Workplace Innovations · · 13 min read

20 Inspiring African Americans Impacting The World Through Social Impact Innovation

In honor of Black History Month I wanted to find a way to spotlight some inspiring African Americans creating social impact in communities all across America. Sometimes our country can seem so divided on so many subjects and issues. I don’t like talking heads who just say we need to talk more about


In honor of Black History Month I wanted to find a way to spotlight some inspiring African Americans creating social impact in communities all across America.

Sometimes our country can seem so divided on so many subjects and issues.

I don’t like talking heads who just say we need to talk more about these issues and have an open discussion about our problems.

WE LIKE DOERS. Individuals who don’t wait on other leaders or discussions that never happen and don’t let everyday media discourage them from making important things happen.

We can’t wait on discussions from the media, we can’t wait on governments to innovate. This list of inspiring African Americans is meant to motivate other great individuals to take the plunge and unite our communities rather then separate.

As Americans we do a great job in remembering Jackie Robinson, Langston Hughes, MLK, and Rosa Parks, but perhaps not enough to other amazing African American pioneers like Shirley Chisholm(the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives).

Dr. Mae Jemison(the first African American woman to go into space), Harold Amos(First African-American department chair at Harvard Medical School), or Edward Bouchet(First African-American to receive a Ph.D. in any subject).

From all of us in the Causeartist community we would like to say thanks for being creative and innovative in all your ventures!!!

These inspiring African Americans have paved the way for the list of individuals below.

These next generation of African American leaders have some great advantages to excel even further than their predecessors.

With technology being able to connect generations, communities, and countries, innovators of this generation have an amazing opportunity to create lasting impact in their communities more than ever.

Oluwatoyin Ayanfodun – Founder of Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC

Oluwatoyin Ayanfodun - Founder of Tomorrow's Leaders NYC
photo credit: Echoing Green

Oluwatoyin Ayanfodun founded Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC (TLNYC) in 2011 after realizing there were very few services for over-age middle school students, an often underrepresented and under-served population.

Oluwatoyin’s previous experiences helped him to recognize that many of these students had untapped potential, but because of their previous school failures felt hopeless.

He spent over two years working closely with schools, and organizations focused on education and youth development.

Within three years, he raised over $60,000 for TLNYC and has built a network of support which includes local elected officials, licensed social workers, principals, teachers, community based organizations, and undergraduate and graduate students from several college and universities in New York City.

Through his leadership, TLNYC has produced many success stories, and has a 97 percent grade promotion rate. Oluwatoyin received his bachelor’s degree in Education from Temple University in 2009, and certification in Nonprofit Management from Medgar Evers College in 2011.


Neil Phillips – Founder of Visible Men, Inc


Neil Phillips is the founder and executive director of Visible Men, Inc. He is a graduate of Harvard University where he received a B.A. in English and American Literature. He has had an illustrious career as an athlete, educator, coach, and entrepreneur.

Visible Men elevates black boys in America to new heights of achievement, fulfillment, and societal contribution by immersing them in the study of accomplished contemporary black men. The agency collects insights and inspiration from black male role models and passes them on to school age boys through a unique success curriculum.


Amina Yamusah – Founder of Our Bloc (BLOC)

Amina Yamusah - Founder of Our Bloc (BLOC)
photo credit: Echoing Green

Amina Yamusah is the founder and CEO of Our Bloc, a national professional organization for black collegians. Believing in the brilliance of underserved millennials and the power of their collective action, Amina leverages work experience in university multicultural affairs to lead a passionate team of students and recent graduates.

Prior to Our Bloc, Amina worked in diversity affairs at Princeton University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in politics, focusing particularly on the social movements of black and Latina women throughout American political history. Amina is a Camelback Ventures Fellow and former member of the Princeton Elab Accelerator Program.


Jacob Allen – Founder of pilotED Schools


Prior to building a transformational school model in Chicago, Jacob Allen found success as a statewide Youth President with the NAACP of Wisconsin, as a curriculum developer at the University of Washington, as a Teach For America–Chicago corps member, and as a director for an education policy advocacy group in Washington State.

For the vast majority of his life, Jacob has worked to ensure that traditionally unheard voices were at the forefront of education and policy.

