Life + Love, Life Stories

#40WomentoWatch: Incredible trailblazers that completely ruled 2016

From fighting for girls' education to pioneering new trends in music, fashion and tech, here are the women inspiring us today.

As 2016 comes to an end, let’s recognize the women of color who work tirelessly to make our world a better place. We tried to round up 30 of the most badass, influential millennial women of color, however, due to the overwhelming number we found, we decided to go with forty. Oops.

If we learned anything this year, it’s that the future is not only female – it’s full of women of color. These are the trailblazers inspiring us now.

With that, here’s our inaugural class of #40WomentoWatch.

1. Amanda Nguyen

Photo from Boston Globe
Photo from Boston Globe

Amanda Nguyen (@nguyen_amanda) is the founder of Rise, a national civil rights nonprofit working with multiple state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to implement a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. She works tirelessly to give rape survivors the rights they deserve.

In an interview, Nguyen told The New York Times “Women in the World”: “We’ve worked extensively with people from all sides of the aisle to make sure that this bill addresses their critical voices. This includes law enforcement, defense groups, state and federal elected officials from both parties, including DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former RNC Co-Chair Ann Wagner, who are the lead sponsors of a U.S. House Resolution expressing support for our state bills.”

2. Issa Rae

Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Issa Rae (@IssaRae) is the star, creator, and writer of HBO’s Insecure. The show focuses on hour long comedy segments that give a different voice to a stereotyped few. It’s honest, hilarious, and heartbreaking, in a wrap. Issa Rae is best known as the creator of the Youtube series, Awkward Black Girl. With her own unique flare and infectious sense of humor, Issa Rae’s content has garnered over 25 million views and close to 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. Rocking the game.

3. Franchesca Ramsey

Image from Twitter
Image from Twitter

Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) is the writer and star of MTV’s Decoded, which brilliantly breaks down stereotypes about race and racial issues. She was also a contributor to Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show,” and was recently selected to be the newest ambassador for YouTube’s Creators for Change, an initiative that highlights people tackling social issues and promoting awareness.

4. Sara Minkara

Photo from "Empowerment Through Integration" series
Photo from “Empowerment Through Integration” series

Sara Minkara is the founder of Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), an organization dedicated to advocating for blind and visually-impaired youth. At age seven, she lost her vision; however, despite that deeply frightening experience, Sara knew that all of life’s opportunities could still be afforded to her. The U.S. public education system paired with the love and tenacity of her family enabled her to attend Wellesley College and Harvard University. Trips to Lebanon painted a very different reality. Lebanon’s culture often fails to recognize the potential and human rights of the blind. This inspired her to create Camp Rafiqi, which later evolved into ETI.

5. Sadie Hernandez

Photo from The Daily Texan
Photo from The Daily Texan

Sadie Hernandez (@sadieeehdz) is a proud Xicana and reproductive rights activist, famous for her 2015 protest in front of the Texas Governor’s mansion. Her activism sparked People’s Veto and the viral hashtag #IStandWithSadie. To date, she continues to work and organize with Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth. As Sadie notes, “I work with Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth to organize around reproductive justice issues imperative to the RGV. Along with other students, I work to inform RGV residents about how laws like HB2 impact our border community’s access to affordable healthcare.”

6. Jessica Williams

(Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)
(Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Jessica Williams (@msjwilly) is a former Senior Daily Show correspondent, slated for her own show on Comedy Central. She credits her ability to be hilarious on her very large funny bone. After practically “killing it” at every single comedic venue in Los Angeles, Jessica decided it was time to conquer New York City.  She also has a amazing podcast, 2 Dope Queens that features her and her BFF Phoebe Robinson @dopequeenpheebs. Her badassery is strengthening.

7. Alicia Garza

Photo from SF Weekly
Photo from SF Weekly

Alicia Garca (@aliciagarza) is one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter. She is the director of Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that organizes and advocates for domestic workers across the country. An activist, Alicia has spoken for a variety of causes. Alicia has taken part in coining the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and starting the worldwide movement.

8. Opal Tometi

From Girls on the Infield
From Girls on the Infield

Opal Tometi (@opalayo) is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. She is a writer, strategist, and political organizer. She is the Executive Director of BAJI (Black Alliance for Just Immigration) and works with communities across the U.S. Opal is the recipient of a variety and awards, having recently received the honor of Glamour Award for Justice Seekers.

9. Patrisse Cullors

From patrissecullors.com
From patrissecullors.com

Patrisse Cullors (@osope) is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. She is an artist, activist, a Fulbright scholar, and NAACP History Maker. In 2014, Patrisse was honored with the Contribution to Oversight Award by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) recognizing her work to initiate civilian oversight in Los Angeles jails. Always slaying, Patrisse is an advocate for criminal justice reform in Los Angeles.

