Blog Post

Black Leaders You Should Know

February 11, 2021

In the past, Seramount has published a list of Black CEOs you should know, updated each year. This year, we have expanded that list to include influential Black leaders not just from the corporate space, but from higher education, healthcare, social justice/community activism, and government as well.

In addition, our new list is more diverse than it has been in the past including the addition of more women, representing multiple generations, and includes military veterans and members of the LGBTQ community. They are physicists, activists, politicians, social scientists, business people, and physicians.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, so we will commit to updating it each year with new faces to ensure we continue to uplift incredible leaders from the African-American community.

Higher Education

Dr. Shirley Jackson, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A theoretical physicist, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson has been the driving force behind the explosive growth in funds, faculty, and programming at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute since 1999. Since that time, her Rensselaer Plan has received more than $1.25 billion in invested funds.

Dr. Jackson is the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT and the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university.

Melvin L. Oliver is the sixth president of Pitzer College, an award-winning professor, author and a noted expert on racial and urban inequality.

Before joining Pitzer College, President Oliver served as the executive dean at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s College of Letters and Science, where he was also the SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences and a professor of sociology. During his 12-year tenure as the dean of social sciences at UCSB, he promoted faculty diversity and championed increased access for underrepresented students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.


Kamala Devi Harris
The White House)

Kamala D. Harris is the Vice President of the United States of America. She was elected Vice President after a lifetime of public service, having been elected District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General, and the United States Senator.

She was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. She was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. In 2010, Vice President Harris was elected California’s Attorney General and oversaw the largest state justice department in the United States. In 2017, Vice President Harris was sworn into the United States Senate.

On August 11, 2020, Vice President Harris accepted President Joe Biden’s invitation to become his running mate and help unite the nation.

She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President, as was the case with other offices she has held.

Ayanna Pressley is an American politician who is a member of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district. She defeated ten-term incumbent Mike Capuano in the primary election and ran unopposed in the November 2018 general election. Pressley served as an at-large member of the Boston City Council. Pressley was the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council, and the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.

Rev. Raphael Warnock is the first African American to represent Georgia in the United States Senate. The senator, who is also a Baptist pastor, was elected to the United States Senate in the January 5, 2021 special election runoff.

Warnock framed his campaign for the Senate as an extension of his years of progressive activism as the leader of Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church. He won election on a platform that called for bail reform and an end to mass incarceration, as well as a living wage, job training for a green economy and expanded access to voting and health care.

In November 2020, Cori Bush was elected to Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, making her the first Black Congresswoman in the history of Missouri.

She is a registered nurse, community activist, organizer, single mother, and ordained pastor for the people of St. Louis. She is also a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and became politically active in 2014 protesting the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Congresswoman Bush is the recipient of the 2015 “Woman of Courage” Award from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. In May of 2019, she received the Herschel Walker Award at the 27th Annual Herschel Walker “Peace & Justice” Awards.

Ilhan Omar. U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.

Ilhan Omar is a Somali American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. In 2016, Omar was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali American elected to legislative office in the United States. On November 6, 2018, she became the first naturalized citizen from Africa and the first Somali-American elected to the United States Congress. Along with Rashida Tlaib, she was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and the first to wear a hijab. Omar is also the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota.

Joseph D. Neguse is an American politician and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado’s 2nd district. On November 6, 2018, Neguse won Colorado’s 2nd congressional district, becoming the first African American U.S. representative from Colorado.


Ryan Williams & Porter Braswell, Co-founders of Jopwell

Ryan Williams and Porter Braswell are the co-founders of Jopwell, a diversity hiring startup that helps companies connect with and recruit underrepresented ethnic minority candidates for jobs and internships The pair left their jobs at Goldman Sachs to launch the company back in 2014 on the belief that their exposure to diversity programming opportunities at an early age gave them strong career paths and that other underrepresented ethnic minorities should be given the same opportunity for success. Their goal was to build a career platform to connect African American, Hispanic, and Native American students and professionals with job opportunities at top companies.

In 2017, Jopwell was named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” in the enterprise category and one of Entrepreneur’s “100 Most Brilliant Companies.” The pair were also featured on Fast Company’s 2017 list of “100 Most Creative People in Business” and Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list in 2016, which highlight creative minds and rising entrepreneurs across industries.

