Interview: The Root Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton talks ‘The Root 100’

It’s that time again–time for The Root to release their annual ‘The Root 100’ list of influential black Americans ages 25 to 45 who making a difference in America and in the world.

This year, the list includes Tarana Burke, activist and founder of #MeToo, activist and writer Janet Mock, director Ryan Coogler, designer Virgil Abloh, writer/broadcaster Jemele Hill, tennis great Serena Williams, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, writers/creators Lena Waithe and Issa Rae, Chance the Rapper, rapper Cardi B, comedian Tiffany Haddish, Beyoncé, Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and many more. You can read the entire list here. 

In a statement, The Root’s editor in chief Danielle Belton described the list as a way to “put a spotlight on extraordinary individuals who exemplify the causes of the black community.”

“Our goal is to recognize inspirational figures who work tirelessly to change our world for the better—from the educators who are shaping the minds of the next generation to entrepreneurs and social justice activists—as well as the celebrities, athletes and political figures who have used the power of their platforms to have a positive impact,” she said.

That’s not all Belton had to say regarding The Root’s new list of inspirational figures. I was able to reach out to Belton herself via email to ask her about the list and how the influencers selected have inspired her as well as The Root’s audience.


Monique Jones: What criteria went into picking this year’s Root 100?

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Danielle Belton: Every year our Root 100 committee looks at each nomination and each honoree to determine where they fall on the list using an algorithm that measures substance, reach and influence. It’s an exhaustive process that takes several weeks. But it’s also a lot of fun debating who should and shouldn’t go on the list and where they should fall. Although picking the No. 1 was a bit easier this year, than in previous years.

MJ:  How do this year’s list of influencers reflect change in today’s world?

DB: In the last few cycles of The Root 100 we’ve had a lot of activists who are also well-known entertainers or athletes. More and more celebrities are using their platforms to take political stances and talk about injustice, some even putting their money where their mouth is. This is a huge contrast from early years of the list where there were much fewer celebrities due to their initial reluctance in making their views known. But I’d say many have become a lot more outspoken and are working with activists and community organizers to make a difference.

MJ: What are some lessons you hope readers learn from the Root 100 influencers?

DB: I hope our readers take home the idea that you can make a difference in your community—whether you have a huge social imprint or not—its the effort that counts. It’s getting out there, engaging in the community and trying to make the lives of those around you better, whether that’s through art, the sciences, law or activism, or anything really. Take what talents and intellect you have and apply it to making a difference in someone’s life—big or small.

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MJ: How have this year’s Root 100 influencers inspired you as editor-in-chief?

DB: I think I’m inspired at how there is more than one way to make a difference. You may write a song, paint a portrait, start a bookstore, or a charity, or a movement, but all have an impact. You can utilize your skillset, whatever that skillset is, to enact real change in the lives of others.


As the opening to The Root 100 list states, this is “our way of honoring the innovators, the leaders, the public figures and game changers whose work from the past year is breaking down barriers and paving the way for the next generation. This year’s list of honorees is a reminder of the beauty and brilliance of blackness, at a time when the political and cultural landscape has grown even more hostile to the idea of black achievement.” In times such as these, The Root 100 has become even more necessary to not only remind us of our worth, but to inspire us to keep achieving the impossible.