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Illuminating Leaders: 7 Black Leaders That Inspire Us

To be able to imagine our own potential, we need to see other leaders who look like us. There’s no single style or type of leader that’s most effective. Rather, we may each feel inspired, and empowered, by different kinds of people. The problem is that there’s still a dearth of representation out there: As of 2022, only 15% of the C-suite is represented by Black leaders and only 3% are women of color.

To celebrate Black History month, we’re shining a spotlight on Black leaders who have impacted and inspired our Torch team. Below, we hear from our team members as they share stories of leaders across levels, ages and industries, from athletes to politicians to leaders embedded in an organization. We’d love to hear who inspires you, both from history and present-day, and what leadership lessons you learned from them.


Paving a leadership path in politics: Kamala Harris

“I get a little misty-eyed every time I think about the significance of Kamala Harris in the Vice President seat. I remember her saying (and I think this was something her mom said to her), “I may be the first, but I won’t be the last.” It speaks volumes to the work she has had to do to break through so many systems that were not made for her, but also her commitment to making sure she is paving a path for others who may for the first time see their image in this office.”


Achieving literary excellence: NK Jemisin

“I just finished reading the first trilogy N.K. Jemisin wrote. She’s a leader in the publishing space, and a 3 time Hugo award winner – the first person to ever win that many. She had a lot of obstacles trying to get published in the space due to skepticism over “how to market” her books. Also for a number of years, a group of writers tried to eliminate the diversity of the Hugo Awards by block voting for their preferred books, so her 3x win is especially groundbreaking. And a fun side fact: she’s a trained psychologist.”


Using his platform to draw attention to and create conversations about systemic police violence: Colin Kaepernick

“I’m not even a football fan. But when Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, stood up to one of the many big, powerful, American institutions–the NFL–I paid attention. By kneeling during the national anthem, he brought more awareness to and conversation about the police brutality of Black Americans, and its injustice. I’ve followed him since and admire his leadership evolution–from standing firmly in his values, to now taking action through various campaigns and his organization, Know Your Rights Camp.”


Creating a vocabulary and understanding of code switching: Courtney McCluney

Courtney McCluney’s work illuminating the concept of code switching has had a powerful impact on anyone who has ever had to do this. She provided a vocabulary around an experience that so many people have, and that helps people understand what’s happening and the cost it exacts. She’s a brilliant social scientist and person. I’m so grateful we got to have a conversation with her.”


Highlighting the urgency of representation in economics, finance, and policy: Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman is a Black woman economist who started the Sadie Collective, an organization focused on directly impacting the advancement of more Black women into economics, finance, data, science, and policy. I’m inspired by her leadership in this space, where she effectively explains why it’s so important to have greater representation in these fields and the impact/consequences of not having it.”


Working to re-wire the path to economic opportunity for working Americans: Byron Auguste

“Access to work isn’t the same for everyone. And while Byron is inspirational purely because of his accomplishments–like his leadership role as the Deputy Director, National Economic Council during the Obama administration. I also admire his determination to continue the trajectory of that work–job creation, skills, and workforce policies–by founding Opportunity at Work. He and that team are tackling the challenge of connecting overlooked communities with job opportunities. What they call ‘rewiring the US labor market.’ A big, maybe daunting, challenge that I am so grateful for Byron to lead the way.”


Empower people and organizations to live their inclusive values: Rosanna Durruthy

Rosanna inspires leaders, both within LinkedIn and across the professional network, that potential is different from circumstances. ‘Potential isn’t something that is based on the premise of having already achieved…we as leaders sometimes presume that individuals aren’t equipped, and yet the difference between being ready is an opportunity…or having the sponsorship or endorsement of a mentor.” I draw inspiration from how she encourages leaders to look up and see someone for who they can be, not just the circumstances they’re in, and give them that opportunity or support.”


There are so many examples of excellent Black leadership at every level. This is a short list (nowhere near exhaustive or representative) of who jumped to mind for Torchios. At Torch, we’re committed to unlocking the potential of people, teams, and organizations. We plan to highlight leaders from underrepresented groups throughout the year. We’d love to know who has inspired you with their leadership– what about it shaped how you approach your life and work?

Share it with us on LinkedIn.