Happy New Year!!
A few weeks ago, I invited all of you to help me choose the Ten Most Influential Brown Girls of 2010. First of all, I would like to thank everyone who voted for the ladies on the list and the wonderful women that you chose to write in (like me!). However, in the final analysis, we wound up with a list of the Twelve Most Influential Brown Girls of 2010 (there were two three-way ties).
Drum-roll please………..
12. Lisa Price, CEO of Carol’s Daughter
Photo Credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Lisa Price began making her now-famous beauty and hair products in her kitchen as a side venture while she was working on the set of The Cosby Show. Friends and family members fell in love with her natural products and a brand (her mother’s name is Carol, hence the name Carol’s Daughter) was born.
Fast forward to 2010, Lisa is now the CEO of an internationally-known brand, sold in Macy’s, Sephora, and on the Home Shopping Network, in addition to nine Carol’s Daughter stores located across the country. Along with her business partners, who include two other influential Brown Girls, Mary J. Blige and Jada Pinkett Smith, Lisa is poised to take her business into the stratosphere. To learn more about Carol’s Daughter or purchase products, visit http://www.carolsdaughter.com/.
11. Jada Pinkett Smith
The world first took note of the diminutive Jada when she showed up on the campus of A Different World’s fictional Hillman College, in September 1991. Following her stint on that top-rated show, she went on to star in a multitude of films, to include: Jason’s Lyric, The Nutty Professor, Woo, The Matrix series, and the ultimate bad black chick flick, Set It Off.
A consummate artist, Ms. Pinkett Smith has also been a part of a rock band (Wicked Wisdom) and written a self-esteem book for young girls (Girls Hold Up This World). If that’s not enough, in 2009 she became the driving force behind TNT’s medical drama series, HawthoRNe, a show that was inspired by her mother’s work as a registered nurse. Additionally, Jada serves as both a co-owner and spokesmodel for Carol’s Daughter.
When she is not working on her own projects, Jada spends her time helping to build the careers of her children Jaden (The Karate Kid) and Willow (whose song, Whip My Hair, was one of 2010’s surprise hits). Additionally, Jada works alongside her superstar husband, Will, to produce television shows and support philanthropic endeavors. To keep up with Jada’s endeavors, follow her on Facebook. 
10. Queen Latifah (aka Dana Owens)
I remember the first time that I heard Queen Latifah’s debut CD, All Hail the Queen, released in 1989. I was in the Air Force and living in Spain at the time. My new roommate blew in from Philly with the hottest tracks from the U.S. and introduced me to Queen La. Who would have thought that we would still be honoring her queendom, 20-plus years later?
Ms. Dana has defied the odds by being a bold, brilliant and beautiful Brown Girl who is not afraid to express herself; through music, through film, on television, in the boardroom, and even in writing. She has found musical success outside of the world of hip-hop by branching out and using her voice to sing jazz standards. She is a force to be reckoned within the film industry, both as an actor and a producer, as was evident in her ability to release Just Wright in 2010, a film in which the unlikely girl gets the ideal guy.

Queen La remains a highly sought-after award show host in both the African American (BET Awards) and mainstream media outlets (The People’s Choice Awards). Her Covergirl Queen Collection of cosmetics continues to expand its offerings to women of color. Like many other celebrities, she has launched her own fragrance line, Queen by Queen Latifah. In 2010, she encouraged women of all ages to view themselves as royalty through her second book, Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom.
Queen Latifah, the Renaissance Woman, can be followed on Twitter
9. Mary J. Blige

It’s befitting that two queens would sit side-by-side on our list of influential Brown Girls. Mary J., the undisputed Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, has been in the business since 1992 and we have watched her evolve from being a talented and tragic young girl into a gifted and gracious woman. While the thing that we love most about Mary is her music, in 2010, we discovered the 411 on what lies in her heart.

Outside of her music, Mary is most passionate about helping women, which she did on a grand scale last year. Through FFAWN (Foundation For the Advancement of Women Now), Mary and her partner, Steve Stoute were able to send 25 women to college.

