Black History Month: 10 Black Media & Lifestyle Innovators You Should Know

In honor of Black History Month, SOHH spotlighted ten of the best Black innovators within the entertainment, media, and lifestyle industries. The list includes noted filmmakers, authors, and artists.

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With Black History Month underway, SOHH has put together a list to celebrate ten of the best Black creators in the media and lifestyle space:

Robert Townsend

Born and raised in Chicago, Robert Townsend is an accomplished actor, writer, and director. He is most well-known for his performances as Duck in The Five Stairsteps and Bobby Taylor in Hollywood Shuffle.  Townsend was drawn to television growing up, which led to him reenacting his favorite actors like Bill Cosby

Townsend’s acting career began to take off after co-starring with Denzel Washington in A Soldier’s Story. He also starred opposite Kevin Costner in American Flyers.  While working in Hollywood, Townsend became aware of Black actors’ struggles to make a living. 

In addition, he directed episodes of the new Netflix crime miniseries Kaleidoscope starring Giancarlo Esposito and Peacock’s The Best Man: The Final Chapters.  Townsend has also been nominated 30 times for NAACP awards and was a 2021 recipient of the Oscar Micheaux Trailblazer of Excellence Award by the Micheaux Film Festival.

Marc Bernardin

New York native Marc Bernardin is a prolific comic book, television writer, journalist, podcaster, and author. He is best known as the co-host of Fatman on Batman, a podcast where he and Clerks filmmaker Kevin Smith  talk about the latest in comic book-centered culture. 

After interviewing Smith, the two began hosting Fatman on Batman together.

Before podcasting, Bernardin served as a film editor for the Los Angeles Times, a senior editor at the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, and has written for GQ, Wired, and the sci-fi superhero show Alphas.  

 In March 2022, Bernardin penned the young adult graphic novel Adora and the Distance.  His inspiration to write the novel stemmed from wanting to connect with his daughter Sophie, who was diagnosed with autism. 

His work on Adora garnered him a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award in the “Best Publication for Teens” category.  He also took home a Writers’ Guild of America award for “Long Form Original” for his work on Castle Rock, a horror series set in the world of Stephen King.

Vannessa Jackson

Jackson is a New York-based comedian and current writer for Saturday Night Live. Before writing for the weekly-sketch comedy, she held writing credits at A Little Late with Lily Singh, the Upright Citizens Brigade, E! News, and the A.V. Club

She was also an apprentice for the fourth season of CBS’ late-night variety series, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Jackson also cites John Mulaney and Master of None star Aziz Ansari as her early influences for a career in comedy. Vanessa submitted two writing packets to SNL but was turned down both times. After submitting a writing packet for the third time, Jackson was offered the coveted position of writing for SNL

“That’s the approach I’ve always taken,” The California native said in an interview. “Everything that comes your way, you should submit to it because you never know.” 

Jackson also has a YouTube channel featuring clips of her standup, and VMZ, a TMZ parody series where she interviews her fellow comedian friends.

JD Witherspoon

John David Witherspoon is an actor, comedian, YouTuber, and media personality with a considerable following. He was the host of the Facebook Watch interactive game show Confetti, in which Facebook users would answer pop culture-based questions to win money in real time.

His voice can be heard in the Fuse original animated series, Sugar and Toys alongside SuperDuperKyle and the Adult Swim series Lazor Wulf opposite Vince Staples, DRAM, and a pre-Abbott Elementary Quinta Brunson. Witherspoon is also the son of the late actor and comedian John “Pops”  Witherspoon, known for his career-defining roles in the Friday movies and the Wayans Bros sitcom. Before his passing, JD would often film vlogs with him.

Additionally, JD has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers across his gaming and personal channels. When he isn’t gaming or filming vlogs, the LA native hosts a few podcasts, including the JD & Paulcast opposite his best friend Paul Jones and Talk & TeaSpoons with his wife, Pilar Teaspoon.

Fun Fact: JD’s godfather is the late-night legend, David Letterman. Letterman frequently had his father, John, on as a guest during his tenure at the Late Show, and the two were best friends.

Demetrius Harmon

Formerly known by his online moniker “MeechonMars,” Demetrius Harmon is a Detroit-based actor, public speaker, and media personality. He first rose to prominence by uploading comedic skits to the short-form video hosting site Vine where six-second videos would be able to loop. 

Later, he received a win for “Vine Comedian of the Year” at the 2016 Shorty Awards, which are for the best brands and creators within digital media. He also received a Streamy nomination for “Best Ensemble Cast in a Web Series” for Camp Unplug in the same year.

As the Vine app officially shut down in 2016, Harmon had already drifted most of his fans to his YouTube channel, which amassed over 419,000 subscribers. Like JD, his content ranges from parodies and skits to vlogs and public speaking engagements. 

Harmon’s stardom rose further after releasing a clothing line with the phrase “You Matter.” The phrase began from the Detroit native writing it on a post-it note to himself when he experienced suicidal urges during the fall of 2015. He transitioned to stitching it onto articles of clothing and began releasing them to the public for others who might be experiencing similar issues. 