Tristan Walker founded and serves as CEO of Walker and Company Brands, Inc., an African American health and beauty products company. Walker and Company Brands, Inc.’s products included the Bevel shaving line for black men, and FORM Beauty, a women’s hair care collection designed for all hair textures launched in 2017.

In 2012, Walker founded the non-profit organization CODE2040, to promote diversity in the technology industry. Walker was named the USA Today Person of the Year in 2014. In the same year, Walker also was featured on Creativity 50 list The Most Creative People of the Year. In 2017, Walker was later featured on Fortune Magazine’s ’40 under 40’ list, Ebony magazine’s ‘100 Most Powerful People’ list and the Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Digital Power 50’ list.

Jessica Matthews is founder and chief executive officer of Uncharted Power, which specializes in harnessing energy from motion to create ecosystems of renewable power for communities. Having founded the company at the age of 22, in 2016 she raised the largest Series A ever raised by a black female founder and was selected to ring the NASDAQ opening bell, representing all Forbes “30 Under 30” honourees. Ms Matthews’s research focuses on the intersection of disruptive technology, renewable energy, human behaviour and the psychology of self-actualization. She has a degree in psychology and economics from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, and is listed on more than ten patents and patents pending.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

Janice Bryant Howroyd leads the largest woman-minority-owned workforce management company founded in the U.S., ActOne Group.

The global enterprise, which she founded in 1978, provides employment, workforce management, and procurement solutions to a wide range of industries from Fortune 500 companies, local and mid-market companies to government agencies.

Howroyd leads her teams to build business success based on the ability to connect great companies with great talent. Her passion for education, mentorship, and self-empowerment initiatives have earned her many professional and philanthropic recognitions, among those, being selected by former President Barack Obama to serve as a White House appointee.

She currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and the Women’s Leadership Board at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


Roz Brewer will soon be the CEO of Walgreens

Rosalind “Roz” Brewer was recently named as the new CEO at Walgreens, effective July 2021. She will be the only Black woman CEO leading a Fortune 500 company.

Brewer has served as Chief Operating Officer at Starbucks since 2017 when she also joined the Starbucks board of directors. She was the first Black woman to be COO of Starbucks and to head a division there.

As Chief Operating Officer and group president for Starbucks, Roz Brewer leads the company’s operating businesses across the Americas (Canada, U.S., and Latin America), and Starbucks license stores as well as the global functions of marketing, technology, supply chain, product innovation, and store development organizations.

She previously served as CEO of Sam’s Club and made history by becoming the first woman and first African American to lead a Walmart division.

She is a current director of Starbucks, Amazon and a former director of Lockheed Martin and Molson Coors Brewing Company. She also chairs the board of trustees at Spelman College.

Ann-Marie Campbell Executive Vice President – U.S. Stores, The Home Depot
Home Depot

Ann-Marie Campbell began her career with The Home Depot in 1985 as a cashier in South Florida and today is executive vice president, U.S. Stores, and International Operations. In this role, she leads the company’s three U.S. operating divisions comprised of nearly 2,000 U.S. stores and the bulk of the company’s nearly 400,000 associates. Her impact is widely recognized with Fortune magazine listing her among its top 50 most powerful women in business for 4 consecutive years, most recently as #16 in the magazine’s 2018 rankings. In addition, named Ann-Marie as one of its 2018 Inspirational 25, a group of leaders who are shattering expectations and challenging the status quo in the tireless pursuit of a better world.

Gregory Adams is the current Chairman and CEO of integrated managed care consortium Kaiser Permanente. He assumed the role in December 2019 after the passing for former CEO Bernard Tyson. He is a nationally recognized leader and a champion of health care transformation, improving access, and pushing for better health outcomes. Since his time with Kaiser Permanente, Adams has been driving the comprehensive work focused on growing the organization’s membership, improving affordability for members, and transforming and expanding access to care.

Adams has 30 years of leadership experience as a senior health care executive and prior to this role, he served as executive vice president and group president with responsibility for health plan and hospital operations in all eight Kaiser Permanente regions, serving more than 12 million members.

Mellody Hobson is the Co-CEO & President of Ariel Investments, an investment company based in Chicago.

