100 Influential HBCU Alumni

100 Influential HBCU Alumni

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have become adept at building programs and majors that help graduates to earn high salaries, HBCU Digest reports.

Five of the top 20 small cities where income is growing fastest are HBCU or HBCU-proximate cities, according to 24/7WallStreet.com.

Yet the number of non-black students at HBCUs increased by more than 48 percent in 18 years through 2016. You can find the full list of HBCUs here.

The following innovators and disruptors graduated from HBCUs. We have the most influential startup founders, tech execs, investors, and politicians locked for you.

Diishan Imira

1. Diishan Imira

College: Hampton University

Major: Sociology

Imira is the founder and CEO of Mayvenn, a tech company that reshapes how retail salon products are distributed. Mayvenn is devoted to helping people earn better incomes. The company has raised $13 million in funding from venture capital funds including Andreesen Horowitz, as well as investors Serena Williams, Steve Stoute, Jimmy Iovine, and Troy Carter.

shawn wilkinson
Shawn Wilkinson

2. Shawn Wilkinson

College: Morehouse College

Date Graduated: 2014

Major: Computer Science

Shawn Wilkinson is the founder and CSO at Storj Labs Inc. He works to bring decentralized cloud storage to the average business and consumer. Storj is an open-source cloud storage platform that can’t be censored, monitored, or have downtime. It is the first decentralized, end-to-end encrypted cloud storage that uses blockchain technology and cryptography to secure data.

Rosalind Brewer, right, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sam’s Club and John Brewer arrive for a State Dinner for Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

3. Rosalind G. Brewer

College: Spelman College

Date Graduated: 1984

Major: Chemistry

Rosalind G. Brewer is chief operating officer of Starbucks and the former president and CEO of Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores. She is the first woman and the first African-American to be CEO at one of Wal-Mart Stores’ divisions. Brewer worked at personal-care corporation Kimberly-Clarke before becoming a regional VP for Walmart in 2006.


4. Deborah A. Cole

College: Tennessee State University

Date Graduated: 1992

Major: MBA

Dr. Deborah A. Cole was president and CEO of Citizen’s Bank, one of the oldest Black-owned Banks still in existence, from 2008 to 2018. Under her leadership, the bank’s assets increased 5.6 percent in 2016.

5. Jamarlin Martin

College: Morehouse College

Date Graduated: 2002

Major: Political Science

A pioneer and thought leader in digital media, Jamarlin Martin is the founder and CEO of Nubai Ventues, an investment and content platform for tech and entrepreneurs. Content is posted to Moguldom.com and Moguldom-branded social media channels including GHOGH podcast. Martin grew his prior venture, Moguldom Media Group, into a multiple-brand digital media and entertainment platform. He sold three of his brands in 2017 to Urban One NASDAQ: UONEK.

Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, gestures as he takes the stage to speak during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

6. Andrew Gillum

College: Florida A&M University

Date Graduated:


Andrew Gillum has been the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida since 2014. Active in the Democratic Party, he is running for governor of Florida in 2018.

influential HBCU alumni
Janice Bryant Howroyd accepts the Entrepreneur Award during The BET Honors show Saturday Jan. 12, 2008 in Washington . The show honors the achievements of distinguished African American leaders. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

7. Janice Bryant Howroyd

College: North Carolina A&T State University

Date Graduated: 1976

Major: English

Janice Bryant Howroyd, 65, is founder and CEO of Act 1 Group, an employment agency that also provides consulting and business services, including background checks and screening. She’s the first African American woman to operate a company that generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

Rodney Williams

8. Rodney Williams

College: Howard University

Date Graduated: 2009

Major: Finance and suppl-chain management

Rodney Williams is CEO and founder of Lisnr, a leading resource for data over audio. Lisnr’s low-power data transmission technology enables fast, reliable, and secure communication between devices via any speaker or microphone. The protocol is on track to power more than 100 million devices in 2018, Williams says.


9. Damon Lawrence

College: Howard University

Date Graduated: 2010

Major: Legal communications

Damon Lawrence is a Howard University alumnus who launched Homage Hospitality Group in 2016. Lawrence, who is from Pasadena, Calif., earned a bachelor’s in legal communications, and he has taken this knowledge and applied it to his prospering career in hospitality and business. His professional background spans some of the best hotel brands in the world. 