A significant portion of the funds that FFAWN raised came via the record-breaking HSN launch of Mary’s signature fragrance My Life which was developed by Carol’s Daughter, of which Mary J. is part owner. In February of 2010, Mary teamed up with Catherine Malandrino to create a line of t-shirts in order to raise additional funds for FFAWN. Always the fashionista, Mary debuted a new line of sunglasses called Melodies by MJB, as well. 
Upcoming projects for Mary: Her tenth studio album, a tour and more acting roles (she is slated to star in the biopic detailing the life of Nina Simone). Learn more about what’s happening in Mary’s world at http://www.mjblige.com/.

8. Kamala D. Harris, California Attorney General-elect

Also known as the ‘Female Obama,’ Kamala D. Harris, made history in 2010 by becoming California’s first African-American and Asian-American (her father is Jamaican and her mother is Tamil Indian) and woman to head the state’s legal department. In a nail-biting race to the finish, a mere 38,000 votes came between Prosecutor Harris and her opponent Steve Cooley at the end of election night. Cooley claimed the early victory, but the voters had something else to say. In an upset, Kamala was declared the victor in the hard-fought race and she is preparing to step into her new job on Monday, January 3, 2011.

7. The Cast of For Colored Girls

As soon as we heard that Tyler Perry was directing the big screen version of Ntozake Shange’s

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, many questions began to spring up in our minds: Could Tyler do the subject matter justice? Would Madea be in the movie? Would the poetry translate well on film? Most of all, we wanted to know which Brown Girls would be chosen to represent the colors of the rainbow that Ntozake so eloquently described back in the 70s.

After much deliberation (and a few casting changes), For Colored Girls exploded onto the silver screen with outstanding performances by ten great actresses (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Loretta Devine
  • Kimberly Elise
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Macy Gray
  • Janet Jackson
  • Thandie Newton
  • Phylicia Rashad
  • Anika Noni Rose
  • Tessa Thompson
  • Kerry Washington

This ‘Who’s Who’ of Black Hollywood brought their A-game to the party with gut-wrenching portrayals of real-life situations. (Read my review of the film here.) As with any creative endeavor, some were moved by the film and others were not, but the caliber of talent contained within the feature is undeniable. Hopefully Hollywood will take notice and continue to employ this gifted group of women.

6. Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made history in 2009 when President Barack Obama selected her as the first African American to head the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to caring about global ‘green’ issues, Lisa is especially committed to protecting the quality of our air and water, and preventing toxic contamination in urban communities, issues which greatly impact inner-city residents.
During the spring of 2010, Lisa and the EPA came under fire for the way that the BP oil spill was handled, but she did not let the negative publicity rattle her. As a native of New Orleans, Lisa let the world know that she is fully committed to cleaning up the wetlands within the Gulf region and making the nation, as a whole, more environmentally sound. Connect with Lisa’s blog to keep up-to-date with what’s happening with the EPA.  
5. Susan L. Taylor, Founder of National CARES Mentoring Movement
When you think of Essence Magazine, you automatically think of Susan L. Taylor, even though she hasn’t worked for the publication since 2008. It’s funny that someone who didn’t initiate a movement can become synonymous with that movement (the magazine was actually founded by two visionary men, Susan later became the keeper of the flame). I guess spending 37 years in one place and helping to build a brand can do that for you.
For those of us who grew up reading Essence, we were inspired by photos of beautiful black women who looked like us, articles that talked about life from a sister’s point-of-view, and Susan’s monthly motivational column, In The Spirit. Ms. Taylor’s column became so popular that she released a best-selling book with the same name in 1994. Following the success of her first inspirational book, she later went on to release two more books: Lesson in Living and All About Love. However, once Susan made the decision to leave the business of showcasing the beauty of being Black, she set her sights on celebrating the significance of giving back.
The National CARES Mentoring Movement is the evolution of what was once known as Essence Cares, a community-service project sponsored by the magazine. Originally founded in 2006, for the past few years, Susan has worked tirelessly to encourage adults to reach out to our youth by becoming mentors. Ms. Taylor and her team work with local and national organizations, such as fraternities, sororities and churches, in order to find adults who are willing to invest a little bit of their time into helping the next generation.
Most notably, in 2010, National Cares teamed up with syndicated radio host Michael Baisden as a part of his One Million Mentors national tour. Check out the video to learn more or visit http://www.caresmentoring.org/ to locate a program in your area.
4.  Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States
Serving as ‘America’s Doctor,’ Regina Benjamin is the second African American woman to hold this esteemed post (the first was M. Joycelyn Elders, 1993-94). Prior to assuming her current position, she founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in a poor shrimping town in Alabama. As a result of her hard work and diligence at the clinic (it had to be rebuilt twice following Hurricane Katrina and a fire the day before the original grand re-opening), she became a well-known advocate of health at the grass-roots level.
As a part of her Surgeon General duties, Dr. Benjamin uses her knowledge of science and medicine to help keep America healthy. Under her guidance, the Office of the Surgeon General encourages families to know their health history, advocates for women’s health, discusses the dangers of tobacco use, and works to help prevent childhood obesity through the Department’s Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future program. On a more personal note, Dr. Benjamin is passionate about the importance of getting regular health screenings in order to avoid ‘preventable diseases’ such as HIV, hypertension, diabetes and cancer, all of which she lost family members to. To stay informed about Dr. Benjamin’s public health work, visit http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/index.html.
3. Beverly Bond, Founder of Black Girls Rock!

