Meet AT&T’s 2023 Black Future Makers

Now in its fifth year, AT&T's Dream in Black names Lori Harvey, J. Alphonse Nicholson, and Marsai Martin among its 2023 class of Black Future Makers.

The future has and will always be Black — literally. So, it’s crucial that we celebrate Blackness across industries; and AT&T’s 2023 Dream in Black Future Makers list does precisely that. Now in its fifth year of highlighting influential leaders driving the culture, the Black Future Makers program has honored over 80 celebrity influencers and given more than $200,000 to everyday community leaders. 

AT&T Black Future Makers, Lori Harvey, J. Alphonse Nicholson, P-Valley, AT&T Dream in Black
2023 Black Future Makers, Lori Harvey and J. Alphonse Nicholson (Photos courtesy of AT&T)

Under the theme “New Black Renaissance,” this year, the program is celebrating 15 Black culture-shapers authentically contributing to the current “era of greater possibilities.” Each embodying AT&T’s Dream in Black mission to advance Black culture, the list of inductees includes storytellers, activists, and entrepreneurs like Lori Harvey, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Marsai Martin, Morgan DeBaun, Gia Peppers, and more. 

“I think what they’re doing with the Black Future Makers campaign is amazing,” actor J. Alphonse Nicholson said. “Exposing the culture to these wonderful artists — which we know, some of which we don’t know. So I’m just grateful […] and extremely proud to represent a part of my history and culture.”

Best known for his 2023 NAACP Award-nominated role as Lil Murda in Starz’s hit show “P-Valley,” J. Alphonse Nicholson aims to amplify complex Black stories through his work. Through his role as a closeted gay rapper from the fictional city of Chucalissa, Mississippi, Nicholson pushed the envelope on traditional LGBTQ+ storytelling and helped open the doors to vital conversations on sexuality within the Black community.  

“There’s a lot of people dealing with the exact same thoughts and feelings and emotions that Lil Murda may have. So he’s the everyman, you know, there’s a part of him that’s there for everybody. And I think we all can relate to him if we take the time to really pay attention,” said Nicholson. “Whether you’re part of the LGBT community, whether you’re a musician, whether you are just a young Black man or Black woman trying to figure this life out for yourself and everyone else in between, those two pronouns are trying to figure it out.” 

Despite the relatability of his character’s story, Nicholson found himself going viral every week that the show aired as fans criticized, questioned, and praised Lil Murda’s character development. Despite being unprepared for the wave of public opinions — good and bad — the actor understands that the negative comments he receives do not compare to the negativity members of the LGBTQ+ community face daily. On top of strengthening his position as a community ally, the role confirmed the importance of storytelling. 

“I think it’s important that we continue to tell Black stories that are complex stories that we know but haven’t seen on the larger platforms and haven’t been told on these larger screens and in our living rooms,” he shared. “Allowing people to sit on the edge of their seats and be pulled into these stories, and then have them kind of reflect on themselves and provoke thoughts that may or may not be there for them.” 

By using his talents to connect communities, Nicholson is honoring his late father’s legacy as a “bridge-builder,” which he describes as someone building connections and paving the way for their peers and future generations. 

“I define being a Black Future Maker as a person who just strives every day to leave a memorable and impactful legacy,” said fellow AT&T Black Future Maker Lori Harvey. “[Someone] who’s willing to take risks in order to live the life of their dreams and someone who lives life unapologetically and to the fullest.” 

For the young entrepreneur, the title of Black Future Maker serves as motivation to go harder. While social media may be consumed with creating various narratives surrounding her dating life and overall “It-Girl’ status, Harvey tells theGrio her ethos is to remain fair, loyal, and a team player. 

“She works her butt off and minds the business that pays her,” said Harvey when asked to describe herself as a businesswoman. As president and CEO of her skincare brand, SKN by LH, Harvey finds it essential to take care of herself while working on her many projects. 

AT&T’s chief diversity officer describes the Dream In Black initiative as an inspiration for others in the community to dream big, as it widens the door to opportunity by empowering Black talent through economic opportunity. In addition to celebrating Black Future Makers, the program’s honorees provide mentorship and guidance for the 2022 Rising Future Makers class of 25 HBCU students who are making a big difference in their communities and beyond. Ultimately, the program hopes everyone feels empowered to influence the future one day.  

“I think anything that you’re doing to make a better future for yourself and those around you, you’re considered a Black Future Maker,” Nicholson said. “Continuing to pave the way for us, continuing to see the future and how we want to see it. And understanding that we’ve always been a part of that; Black people have been paving the way since the beginning of time. Anyone that can be a part of that so, a Black Future Maker looks just like what you see in the mirror every day.”

Haniyah Philogene is a multimedia storyteller and Lifestyle reporter covering all things culture. With a passion for digital media, she goes above and beyond to find new ways to tell and share stories.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. TheGrio’s Black Podcast Network is free too. Download theGrio mobile apps today! Listen to ‘Writing Black‘ with Maiysha Kai.