In addition to her role at Ariel, she is a nationally recognized voice on financial literacy. She has conducted extensive research on minority investing patterns, is an advocate for financial literacy and investor education, a TED speaker, and currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Starbucks Corporation, a director of JPMorgan Chase, and a director of the short video platform, Quibi.

Hobson is also Chairman of After School Matters, a Chicago non-profit that provides area teens with high-quality after-school and summer programs, and vice-chair of World Business Chicago.

In 2015, Time Magazine named her one of the “100 Most Influential People” in the world.

Ken Frazier, Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Merck & Co., Inc.

Kenneth C. Frazier is the Chairman of the Board, president, and Chief Executive Officer of Merck & Co., Inc. Frazier joined Merck in 1992 as vice president, general counsel, and secretary of the Astra Merck Group and has held several senior management roles during his tenure with the company, including vice president of public affairs; assistant general counsel, corporate staff; senior vice president and general counsel; and executive vice president and president, Global Human Health. Mr. Frazier has also led the formation of philanthropic and other initiatives that build on Merck’s 125-year plus legacy.

Community-Based Organizations/Social Justice/Non-profit Organizations

Alicia Garza, Co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, is an Oakland-based organizer, writer, public speaker, and freedom dreamer who is currently the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States. As a queer Black woman, Garza’s leadership and work challenge the misconception that only cisgender Black men encounter police and state violence. In order to truly understand how devastating and widespread this type of violence is in Black America, we must view this epidemic through a lens of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Wes Moore
Robin Hood

Wes Moore is the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the largest anti-poverty forces in the nation. He is a bestselling author, a combat veteran, and a social entrepreneur. Before becoming CEO at Robin Hood, Wes was the founder and CEO at BridgeEdU, an innovative tech platform addressing the college completion and job placement crisis. BridgeEdU reinvents freshman year for underserved students. Wes remains chairman of the board of directors at BridgeEDU.

He earned an MLitt in International Relations from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 2004. Wes then served as a captain and paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, including a combat deployment to Afghanistan. He later served as a White House Fellow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Wikimedia Commons

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. She is the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO. She is an economist and former finance minister of Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist and rose to the number 2 position of managing director in 2007.

At the World Bank, she spearheaded several initiatives to assist low-income countries, in particular raising nearly $50 Billion in 2010 from donors for the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, according to the BBC.

Okonjo-Iweala is a Harvard grad and earned her PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

She sits on the boards of Twitter, Standard Chartered Bank, and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

Carla Hayden
Wikimedia Commons

Carla Hayden is the current Librarian of Congress and the first African American and first woman to lead the national library. She was sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress on September 14, 2016. Hayden was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama on February 24, 2016.

Since 1993, she has served as CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to joining the Pratt Library, Hayden was deputy commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library from 1991 to 1993. She was an assistant professor for Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh from 1987 to 1991.

Hayden was president of the American Library Association from 2003 to 2004. In 1995, she was the first African American to receive Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year Award in recognition of her outreach services at the Pratt Library, which included an after-school center for Baltimore teens offering homework assistance and college and career counseling.

Alphonso B. David

Alphonso David

Alphonso B. David, an accomplished and nationally recognized LGBTQ civil rights lawyer and advocate, is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Mr. David is the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to serve as president of HRC in the organization’s nearly 40-year history. He became president of HRC in 2019.

Mr. David has significant litigation and management experience in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. He has been at the forefront of the movement for LGBTQ equality for more than a decade and worked at both the state and national level.

In 2015, Mr. David was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve as Counsel to the Governor. Prior to his appointment as the Governor’s Chief Counsel, Mr. David served for four years in the Governor’s cabinet as the Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights, the first position of its kind in New York State. In this capacity, he was responsible for a full range of legal, policy, legislative and operational matters affecting civil rights and labor throughout the State.

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP

Jo Ann Jenkins leads the world’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization, harnessing the power and passion of almost 2,000 staff members, 60,000 volunteers and numerous strategic partners. Since joining the organization in 2010 and heading it since 2014, she has transformed AARP into a leader in social change, dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live and age. Ms. Jenkins was named to the 2018 Ideagen Global 100 Innovators List, which highlights CEOs, filmmakers, and other global trailblazers who are changing the world through innovation, empowerment, and leadership.

Editor’s Note: Content for this list was pulled from publicly available professional bios and additional source documents.