These experiences have led Jacob and his team to think deeply about the current and future impact that pilotED Schools will have on the urban education space, specifically addressing the issue of harmful imposed identities on urban students and their families.

Jacob is a 2016 NewSchools Venture Fellow, a former Camelback Ventures Fellow, and a finalist for Teach For America’s Shark Tank, and he has been featured in articles by The Aspen Institute and EdSurge.


Jessica Johnson – Founder of The Scholarship Academy

Jessica Johnson - Founder of The Scholarship Academy

The Scholarship Academy trains black college males to serve as Scholarship Ambassadors, using their own stories of scholarship success to empower black high school males  to take ownership of the financial aid process.

Jessica Johnson is a Howard University graduate and recipient of over $200,000 in scholarships. As the Founder and Executive Director of The Scholarship, she has spent the last decade serving as a family scholarship consultant and travels throughout the country conducting scholarship workshops for organizations.

Her nonprofit, The Scholarship Academy has helped students secure over $6 million in scholarships. On average, participants reduce their debt by $14,000.


Tony Weaver Jr. – Founder of Weird Enough Productions

Tony Weaver Jr. - Founder of Weird Enough Productions
Photo credit: Echoing Green

Tony Weaver Jr. is founder and CEO of Weird Enough Productions, a new media production company dedicated to creating positive media images of black men and other minority groups. After training with the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts, the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, and the Acting Program at Elon University, Tony recognized that there was a severe lack of positive roles for black men.

Volunteering with black males in his local community showed him how widespread this misrepresentation was, and the devastating effects it was capable of having on minority groups. With the intention of changing the media narrative of black men, Tony founded Weird Enough Productions at age 20. Tony has been the recipient of the Leadership Prize and the Black Excellence Award, and participated in the NBCUniversal Fellowship Program.


Jessica O. Matthews – Founder of Uncharted Play

Jessica O. Matthews – Forbes_inspiringafricanamericans
Jessica O. Matthews – Forbes

At the age of 19, Jessica invented the SOCCKET ball, an energy generating soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing world. At the age of 22, she founded Uncharted Play(now Uncharted Power), a renewable energy company specializing in motion-based, miniaturized power systems.

Jessica’s research and career centers around the intersection of disruptive technology, human behavior, and the psychology of self-actualization. A dual citizen of Nigeria & the U.S., Jessica has a degree in Psychology and Economics from Harvard University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Her list of accolades include Fortune’s Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, Forbes 30 under 30 list, Black Enterprise’s Innovator of the Year, and Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation.

Steve Larosiliere & Sal Masekela – Co-founders of STOKED


Steve Larosiliere(left) is the President of STOKED, an award winning youth development program voted to the NY 100 (100 most innovative businesses in NY). He has been named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the National Black MBA, Honored as a Hometown Hero, and given a Community Impact Award. His work has appeared in the New Yorker Magazine, ESPN, Huffington Post, Nylon Magazine, Fuel TV, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and Transworld Business.

Sal Masekela(right) is the co-founder of STOKED and a beloved journalist, musician and producer best known for his work presenting NBC’s Red Bull Signature Series; ESPN’s Summer and Winter X Games, which he hosted for 13 years; his cultural reporting in South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, corresponding for the Emmy-award winning investigative series VICE on HBO; and hosting E!’s Daily 10.

Jehiel Oliver – Founder of Hello Tractor

Jehiel Oliver - Founder of Hello Tractor
photo credit: Echoing Green

Jehiel Oliver is the founder of Hello Tractor, an innovative shared-economy platform that makes tractor usage affordable to marginalized farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Jehiel is responsible for the overall management of the Hello Tractor team, strategy, and partnerships. Prior to Hello Tractor, Jehiel founded Aya Consulting, a boutique development. At Aya he worked in over ten countries, including conflict zones.

Through his work in agriculture and rural markets, Jehiel recognized a real need for low-income (majority women) farmers to access affordable farm machinery, leading him to found Hello Tractor. In addition to his duties at Hello Tractor, Jehiel also served on the board of H4H, Inc., an impact investment fund providing mortgage reinsurance for South African communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

He also serves as board treasurer of Shared Interest, a loan guarantee fund for agriculture and financial sector development in sub-Saharan Africa. Jehiel began his career in the U.S. investment banking and private equity industries.