Last year this time, former model-turned-DJ-turned-philanthropist, Beverly Bond was anything but a household name, yet she landed a firm spot as #3 on our list of Influential Brown Girls. For those of you who don’t know who she is, she is the driving force behind the Black Girls Rock! awards show that so many of us watched on BET in the fall of last year. While it is the first time that the world got to see how we rock, Beverly’s organization has been celebrating black female empowerment since 2006.

As a professional disc jockey, Ms. Bond originally created a Black Girls Rock t-shirt, but later realized that the movement could not be contained within a piece of clothing. With that in mind, she launched a mentoring program for young girls that focuses on education and the arts, to include the art of being a female DJ in a field dominated by men. Through her new partnership with BET, Beverly and her rockin’ girls will be able to soar to new heights. Check out Beverly Bond’s list of Ten Reasons Why Black Girls Rock here.

2. Oprah Winfrey
When Oprah announced that she would be stepping down from her long-running talk show at the end of the 2011 season, I believe that the earth stood still! I mean, Ms. Winfrey had single-handedly changed the way we view daytime gab fests by adding style and substance to a genre that had become full of sensationalism and shame. Oprah not only showcases the hottest talent, she encourages people to read, tap into their spirits, help the world’s less fortunate, and reinvent their lives. On top of all that, she has helped her group of ‘friends’ to become household names. And to top that, she gives the best gifts to her fans!!

While we knew that she would continue at the helm of her 10-year-old magazine, keep us informed via Oprah Radio on Sirius/XM Radio, and star in a movie or two, the tube would not be the same without our daily Oprah fix. However, Ms. Winfrey promised not to leave us and developed a new venture that would give us the chance to be inspired, all-day, every day. Today, 1/1/2011, marks a significant date in television history and in the life of America’s Media Queen, Oprah Winfrey, as she introduces the OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) to the world. I know that I’ll be watching; will you?

1. First Lady Michelle Obama

That’s right, our First Lady takes the top spot as the Most Influential Brown Girl of 2010, according to your votes. We first fell in love with Lady O while she and her husband, then Senator Barack Obama, hit the campaign trail in 2007. She stood before us as a tall, beautiful, classy, fashionable and intelligent Brown Girl who not only had a great career, but was dedicated to being a wife and mother.

Once First Lady Michelle stepped foot into the White House, she wasted no time getting involved in developing her role as a modern-day ’Mom-in-Chief.’ While attending state dinners and other political events are a part of her job, she has been involved in much more. Enlisting her mother, Marian Robinson, to assist her in rearing her two girls, Sasha and Malia, Mrs. Obama got busy with opening up the White House grounds and getting her hands dirty in the estate’s garden.
In 2010, Michelle Obama traveled across the country as the champion of the Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity. Not only did she share nutrition information with adults and children, she joined the crowds and busted her own moves, by jumping rope, kicking soccer balls and even doing the hula hoop! (You don’t get arms like hers sitting on the couch!) 
Whether she is reading books to children, serving homeless people at the soup kitchen, running laps around the track, entertaining foreign dignitaries, sharing a laugh with her daughters or dancing with the most powerful man in the United States, Michelle Obama exemplifies the values of a bold, brilliant and beautiful Brown Girl. This is why we are proud to honor her as the Most Influential Brown Girl of 2010.

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