By Sheryl Huggins Salomon, The Root.com – One core mission of The Root is to reveal and recognize African Americans who are breaking ground, raising the bar and effecting meaningful change in the world. We do that in many ways throughout the year, but our signature means of recognizing our community’s best and brightest, since 2009, is through The Root 100 annual list of black achievers and influencers, ages 25-45. The Root 100 honorees not only excel in their fields but also are people who use their influence to shape the world and make it a better place. Otherwise, what is all that influence really good for?
It’s in that spirit that we reveal our top-ranked honoree for 2012: scholar, author and MSNBC television-show host Melissa Harris-Perry. “For me, success is when I’m making a contribution and fully engaging all of my talents,” Harris-Perry once said. Evidence of that success over the past year is clear in how the Tulane University political science professor has handled the national platform that came with her new MSNBC news show, Melissa Harris-Perry.
She has used it not only to air the typical hot-button issues that feed the cable-news beast, like the latest politician’s gaffe, but also to discuss the tough topics that many would rather not face, like felon voter rights, anti-Muslim bigotry and the way the poor are being ignored and vilified in politics.
Harris-Perry’s approach to success is one that is shared by others on The Root 100 2012 list, all of whom were noted for how they exercised their influence within the past year.
Second on the list is Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who is known not only for his Twitter savvy and a fiery platform speech during the 2012 Democratic National Convention but also for saving a neighbor from a burning building in April.
It goes without saying that NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, No. 3 on the list, uses his influence in the service of others; but by leading the rights organization to fight voter-suppression tactics and stop-and-frisk policies, as well as taking a stand in support of same-sex marriage, Jealous has shown that he is unafraid to take on controversial causes.
Others who took on controversial causes include civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump (No. 5), who represents the family of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and columnist Charles M. Blow (No. 16), who received his share of flack for his repeated coverage of Trayvon’s death and its aftermath. Pastor Delman Coates(No. 81) has likewise braved criticism to speak out in support of marriage equality.