10. Marcus Carey

College: Howard University

Date Graduated: 2013

Major: Business administration

Marcus Carey, who dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, launched his career by working with institutional venture capital and private equity firms and helping global teams assess investment decisions. He earned his bachelor’s in business administration with a focus on finance. He says he was influenced and inspired by the culture of Howard, and trained to understand business markets driven by culture. Carey joined Damon Lawrence to launch Homage Hospitality Group in 2016.


11. Katrina Turnbow

College: Florida Agricultural And Mechanical University

Date Graduated: 2001

Major: Business administration

Katrina Turnbow calls on the expertise she gained in previous sales and marketing positions to build recognition and attract new business for her clients through her boutique marketing firm, Kanopi Social, and in partnership with Google as the Detroit Digital Coach.

12. Derick Pearson

College: Morehouse College

Date Graduated: 2006

Major: Economics

Derick Pearson is a founder, president, and CFO of Code Fever Miami. Derick started his career as a financial analyst, and transitioned into experiential marketing, for seven years managing campaigns for national brands.

FILE – In this May 1, 2015 file photo, Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby speaks at news conference in Baltimore to announce criminal charges against six police officers suspended after Freddie Gray’s fatal spinal injury while in custody. While the officers still face charges in Gray’s death, not one has been resolved. The first case ended in mistrial and has delayed the remaining trials. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

13. Marilyn Mosby

College: Tuskegee University

Date Graduated: 2003

Major: Political science and English

Marilyn Mosby is a politician and lawyer who serves as the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Maryland. She is the youngest chief prosecutor of any major U.S. city.

Toy inventor Lonnie Johnson poses with his creation “The Super Soaker” outside his Marietta, Ga., office Nov. 12, 1998. Johnson, who once worked for NASA, hit on his idea for the high-powered water gun while trying to invent a heat pump that would use water instead of Freon. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

14. Lonnie Johnson

College: Tuskegee University

Major: Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in nuclear engineering

An inventor and engineer, Lonnie Johnson holds more than 120 patents. He invented the Super Soaker water gun, one of the world’s bestselling toys. Curious as a child, Johnson almost burned down the family home trying to make rocket fuel. After college, he joined the U.S. Air Force, working on the stealth bomber program before working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. He teamed up with scientists from Tulane and Tuskegee universities to develop an affordable way to transform heat into electricity. Johnson founded at least two tech companies in Atlanta: Excellatron Solid State LLC and Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems (JEMS).

Hillary Clinton hugs Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the, Children’s Defense Fund, before addressing the group’s Beat the Odds celebration at the Newseum in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

15. Marian Wright Edelman

College: Spelman College

Date Graduated: 1959

Marian Wright Edelman is a children’s rights activist who helped establish the Head Start program.She has advocated for disadvantaged Americans all of her professional life and is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. A graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, she was the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. In 1960 Edelman was arrested along with 14 other students at one of the largest sit-ins at the Atlanta City Hall. She has worked to persuade Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected. She has also worked to curtail children’s exposure to violent images in media.

Vice President Joe Biden, left, talks with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at Morehouse College as part of a campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

16. Kasim Reed

College: Howard University

Date Graduated: 1991

Major: Political Science

Attorney and politician Kasim Reed was the 59th mayor of Atlanta, serving from 2010 to 2018. A Democrat, Reed served on the Georgia House of Representatives from 1998 to 2002 and represented the 35th District in the Georgia State Senate from 2003 to 2009.  Federal prosecutors recently took aim at the former mayor’s office over alleged reports of misuse of taxpayer funds.

17. Leia Avery

College: Tennessee State University

Date Graduated: 2003


Avery is the founder of Just Play Entertainment, a game and event production company. She also is the inventor of the Hip Hop Charades card game.

18. Luke Torian

College: Howard University

Date Graduated: 1987

Major: Doctorate in ministry

Torian is a member of the Democratic Party. Since 2010 he served in the Virginia House of Delegates. He was recently assigned to The House Select Committee on School Safety.

19. John W. Thompson

College: Florida Agricultural And Mechanical University

Date Graduated: 1971

Major: Business Administration

John W. Thompson joined the Microsoft Board in February 2012, and became independent chairman of Microsoft Corporation on February 4, 2014. Thompson brings over 40 years of experience in the technology industry. Most recently, he served as chief executive officer of Virtual Instruments, a privately held company.

20. Earl G. Graves

College: Morgan State University

Date Graduated:


Graves is the founder and chairman of Earl G. Graves Ltd., a media company, providing business information and advice to African-American professionals, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, decision makers, and small businesses.