Jay Jay” Patton, 16
It’s estimated that some 1 in 10 Black students has a parent that’s incarcerated, and for Jay’Aina “Jay Jay” Patton, that statistic was her reality for a time. Keeping in touch with her dad became difficult but, upon his release, his coding knowledge and her tech-savvy they launched Photo Patch, an app that helps kids and incarcerated parents stay connected. She’s continuing to make ad development and coding more accessible to people of color.
Sirrita Darby, 29
Co-founder of the youth-led group Detroit Heals Detroit, Sirrita Darby is an abolitionist educator whose work aims to help Detroit youth develop coping and healing strategies and obtain resources necessary to transform their pain into power. With a doctorate in educational leadership from Michigan State University, Darby is committed to dismantling generational trauma among Back, Indigenous, and other youth of color.
Nia DaCosta, 31
Nobody needs to be reminded that Marvel movies are big business; it's a $23 billion global industry that ignites the imagination of millions and gives countless people jobs on and off the screen. That's why it's a big deal that Nia DaCosta is the first Black woman director to debut a movie, Candyman in the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office.
She is also the first Black woman to direct a Marvel Studios film, The Marvels, out in 2023. As the head honcho on a flick sure to break box office records, DaCosta's superpower will shape what kids can imagine for themselves for years to come
Sheena Allen, 32
Observing that many people in her hometown outside Jackson, Mississippi, were “unbanked” or “underbanked,” (i.e. cashing checks at grocery stores and relying on payday lenders), Sheena Allen came up with CapWay. The app was designed to reach people without access to banks and at risk of being preyed on by unscrupulous companies.
Kaylah Brathwaite, 18
Director of operations for This Is Zero Hour, a youth-run climate advocacy group; Charlotte native Kaylah Brathwaite is a climate activist who uses social media and other storytelling outlets to highlight the urgency of climate change. Her goal: help people understand our climate as an intersectional issue.
Malcolm Kenyatta, 31
Serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2019, Malcolm Kenyatta sits on committees for commerce, finance, liquor control, and state government for the parts of Philadelphia he represents. Considered a rising star in the Democratic party, Kenyatta is changing the face of politics with a run for the U.S. Senate as a young, gay Black man.
Nimo Omar, 26
Co-founder of Awood Center, a nonprofit for East African economic and political empowerment in her hometown of Minneapolis, Nimo Omar has been involved in a number of activist and grassroots initiatives––most notably her work helping Amazon workers press for better conditions, as well as immigrant rights.
(Image credits: L-R Yolanda Renee King, (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images); Amanda Gorman (Photo by Amy Sussman/WireImage); Kizzmekia Corbett (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/The New York Times via Getty Images); Malcolm Kenyatta (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival); Nia DaCosta (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images); Simone Biles (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images); Lindsay Peoples Wagner (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Disney); Marsai Martin (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic); Zyahna Bryant (Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images) and Martin Luther King graphic Getty Images)