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The Trailblazers Who Helped Define 2023

Recapping a year filled with important moments led by Black women.

As we prepare to say goodbye to 2023, Sweet July is highlighting some of the amazing Black women who defined the year by unlocking new levels of brilliance and tenaciously smashing glass ceilings throughout their respective fields. Read on for their inspiring stories. 

MUSIC: 
Victoria Monét

If staying the course were a person, Ms. Monét is that girl! She entered the music business in 2010, and since then has penned some of the hottest songs in the game, including Chloe x Halle’s “Do It,” Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” and Brandy’s “Rather Be.” 

While some people have just discovered her artistry, Monét has been here and this year is proof that she’s here to stay. Not only did she release her highly anticipated second studio album, Jaguar II, but the budding superstar sold out her corresponding tour within minutes. 

As the “On My Mama” crooner looks toward the new year, she has officially earned seven Grammy nominations, including for Best New Artist and Record of the Year, placing her in a three-way tie for the second most nods by any artist. 

Coco Jones

A dream may be deferred, but it’s never denied. Ms. Jones is proof of that. She continues to show us that the opportunities are endless when one chooses not to give up on their passion.

A former Disney channel star, the Tennessee native stole the hearts of many through her role as Roxie in Let It Shine. Years later,  when she opened up about the challenges of evolving in the industry, the world was ready to accept Jones and her artistry with open arms.

What’s more, she took on a new role as Hilary Banks in “Bel-Air,” the dramatic adaptation of the beloved 90s sitcom, “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” despite having reservations about joining the cast at first. This has been a huge year for Jones as she recently snagged five Grammy nominations and walked away with the award for Best New Artist during the 2023 Soul Train Awards, coupled with an outstanding performance alongside legendary girl group SWV.

Beyoncé

This Houston hottie’s only competition is herself at this point. After releasing Renaissance in 2022, the “Cuff It,” songstress brought fans further into her world with an accompanying tour that not only smashed records but also took fans on a journey of sisterhood and inner child reconnection like no other

Moreover, earlier this year, reports revealed that the queen also boosted the U.S. economy by an estimated $4.5 billion due to the “Renaissance World Tour.”

BUSINESS:
Anifa Mvuemba

In 2020, Mvuemba took the world by storm when she unleashed a virtual model-less fashion show to debut her latest Hanifa line at the height of the pandemic. The concept not only went viral, but several high fashion brands also attempted to follow suit. 

Fast-forward to 2023 and Mvuemba’s Hanifa brand, which was launched in 2011, has officially entered new territory with an exclusive bridal line with couture and ready-to-wear concepts for brides of all shapes and sizes.

Arian Simone

Sometimes the journey to making the world a better place simply means being an advocate for others. This rings true for Arian Simone who, alongside Ayana Parsons, launched the Fearless Fund in 2019 to equip other Black and Brown women founders with the funds needed to survive and thrive as entrepreneurs.

The organization is facing  an ongoing legal battle after being accused of “explicit racial exclusion” thanks to their grant program dedicated to funding Black women, but they aren’t backing down without a fight.

MEDIA/ENTERTAINMENT:
Issa Rae

A force in the entertainment space, Issa Rae is proof that the sky is merely the limit when it comes to all of the ways you can amplify your community and showcase your talents. 

The culture fell in love with her through “Awkward Black Girl,” and more of the world followed suit thanks to Insecure. Now that she has closed the chapter on both, Rae’s creativity continues to shine bright whether she’s unveiling new shows like Rap Sh!t or killing it with roles in films like Barbie and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse.

What’s more, Rae is flexing her business wits through endeavors like her marketing agency, FÊTE, her Inglewood cafe Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen, and her very own prosecco, Viarae. She recently took her love for partying on the water a step further with an investment into SailGP’s Team USA global sailing league.

Gia Peppers

To have the gift of storytelling is no easy feat and Gia Peppers has a remarkable way of using her passion and expertise to share stories that matter. 

Coming off of the third season of her podcast, More Than That With Gia Peppers, and the first season on TV, with radio and television combined Peppers has invested roughly $14 million into Black-owned partners while simultaneously celebrating power, resilience, history, and a host of other topics that are vital to the culture.

Peppers showcases that there’s no such thing as putting a limit on creativity. To close out the year, she announced the launch of her new Healed Girl Era podcast with debut guest Kelly Rowland.

Keke Palmer

Baby, this is Keke Palmer—a force and voice within this industry who shows no signs of slowing down. A child prodigy turned the millennial era’s poster child for booked and busy, Palmer continues to slay life as an entertainer and singer while also navigating motherhood. She’s a firm believer that you can have both.

In 2022, she launched KeyTV, a digital platform “spotlighting a new generation of creators,” and this year programming continues with a host of series as well as Palmer’s latest Big Boss EP.

Even more, Palmer recently served as the host of the 2023 Soul Train Awards further proving why she remains to be Keke “Miss Keep A Job” Palmer.

SPORTS: 
Coco Gauff

History was made when Coco Gauff left it all on the tennis court during this year’s U.S. Open. She became the youngest player, since Serena Williams, to win the title at age 19.

Not only did she accomplish this historic feat, but 2023 is rounding off nicely for the Gen-Z superstar athlete: She’s among the highest-paid female athletes.

Sha’Carri Richardson 

Don’t call it a comeback! Sha’Carri Richardson made headlines for qualifying to participate in the Tokyo Olympics. Celebrations were cut short when controversy struck over a positive marijuana test, but this did not stop the 23-year-old from proving naysayers wrong. Her 2023 season has been the proof in the pudding.

One of the best results occurred during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, when she won gold in 10.65 seconds, placing her fifth on the list of all-time performers worldwide.

What’s more, she is the first American woman to win a medal in both the 100 and 200-meter sprints at the World Athletics Championships since Carmelita Jeter won gold and silver in 2011. Richardson was also named USATF’s female athlete of the year earlier this month. 

A’ja Wilson

Following an outstanding 2022 MVP season in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), A’ja Wilson came back stronger than ever, helping to lead the Las Vegas Aces’ to a second consecutive WNBA Championship.

The 27-year-old is already being mentioned among the WNBA’s all-time greats and she is only six seasons into her pro career. This year, she was named the league’s top defensive player for the second year in a row and according to her teammates and loved ones, this is simply the beginning of an illustrious basketball profession. She’s also gearing up to launch her first book, Dear Black Girls, in 2024.

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