Hamilton Perkins – Hamilton Perkins Collection

Hamilton Perkins – Hamilton Perkins Collection

Hamilton Perkins is the founder and President of Hamilton Perkins Collection, a certified B Corporation, offering designer travel bags at an affordable price, while holding the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Prior to starting Hamilton Perkins Collection, Hamilton was an Investment Advisor at Merrill Lynch and, earlier, worked as an Analyst at Bank of America.

He has also served in a leadership capacity with various non-profit organizations and has been recognized for his volunteer work and service hours assisting low-income populations.

He is a graduate of Old Dominion University with a degree in Business Administration and he earned his M.B.A. from William and Mary.

Cory Greene FoHow Our Lives Link Altogether! (H.O.L.L.A!)
photo credit: Echoing Green

From Queens, New York, Cory Greene is a co-founder, co-director, and organizer of How Our Lives Link Altogether! (H.O.L.L.A!), a nonprofit developed from the organizing work and political strategizing of people who served sentences in New York State Correctional Facilities. The focus of H.O.L.L.A! is to co-create a youth-led organization centered on grassroots youth community organizing to support the leadership development, healing, and liberation of marginalized youth of color and their/our communities.

Cory is a formerly incarcerated PhD candidate at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Prior to co-creating H.O.L.L.A!, he was pushed out of high school, leading to his entanglement in the criminal justice system, where he served an eight-year prison sentence. Cory became a recipient of the Ford Foundation’s Pre-Dissertation Fellowship and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Program Fellowship. He earned his associate of arts degree from LaGuardia Community College and his bachelor of science degree from New York University.

Risë Wilson – Founder of Laundromat Project

Risë Wilson - Founder of Laundromat Project
photo credit:

Risë Wilson first conceived of The Laundromat Project in 1998-99—envisioning “a space for people to be able to create, not just consume art.” She served on the Board of Directors from incorporation in 2005 through early 2016 and remains a major champion of our work. She is currently the inaugural Director of Philanthropy at Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF).

As a member of the foundation’s senior leadership team, Risë is leading the organization through a new phase of charitable giving—one that builds on the legacy of its founder while remaining relevant to contemporary concerns. To that end, the foundation supports initiatives at the intersection of arts and political issues, particularly those that embody the fearlessness, innovation, and multidisciplinary approach that Rauschenberg exemplified in both his art and philanthropic endeavors.

Ms. Wilson’s sixteen- year tenure in arts and culture includes roles at the Ford Foundation, Parsons: the New School for Design, MoMA, and the International Center for Photography. She holds a BA from Columbia University where she was a Kluge Scholar, and an MA from NYU, where she was a MacCracken Fellow.


Mario Jovan Shaw & Jason Terrell – Founders of Profound Gentlemen

Profound Gentlemen
photo credit: Echoing Green

Mario Jovan Shaw(left) is the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Profound Gentlemen where he serves to redefine the image of urban education through increasing the percent of black male educators. Previously, Mario taught seventh grade in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools through Teach For America.

While teaching, Mario created a program called the BrotherHood to address the needs of young black males in his classroom. During a discussion, participants evaluated the lack of black male educators nationally. This sparked Mario’s passion for creating Profound Gentlemen. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Education and has been featured in Teach For America and Charlotte’s local publications to address the importance of increasing the percentage of black male educators.

Jason Terrell(right) is the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Profound Gentlemen. Profound Gentlemen provides better opportunities for young black boys by ensuring they have positive role models inside and outside of the classroom. Jason was inspired to pursue this work after spending three years as a teacher as a Teach For America Corps Member. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Education and has devoted his life to ensuring that young black boys have every opportunity to pursue their endeavors.


Brandon Parkes – Founder the SocialGive App

Brandon Parkes - Founder the SocialGive App

Brandon currently serves as the Finance Manager for an international humanitarian nonprofit, Right to Play. He has previously worked in a corporate philanthropic capacity for companies such as Morgan Stanley and Toyota and is a 2016 StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow.

