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The New Black Opinion-Makers

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Slowly over the last decade, a new crop of black opinion-makers has emerged into prominent visibility in the media. The old crew has faded into the background in what is a normal generational shift. The Obama era black opinion-makers, unlike the old guard, mostly came to prominence on their own and without organizational backing. The Rev. Al Sharpton is the exception, as he so often is, standing among the new group though he is not new on the scene. He is among this new group because of his amazing durability and transformation. Al Sharpton has arisen from the controversial Tawanna Brawley rape case of 1987 to host PoliticsNation, his own television show on MSNBC. Sharpton’s supporters praise his ability and willingness to defy the power structure that is seen as the cause of their suffering and consider him a man who is willing to tell it like it is.

In 1991, Sharpton founded the National Action Network, an organization designed to increase voter education, provide services to those in poverty, and support small community businesses. The list of his involvements in controversial community issues that other black leaders dodged is so extensive he was once referred to as Rev. 911.

Al Sharpton was a presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2004 and has from that time forward seemed to have gained a good measure of acceptability from much of the white establishment. He is an opinion architect in the black community and white people watch where he’s headed.

The Rev. Michael Eric Dyson isn’t exactly a newcomer on the scene either. He is an American academic, author,  radio host, and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University. Described as a Princeton PhD and a child of the streets who takes pains never to separate the two, Dyson has authored and edited 18 books. He has a speaking style that highlights his eloquent vocabulary in rhyming brilliant “homeboy” analogies. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC. On a CBS Face the Nation panel discussion on Sunday April 13, 2014 about the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, Dyson proudly proclaimed Martin Luther King, Jr. the greatest American ever to live, in an answer about President Lyndon Johnson’s role in the advancement of civil rights. Dyson’s successful joining of his academic accruements to his knowledge of the inter-experiences of the African American community makes him a builder of black opinion. He may very well be next in line for a platform at MSNBC.

Having Tavis Smiley on my list seems to weaken my case when I speak of new black opinion-makers. Tavis has been around so long, he can be remembered from the days when BET was black-owned. But over the years Tavis has built a career that has given him lasting credibility within the black community while he gaining stature and acceptability in the mainstream media. Tavis keeps us informed on the state of black America.

Benjamin Jealous is an American political and civic leader and the former president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was the youngest-ever national leader of the organization. He worked as a reporter for The Jackson Advocate, Mississippi’s oldest historically black newspaper, where he eventually became  managing editor. His reporting was credited with exposing corruption among high-ranking officials at the state prison in Parchman. As a new partner in the Bay Area firm Kapor Capital and at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, he’s taking a crash course in computer coding, technology, and venture capital investment to help improve diversity in the tech industry. It is his ability to organize and lead social change that makes him a natural fit for Kapor, a firm committed to funding startups in underserved communities both domestically and internationally. Benjamin Jealous will give the black community a voice and a stake in Silicon Valley.

The Grio is the first video-centric news community site devoted to providing African Americans with stories and perspectives that appeal to them but are underrepresented in existing national news outlets. The Grio features aggregated and original video packages, news articles, and blogs on topics from breaking news, politics, health, business, and entertainment, topics that concern its niche audience. The Grio’s reporting is so deep in the black community it makes it a place where large numbers of blacks visit and that’s the main ingredient in being an opinion-maker.

Speaking of The Grio, Joy Reid, the managing editor there, recently got her own platform at MSNBC with her new show. She is a long-time on-air contributor on MSNBC and a political columnist for the Miami Herald and editor of the political blog The Reid Report. Joy has worked in television and radio news since 1998, including for WTVJ and Fox station WSVN. In addition to the Herald, her columns have appeared on Salon.com, TheGrio, CommonDreams.org, in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and the South Florida Times. The Reid Report is a show that looks at policy and political analysis. Joy has a style that amplifies her vast understanding of politics and  comes off as a believable little sister telling us what we need to know.

Melissa Harris-Perry is an American writer, professor, television host, and political commentator with a focus on African-American politics. Harris-Perry hosts the Melissa Harris-Perry weekend news and opinion television show on MSNBC. She is also a regular fill-in host on The Rachel Maddow Show as well as a professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. Prior to this, she taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago. She is also a regular columnist for the magazine The Nation, and the author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. She is quick-witted and exciting to watch at work, with a knack for picking up nuances that fall between the cracks – she is definitely a clarifier.

Homeboy appeal

Homeboy appeal

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic and a blogger for the publication’s website. Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications. In 2008 he published a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. Coates is a voice from inside the belly of the hood; he is one of us who made it out. His writing is relaxed, eloquent and insightful and, like what is seen of his personal style, utterly unpretentious.

Loving fatherhood

Loving fatherhood

Christopher L. “Chris” Hayes is an American political commentator. Hayes hosts All In with Chris Hayes, a weekday news and opinion television show on MSNBC. Hayes was a frequent guest host and commentator on The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. He remains an Editor-at-Large of The Nation magazine. Hayes was born in the Bronx, New York of Irish and Italian parentage and embodies where race relations needs to go – he sees race, but disregards it in his approach to people of different races. Watch his show and you will see that Chris seeks out opinions from a wide variety of African Americans with respect and reverence. He has exposed his audience to more black thinkers than many of his colleagues. Chris Hayes is a black opinion molder who is not black.

Wynton Marsalis is a trumpeter, composer, teacher, music educator, and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. Marsalis has promoted the appreciation of classical and jazz music, often to young audiences. He has been awarded nine Grammys in both genres, and a jazz recording of his was the first of its kind to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Marsalis has a winning downhome personality that fails to hide his sharp knowledge and insights on an assortment of subjects, not just music. His experiences in mastering music have taught him many things through his connection with people from many fields all over the world. He all too infrequently is a contributor to CBS’s Sunday Morning show. He is a black opinion-maker for those knowledgeable enough to seek him out.

Charming and smart

Charming and smart

Esther Armah is a playwright, radio host and political commentator living in Brooklyn, New York. Armah was born in London, England to Kwesi Armah, a Ghanaian politician and ambassador to the United Kingdom, and his wife, Esther Yaa Ageymang Armah. She was raised in both England and Ghana. In New York City, she hosted WBAI’s morning drive time program, Wakeup Call, Mondays through Thursdays until August 2013. Previously she hosted that station’s program Connections. She is also an occasional guest on Chris Hayes’s and Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC weekend shows. Armah is an attractive intelligent speaker with an appealing accent. She can easily be mistaken for a model or a fashionista.

These are all clear-thinking commentators with a progressive outlook and a progressive agenda for the future of America and the role African Americans will play in shaping the future.

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