10. Ilhan Omar

Image from Minnesota Post
Image from Minnesota Post

Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) is the incoming U.S. House Representative for Minnesota’s District 60B. She is currently the Director of Policy and Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network. Ilhan fell in love with politics at the age of 14 when she acted as her grandfather’s interpreter so he could participate in their local DFL caucus, in the District she how represents. Watching neighbors come together to advocate for change at the grassroots level  inspired her to get involved in the democratic process. Ilhan has proven that inclusion starts within the office.

11. Elaine Welteroth

Photo from Blavity
Photo from Blavity

Elaine Welteroth (@ElaineWelteroth) is the new Editor-In-Chief of Teen Vogue! Prior to Teen Vogue, Welteroth worked as beauty writer and editor for Glamour magazine, and beauty and style editor for Ebony magazine. Have you wondered when/how/why Teen Vogue has all of a sudden become a leader in woke journalism? This woman is the answer. #blackgirlmagic

12. Janelle Monae

Image from Maroon Cafe
Image from Maroon Cafe

Janelle Monae (@JanelleMonae) is a recording artist, actor, and model. Other then being an all-around kick ass, she is also the CEO of Wondaland Records, and has starred in two of our favorite movies of the year, Moonlight and Hidden Figures. She is on fire. 

13. Reshma Saujani

Photo from Makers
Photo from Makers

Reshma Saujani @reshmasaujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a non-profit dedicated to closing the gender gap in the technology industry. In her groundbreaking book, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line, Saujani advocates for a new model of female leadership focused on embracing risk and failure, promoting mentorship and sponsorship and boldly charting your own course—personally and professionally. Give it up for this lady!

Read Next:  Meet Blair Imani, the activist fighting for intersectionality and rights for those on the femme spectrum

14. Gina Rodriguez

Photo by Elle
Photo by Elle

Gina Rodriguez (@HereIsGina) is an American actress and advocate for immigration reform and diversity in Hollywood. She is the star of CW’s Jane the Virgin as Jane Villanuevela, and a lifelong advocate for saying what you need to say and getting shit done. She turned down a chance to appear on Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids series because she objected to the way it portrayed Latinos. “That’s something I didn’t want to contribute to, the incorrect perception of a culture,” she told The New York Times.  If there’s anyone to look up to, it’s Gina.

15. Cleo Wade

Image from Sakara Life
Image from Sakara Life

Cleo Wade is a poet, artist, and speaker that creates empowering messages, blending simplicity with positivity, femininity and arresting honesty. With the belief that art is for all people, Cleo creates large scale public art pieces that stun the audience. Cleo is a dedicated advocate of female empowerment, and has spoken at NYU’s “Women on the Move” panel, as well as taught courses in self-love and self expression at Austin’s SXSW. Cleo is widely known for her stunning Instagram poetry. Slay, queen, slay.

16. Soraya Bahgat

Image from Oslo Freedom Forum
Image from Oslo Freedom Forum

Soraya Bahgat (@SorayaBahgat) is a Finnish-Egyptian career woman, social entrepreneur and women’s rights advocate active in Egypt. She founded the Tahrir Bodyguard movement, a movement comprised of volunteers to protect women from sexual assaults in Tahrir Square.  At the beginning, she was anonymous and gave an interview to Gawker in December 2012 using a pseudonym.

In February 2013, her name and occupation were revealed in a profile by the Associated Press. During down times where there was no activity in Tahrir Square, the group offered free self-defense classes for women to empower them to own the streets

17. Anniesa Hasibuan

Photo from Spiral Magazine
Photo from Spiral Magazine

Anniesa Hasibuan is an Indonesian fashion designer. Born in Jakarta, Anniesa opened her first boutique in Kemang in early 2015. She made her fashion debut in London in March 2015, and has traveled to Europe and the United States to showcase her work. She was the first Indonesian fashion designer to show at NY Fashion week and the first to showcase women in hijabs. She’s a trailblazer, defying conservative critics in her homeland who say the outfits are not modest enough.

18. Solange Knowles

Photo by Elias Tahan
Photo by Elias Tahan

Solange Knowles (@solangeknowles) is an American singer-songwriter who blessed us with A Seat At The Table in 2016. Take a seat at the table and devour her stunning choreography and entrancing music. Solange started with some temporary stints for Destiny’s Child, and has since built up a massive brand.

19. Lilly Singh

Photo from Entertainment Weekly
Photo from Entertainment Weekly

Lilly Singh (@IISuperwomanII) is a Canadian YouTube personality, vlogger, comedian, actress and rapper. Better known by her YouTube username IISuperwomanII, Lilly is a hilarious mix of satire and comedy.  She has received an MTV Fandom Award, three Streamy Awards, and two Teen Choice Awards. Shemurr.