In September 2016, Harmon released Be Happy, a short film he wrote and starred in depicting a man’s difficulty with managing his mental health. He’s since spoken at Edsel Ford High School, the University of Michigan, and  Virginia Commonwealth University to share his hardships on his road to success and how he was able to overcome them. 

Malik Yoba

Malik Yoba is a New York-born actor known for starring roles in the hit police drama New York Undercover, the Disney sports film Cool Runnings, and also the series Alphas.  Aside from acting, he’s also ventured into entrepreneurship. 

His company, Yoba Development, was founded in 2017 and aids historically marginalized groups, especially young people, with resources and access to the real estate market.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” the “Cool Runnings star said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “So I’ve never been the actor that’s waiting for a job, I always have 15,000 other things going on.”

In addition to working as an actor and real estate developer, the three-time NAACP Image Award winner also finds time to work as a musician and public speaker.  He’s since founded his own theater company and wrote an autobiography entitled Lessons From the Street and Other Places.

Louis Cato

Cato is best known as the current bandleader for the Late Show Band, the official house band for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The band, formerly known as Stay Human, consists of Joe Saylor on drums, Nêgah Santos on percussion, Endea Owens on bass,  Louis Fouché on saxophone, and lastly Jon Lampley on the trumpet and tuba. 

Cato is a multi-instrumentalist whose main talents include drumming as well as bass and brass. The Portugal-born musician’s early talents were skilled enough to garner him jobs along with artists as big as George Duke and even A Tribe Called Quest

In fact, Cato has attained credits with many household names in the music industry from John Legend and Talib Kweli to even Mariah Carey. In 2015, future Oscar winner Jon Batiste offered Cato a spot in his band, Stay Human. Including the episodes since Batiste’s departure from the band in August 2022, Louis has performed with them for a whopping 1000+ episodes of The Late Show.

Eden Strachan

Strachan is a nationally recognized filmmaker and journalist whose work ranges from her alma mater Ithaca College’s paper The Ithacan to VICE News, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and CNN. 

Her recent venture is a self-described “multimedia coming of age brand” called Black Girls Don’t Get Love. The brand’s goal is to help change the way Black women are viewed in modern society through broadcast media. According to her Linkedin, Strachan’s venture has garnered close to $28,000 in sponsorships. 

Eden’s book, also named “Black Girls Don’t Get Love,” was released on Valentine’s Day 2022. The book’s themes relate back to the brand’s goals through her character Zoe Franklin, who has trouble finding love and acceptance. In October,  she hosted a TEDx talk highlighting the lack of Black female representation in mainstream coming-of-age media, including Lady Bird and Juno.

Brent Jones

Jones is the current Senior Vice President and Editor of Culture, Training, and Community Outreach at the Wall Street Journal. Before working closely with the esteemed publication, Brent was the head of standards and ethics for USA Today, where he supported over 100 newsrooms of the parent company, Gannett.

Brent Jones joined the Journal in February 2018 as an Assistant Managing Editor for the Training and Outreach department. At a glance, Jones’ efforts consisted of weekly training sessions, which elevated the publication’s online presence. 

In 2020, WSJ partnered with Lehman College to launch an outreach training program for college students who studied computer science or had programming knowledge and an interest in working within journalism.

Brent currently serves on the advisory boards of the Freedom Forum Institute’s Power Shift Project and the Center for Journalism Ethics for the School of Journalism. He also advised The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and Online News Association.

Jacque Aye

Jacque is a Nigerian-American online media personality, and aspiring therapist best known for her anime and manga-inspired lifestyle brand Adorned by Chi. The six-figure sales machine, featured in Buzzfeed and Hot Topic, showcases inclusive messaging in her merchandise and the characters she creates in her stories.

Speaking of, her latest story is How to Be a Better Adult– a story about a Black account specialist named Hope Obiako whose life began to change when a book comes into her life suddenly.  When asked about the stigma often associated with Black men and women who show appreciation for anime and similar niche material, Jacque stated, “People look down on anything that’s not white and male, honestly.  I say we continue to create our own spaces and carve our own lanes!”

Aye has amassed over 100,000 fans across all her social media pages and isn’t tightlipped about her views on mental health and the best self-care practices. Adorned By Chi was able to donate $20,000 to the Loveland Foundation, a charity to support people of color. 

Honorable Mention: Yolanda Morgan

Morgan is a California-based filmmaker working as a production associate with Walt Disney Television Animation. She recently worked as a PA for the new Proud Family series Louder and Prouder. Before Disney Television, Morgan earned her keep by continually working with USC as an assistant director and producer for various projects.

Her documentary I Never Picked Cotton won the Silver Award for “Student Animated Doc” by the Los Angeles Animation Film Festival. Her past jobs include working in the creative development side of 20th Century Fox, providing administrative support, and assisting with camera work and wardrobe for McDonald’s Black and Positively Golden campaign. 

5 Inventions Made By Black Innovators

In honor of Black History Month, SOHH spotlights five inventions by Black innovators. Read on for five inventions you may not know were made by Black innovators!