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African American Change Makers

These leaders are pioneering new approaches to health, money and personal fulfillment

  • Venti Valdez; TJ Ushing, UC Davis; Kathy Willens/AP Photo

    Making a Difference

    Meet 14 women and men who not only are at the top of their fields, but also share a focus on improving the lives of others in the African American community through healing, teaching, coaching and countless other ways of giving back.

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  • TJ Ushing, UC Davis

    James Hildreth, M.D., 58

    Hildreth, dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Davis, is an internationally known AIDS researcher and former director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. His discoveries have led to the development of topical microbicides that block sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.  

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  • Errol Dunlap

    Alden Landry, M.D., 33, and Kameron Matthews, M.D., 36

    Tour for Diversity in Medicine, the brainchild of these two phenomenally accomplished young doctors, aims to mentor high school and college students and support them on the path to becoming doctors and dentists. The goal: erasing uneven health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities.  

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  • Kathy Willens/AP Photo

    Faith Ringgold, 84

    Ringgold, a fabric artist, painter and author of children’s books, learned how to sew from her mom, a fashion designer. After her mother’s death in 1981, she began making quilts to honor her memory. Adding words and stories to the fabric, she discovered an art form that perfectly blended all her talents.

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  • Matt Sayles/AP Photo

    Chris Gardner, 61

    As a writer, speaker, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Gardner introduces people to practical tools that help them find joy. After his own journey from homelessness to fulfillment was chronicled in a 2006 film starring Will Smith, Gardner became Pursuit of Happyness Ambassador for AARP.  

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  • Paul Morigi/AP Photo

    Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D., 53

    Since becoming president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in 2014, Rice has emphasized the need to train researchers, public health workers and primary care specialists. Health outcomes will only improve, says the renowned infertility specialist, if the school forges partnerships with all elements of the Atlanta community.  

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  • Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

    Brenda Wade, 64

    A San Francisco-based psychologist, Wade frequently appears in the media as an expert on love and relationships. She’s coauthor of What Mama Couldn’t Tell Us About Love, a self-help book for African American women, and a past chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.  

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  • Danny Moloshok/Corbis

    John Rogers Jr., 56

    Ariel Investments, the financial firm Rogers started in 1983 at age 24, features a turtle on its website to go along with his investment philosophy, “Slow but steady wins the race.” The company sponsors an inner-city Chicago public school, and Rogers has guaranteed to cover college expenses for a group of students there.

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  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

    J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., 41

    Gracia’s Haitian parents — a teacher and school principal — immigrated to the United States because they believed in the American dream. A Stanford University graduate, Gracia is now the deputy assistant secretary for minority health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Her goal: erasing inequities in health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities.

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  • Rob Kim/Getty Images

    Christopher Williams, 57

    Williams began his investment banking career with Lehman Brothers, rising to the position of senior vice president before he left to start his own investment banking and asset management firms. From the Studio Museum in Harlem to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Williams’ company is a major force in philanthropy, especially in New York City.

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  • Courtesy of Constance Brown-Riggs

    Constance Brown-Riggs, 64

    An author and educator, Brown-Riggs writes and blogs about diabetes and nutrition, with an emphasis on helping African Americans manage diabetes through healthy eating and regular exercise. A healthy lifestyle, the dietitian says, is about finding ways to enjoy what’s good for you.  

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  • Venti Valdez

    Glinda Bridgforth, 62

    Through her coaching, speaking and writing, Bridgforth aims to help people clear what she calls “the emotional and cultural factors that block financial success.” Among her books: Girl, Get Your Money Straight!; Girl, Get Your Credit Straight!; and Girl, Make Your Money Grow!

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  • SAMHSA

    Kimberly Jeffries Leonard, 52

    Leonard has dedicated much of her career to being a researcher, consultant and administrator for the uneven treatment of African American adolescents seeking help for substance abuse. She’s currently the deputy director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

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  • Powell Photography

    Helen Crawley Austin, 52

    Crawley Austin, a seasoned corporate executive, now helps people reduce debt, save money, repair their credit and give to others. She often works through church groups and shares thoughts from the Bible, like this passage from Proverbs: “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.”

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