20. Warsan Shire

Photo by The New Yorker
Photo by The New Yorker

Warsan Shire (@warsan_shire) is a London–based- Somali writer, poet, editor and teacher. She has received the Brunel University’s African Poetry Prize, chosen from a shortlist of six candidates out of a total 655 entries. Shire’s poems connect gender, war, sex, and cultural assumptions; in her work, poetry is a healing agent for the trauma of exile and suffering. Her poetry was featured in Beyonce’s Lemonade, and still continues to astound.

21. Laila Alawa

lailaalawa.com

Laila Alawa is the Founder and CEO of The Tempest,  the fastest-growing media company changing the narrative of diverse millennial women in the world. The Tempest has helped connect millions of people with more than six hundred female thought leaders on every issue, disrupting the global media status quo.  Prior to founding the company, Laila worked at the White House and Congress.

22. Fatima Lodhi

(Max Becherer/AP Images for Rotary International)
(Max Becherer/AP Images for Rotary International)

Fatima Lodhi was teased for her dark skin as a child and decided to start an awareness campaign, “Dark is Divine,” to counter bias against dark-skinned people that exists in varying degrees throughout South Asia. Fatima is the first Pakistani who took a stand against colorism. Lodhi is the youngest rising anti-colorism and diversity advocate from Asia. She conducts awareness and training sessions on the topic of diversity, self-acceptance and positive body image.

23. Muniba Mazari

Photo from DW Blogs
Photo from DW Blogs

Muniba Mazari is a Pakistani artist, writer and motivational speaker. Multifaceted, she has risen to become an influential persona in modern media. Although wheelchair-bound, her spirit and artistry know no bounds. In fact she takes the agony of spinal cord injury as a challenge and is more determined to express her sentiments through her artwork. Muniba is also a writer and motivational speaker. Rock it.

24. Donya Nasser

Property of Donya Nasser.

Donya Nasser (@donyanasser) is the first Iranian-American named Youth Observer for UN. She also sits on Planned Parenthood’s Board of Directors, leading a mounting movement as the youngest appointee to the board. Donya believes in the power of galvanizing younger generations, who embody the potential of our future to secure equality and justice for all. She has been featured on ABC, Al Jazeera, HuffPost Live, and MSNBC.

25. Astrid Silva

Photo from International Business Times
Photo from International Business Times

Astrid Silva (@Astrid_NV) is a political activist and DREAMer. Silva was born in Mexico and came to the United States with her parents at age 4. She spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Astrid is the first undocumented immigrant to be on the DNC and is a leading voice in humanity care.

26. Dena Takruri

Photo by AJ+
Photo by AJ+

Dena Takruri (@Dena) is a Palestinian-American journalist, on-air presenter, and producer with AJ+. Her powerful persona is widely known on Twitter and in the workspace, as she carves a niche into what a strong woman stands for. Dena was one of the first journalists to ever use Facebook Live as a reporting tool while covering the refugee crisis in Europe in September 2015. She has since broadcasted live from various locations including the West Bank, Oregon amid the armed occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge, Flint, Michigan during the water crisis.

27. Lara Setrakian

screen-shot-2013-10-22-at-12-12-01-pm-1024x575
Image from 20 to 30

Lara Setrakian (@Lara) is an Armenian-American journalist with a focus on Middle Eastern political economy. She has worked for numerous news outlets including ABC News, Bloomberg Television, and Business Insider. She is the founder of Syria Deeply, a single issue news website covering the civil war in Syria, and is working to redefine how news is delivered. “The linear model of covering news and moving on to the next story meant we were leaving lots of great stories behind,” Setrakian said.

Read Next:  21 things women who train martial arts are tired of hearing

28. Maggie Dunne

Rothschild Fellowship
Image by Rothschild Fellowship

Maggie Dunne (@mhope13) founded Lakota Children’s Enrichment, a nonprofit that empowers youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, when she was still in high school. Today, she continues to run the organization and build partnerships and coalitions.  When asked how she decided to direct her energies towards helping the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation Maggie recently said: “I learned all that I could and felt compelled to take action… I could not understand why I never heard of the problems on Reservations and why I had not studied the history of our first Americans in school… the cause chose me.”

29. Malia Bouattia

Image from The Telegraph
Image from The Telegraph

Malia Bouattia (@MaliaBouattia) is a student politician and the president of the National Union of Students, elected at the National Conference in April 2016. She is the first Muslim head of the NUS, and takes over the world on a daily basis. Before then, Bouattia served two years as Black Students’ Officer of the National Union of Students (NUS). While in this position, she campaigned against the UK government’s Prevent strategy which she describes as “toxic and unworkable.” Bouattia also pushed for greater ethnic diversity amongst NUS candidates and campaigned for the establishment of a permanent officer for transgender students.

No biggie.

