The very most innovative and inspiring names in Black America adorn list annual list

david wilson

David Wilson, founder of theGrio

*Black History Month has been celebrated and observed in educational institutions in where African Americans are the majority for decades now.

However, for progressive adults who prefer to live in the present rather than reflect on the past, February has become something of drag. Especially so when one considers the stale and unimaginative manner in which Black History is oftentimes presented.

That’s no knock on the harrowed experiences of our honored ancestors, but folks get tired of hearing about the back trinity this time of year. If it’s not Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. then it’s the venerable Frederick Douglass, or Malik El-Haj Shabazz aka Malcolm X.

Five years ago the founder of the African American news outlet TheGrio, David Wilson noticed this problem and tried to come up with a way to use this time of year to celebrate the accomplishments of African American trailblazers who are operating in the here and now. The result was the annual theGrio 100. Wilson discussed the list with’s Lee Bailey.

“Let me first say that this is the fifth year we’ve done theGrio 100 list,” said Wilson. “There have been about 500 names with no duplicates. The Grio launched in June of 2009. We knew that February was coming around and we should do something different for Black History Month.  Normally, Black History Month is reserved for studying the past and celebrating who came before us. That’s all well and good, but what we wanted to do was highlight the fact that history is being made every day.

“The folks that are doing are not just doing it to make black history, but American history and world history,” he continued.“When we first started it we thought it was going to be really tough to come up with 100 new names every year.  We found that it was tough not because we would find it hard to come up with 100 names, but it would be hard to dwindle the list down each year and that’s a good sign.  I found that there were so many talented, ground-breaking and inspiring African Americans.  There’s so many of us out there. I feel this list is a testament to that.”

David told urban media legend Lee Bailey that his site’s strategic partnership with NBC gives it a special kind of responsibility to pursue this endeavor with responsibility and zeal.

“One thing that is unique with theGrio is out placement with NBC,” he explained. “We knew that in order for this to take flight it had to resonate throughout the rest of their news organization, it had to have current news value.  It was designed to be something that was very up-to-date,  very current.  The people that are on the list are reflective of some of the issues that we are dealing with today.”

thegrio 100

And so what had begun as merely a thought would become theGrio 100 list. However, what was meant to be a celebration of modern black leaders and innovators contains individuals who represent something other than the very best the African Diaspora has to offer from time to time. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Right?

“We’ve put people on the list that were really great but then did something really crazy the next year,” David told Lee. “We’ve even considered coming up with a list of people we’ve actually celebrated but then have gone off the rail.   You can’t see the future. You can only celebrate people for things they’ve already accomplished.   There’s only 100 names and because of that you’re bound to leave someone out. It’s subjective and because it’s subjective you’re going to be criticized. But I also think that’s a good thing.  Sometimes, when you keep someone off the list one year and people complain about it, you then study them and see what they’re doing and they oftentimes make it on to the next list.  Any debate is healthy and I don’t think people can say that anyone who isn’t deserving of being on the list.”

The calls by blacks for greater inclusion within the American experiment are as loud today as they have ever been.  But what’s good for the goose is good for the ganders, and with that in mind, Lee Bailey asked Wilson why there had never been any non-African Americans on theGrio 100 list.

“We wanted to focus solely on African Americans and there’s a reason for that. One, theGrio is an African American focused website. Two, we also felt this was something where we really wanted to take the opportunity, being a part of NBC news, to highlight African Americans.  You know, there’s so much negativity out there that’s taken from our community and broadcast on a loud speaker.  In this month, when everyone is going to be looking for content, we wanted to celebrate the very best from our community.  While there is a great argument to having non-blacks on TheGrio 100, we knew this was too good of an opportunity not to focus on the great talent that comes out of our community because we’re not sure they’re going to get another opportunity like this to be celebrated on the various platforms on NBC.”

So, who decides whether a candidate it worthy to be on this vaunted list?

“We ask for submissions from NBC affiliates, people in different communities, people who have made noise in some local city and communities and request they be submitted. We have a committee that goes through the recommendations. Almost every year we have a group of around 500 that we have to whittle down to 100,” he explained.

“We have some people on there that represent the LGBT community. This year we have Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out last year. We also have Laverne Cox, the transgender actress. If you look at the site now you have the story of a janitor turned principal.  Because we focus on African Americans we get to tell these stories year round.  We cover all kinds of different stuff throughout the year. Not all of it is positive.  We wouldn’t be a news outlet if we only covered the positive stuff.  But this is the opportunity to really focus on the positive stories and that’s why we love it.  That’s what’s so inspirational.”

thegrio 100

This story was written by Ricardo Hazell ([email protected])