Through several professional titles, he has gained experience supporting effective strategy that increases social impact, donor retention, and external/internal engagement. He is also the Founder of an emerging mobile nonprofit fundraising app called SocialGive™, which is aimed to make charitable giving as convenient as possible. It is his passion to use his love for tech and insight in philanthropy to create socially innovative technology.

Alexandria Lee – Founder of The Anew School

Alexandria Lee - Founder of The Anew School
photo credit: Echoing Green

The Anew School is the result of Alex’s experiences in education. She was born to unmarried parents, and raised by her single mother while her father struggled with addiction. As one of few African-American children in her school system, she was placed in remedial classes, told that her dreams were unrealistic, and that she would probably not graduate from high school. She had her first intervening teacher in high school, who challenged her academically, taught her about African and African-American history and literature, and developed her socially and emotionally.

The work her teacher did was elevated by her first experience on the continent of Africa. It filled voids in her that she never knew she had, gave her a strong sense of identity and bolstered her blooming self-confidence. She went on to graduate from Spelman College and Harvard Law School, and vowed that she would transform the lives of children, like herself, who have infinite potential, but have been tracked for failure. The Anew School is her story, and it ends in success.


Quardean Lewis-Allen – Founder of Made in Brownsville, Inc

Quardean Lewis-Allen - Founder of Made in Brownsville, Inc
photo credit: Echoing Green

Quardean Lewis-Allen founded Made in Brownsville to create a pipeline of talent from his native community of Brownsville, Brooklyn, to careers in design and tech, tackling the issue of minority underrepresentation and youth unemployment. Quardean was the inaugural recipient of the Community Solutions Greg Jackson Community Fellowship. Previously, Quardean worked abroad for the Chife Foundation developing affordable housing typologies for a new, eco-sustainable town in Nigeria and for the international design firm Perkins Eastman.

He chaired the Social Change and Activism group at Harvard for two years, introducing high school youth to design through its ProjectLink program. Quardean lectured on social justice in design at Harvard and Queens College. He was a 2013 Next City Vanguard, which recognizes 40 under-40 creative urban leaders. Made in Brownsville received the 2016 Good Maker Award, and is a recipient of the Neighborhood Challenge Innovation Grant from the City of New York. It has been featured by Fast Company, JPMorgan Chase, and Al Jazeera. Quardean studied architecture at SUNY Buffalo and holds a master of architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.


Donnel Baird Founder of BlocPower

Donnel Baird Founder of BlocPower
Image credit: Ewan Burns

Donnel Baird is the founder of BlocPower, a startup that markets, finances and installs solar and energy efficiency technology to help houses of worship, non-profits, small businesses and multifamily projects to slash their energy costs. Donnel spent three years as a community organizer in Brooklyn and one year as a voter contact director for Obama For America.

He managed a national Change to Win/LIUNA campaign to leverage Dept. of Energy energy efficiency financing to create green construction jobs for out of work populations. He partnered with the Washington Interfaith Network to generate a $100m government investment in underserved communities in the District of Columbia. Donnel has a B.A. from Duke University and an M.B.A from Columbia Business School.


Daquan Oliver – Founder of WeThrive

Daquan Oliver - Founder of WeThrive
photo credit: Echoing Green

Daquan J. Oliver is the founder and executive director of WeThrive (formerly Recesspreneurs), a nonprofit that works alongside undergraduate students to close the opportunity gap through after-school entrepreneurship programs. Growing up in a single-mother, low-income household, Daquan made a promise at age fourteen to assist future children in a similar socioeconomic position to become successful, leading him to found WeThrive at age twenty-one.

Prior to WeThrive, he founded Jossle, a youth marketing company which worked with large brands like Zipcar, Uber, and KarmaLoop, and amassed a nationwide student network of more than 100,000 students. Daquan earned his BS in Business Management from Babson College, the number one school for entrepreneurship.

*Most of these individuals and information comes from Echoing Green, a social entrepreneurship fellow program held each year. Whether it’s social entrepreneurs or social justice leaders, impact investors or philanthropists, or business leaders who want to use their acumen to guide the nonprofit sector—Echoing Green catalyzes the ability of leaders with purpose to drive social progress further, faster.

Read next