30. Maya Cueva

Photo from Latino USA

Maya Cueva (@mayitacuevita) is an award winning documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer. Her film The Provider follows a traveling abortion provider in Texas and the laws that restrict reproductive rights. She is now working on a docuseries that chronicles different abortion clinics in Texas and the communities fighting to keep them open.

31. Katherine Jin

Image from Kinnos

Katherine Jin is the co-founder of Kinnos, an organization dedicated to creating products that help protect healthcare workers and patients. Katherine won Columbia University’s Ebola Design Challenge with a product called Highlight, a colored additive to disinfectant solution that allows healthcare workers to easily spot any areas that were not disinfected.

32. Haben Girma

Photo from Eritrea Chat

Haben Girma (@HabenGirma) is a first-generation Eritrean immigrant and the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. She was honored as a White House Champion of Change, which recognizes individuals who are making change in their communities. She is a champion of inclusion and gives accessibility and diversity training to leaders across industries.

33. Rebecca Dharmapalan

Image from Engage Sciences

Rebecca Dharmapalan is a documentary filmmaker known for her film International Boulevard, which exposes the prevalence of domestic sex trafficking in the United States. Her truth hunting and prevalence is heart rendering, making her a top candidate for badass women that need to be acknowledged. Now, Rebecca is embarking on her latest project: a feature film. This feature film will be a sequel to her short documentary, in which she will finally be able to expose the entirety of the industry of sex trafficking through complex, multidimensional characters, hard facts and evidence.

34. Jamia Wilson

Image from Fresh Speakers

Jamia Wilson (@jamiaw) is a storyteller, activist, and feminist. She is the Executive Director of Women, Action, & the Media, and a staff writer for Rookie Mag and has contributed to many news outlets including The Washington Post, The Today Show, and New York Magazine. It may be true that Jamia has spoken alongside feminist greats like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, but we think they’re also lucky to have been alongside her. She’s incredible.

35. Serena Williams

Image from The Invisibility Project

Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) has won pretty much every tennis competition and medal possible, and she’s won them over and over and over. She is an outspoken voice about sexism in the sports industry, having recently said that she thinks if she were a man she would have been called the greatest athlete of all time long ago. Well, we see you and we agree.

GREATEST OF ALL TIME!

36. Angelia Trinidad

Image from A Women’s Thing

Angelia Trinidad (@AngeliaTrinidad) is a businesswoman and entrepreneur. She is the creator and CEO of Passion Planner, which sells a planner that aims to help young people find their passion and reach their goals. In her own words: “After a year of going back and forth debating with myself being scared of not being able to create the perfect planner, or please everyone, I realized enough was enough. I needed to stop letting fear paralyze me and I was going to take action.”

37. Ali Barthwell

Image from XO Jane

Ali Barthwell (@wtflanksteak) is a writer, comedian, and pioneer of Black Feminist television commentary. Ali was a recipient of the Puma/LOL Second City Diversity Scholarships in 2010. She also participated in The Bob Curry Fellowship at The Second City. In addition to the touring company, she is a member of Sweet Tease. Her written work can be seen on Second City Network, xoJane, and New York Magazine. Ali is what we call #goals.

38. Kayla Briët

Image from Orange County Register

Kayla Briët (@kaylabriet) is a Native American filmmaker, composer, musician, and artist. She was recognized as a 2016 Sundance Ignite Fellow and is passionate about exploring her roots through film. As a multi-instrumentalist and self-taught composer, Briët scores her own films and creates music in styles ranging from cinematic to alt. pop and electronic.

39. Sumia Hussain

Photo from Google+

Sumia Hussain (@SewMeaSweater) is changing what it means and how startups get grants. She has her eye set on changing startup culture for good, to make it more inclusive and diverse. Sumia is fiercely passionate about helping good people do great things. During her undergraduate experience, she was involved in and founded several student organizations that focus on furthering social impact in the areas of Public Health, Social Entrepreneurship, E-Learning and multiculturalism. You go, girl.

40. Dina Torkia

Mail & Guardian

Dina Torkio (@dinatorkio) is a hijabi blogger. Her focus on fashion and trends renders from time to time, and grows along with her current fan base. She has spoken out numerously about the fear factor behind hijab and pushing her voice out there. Dina’s work has appeared in The Guardian and multiple other publications.

Jalena Keane-Lee

Jalena Keane-Lee

Jalena Keane-Lee is a senior at Wellesley College studying Cinema and Media Studies and Political Science. Originally from Berkeley, California, she is passionate about storytelling and making current events relatable and relevant through writing, photojournalism, and both narrative and documentary film. Check out jalenakeanelee.com to find out more.

Silla Alawa

Silla Alawa

Silla Alawa is the Social Media Director. She spends her time writing angsty poetry and struggling with main-stream ignorance. Her pet peeves include a) kindles and b) slow wifi. Don't ask her what she does in her free time.

We're ready to shake things up, for the better.