Over half of Forbes’ 2023 ’50 Over 50′ list are Black women

From venture capitalists to the 'Godmother of Soul,' this year, Forbes' '"50 over 50" list celebrates Black women across industries.

In a world that has long glorified youth, the Forbes “50 Over 50” list serves as a reminder that success can be attained at any age — and often, in middle age and beyond. In its third annual installment of the list highlighting accomplished women over 50, this year’s list shines a notable light on Black women who have defied the odds and soared to new heights of success. In a resounding testament to their remarkable achievements and boundless potential, Black women dominated this year, and are more than half of the “50 Over 50” honorees. 

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Among the Black women honored on the Forbes “50 over 50” list are (from left) singer Patti LaBelle, actress Viola Davis, and Claudine Gay, who last month became president of Harvard University. (Photos: Getty Images)

From groundbreaking entrepreneurs and visionary leaders to influential creatives and changemakers, these 26 Black women have left an indelible mark on their industries and the world. 

Mimi Alemayehou

Mimi Alemayehou specializes in investing in Africa, working as a managing partner at Semai Ventures, a consulting firm for African businesses. She is also a senior adviser at Three Cairns Group, a self-described “mission-driven investment and philanthropic firm” working to build and support innovative organizations and initiatives to accelerate climate action.

Sheila Bridges

Designer Sheila Bridges, during 2007 Fashion Week in New York. (Photo by Katy Winn/Getty Images for IMG)

Sheila Bridges is the creative mastermind behind the famous Harlem Toile de Jouy print and designs. In addition to having her work in museums worldwide, Bridges designed the interiors of Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence and former President Bill Clinton’s New York offices. 

Ertharin Cousin

Ertharin Cousin, former U.S. ambassador for food security, a past executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme and founder of Food Systems for the Future, has dedicated her career to eliminating world hunger by making food affordable and accessible. The business accelerator she founded targets nutritional problems in low-income U.S. and sub-Saharan African communities by supporting small businesses and startups.

Cheryl McKissack Daniel

Cheryl McKissack Daniel is the president and CEO of the nation’s oldest minority-owned design and construction firm, McKissack & McKissack. Under her leadership, McKissack & McKissack has been responsible for projects worth $50 billion, including the renovation of Terminal One at JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport’s central terminal redevelopment. 

Viola Davis 

Only the third Black woman in history to achieve EGOT status, Viola Davis was a well-established actress before her career reached new heights in 2015. At 50, she became the first Black woman to win an Emmy in the Best Lead Actress in a Drama category for the hit series “How to Get Away With Murder.” A year later, Davis won an Oscar for the movie adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences,” and has since become the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in history, as well as a 2023 Grammy winner for voicing the audiobook of her bestselling memoir, “Finding Me.”

Catherine Coleman Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers is an environmental justice advocate fighting for the improvement of sanitation and water conditions for communities of color and indigenous people living in rural and low-income environments. Since founding the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in 2019, Flowers has served on numerous boards, including the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Kim Folsom

Kim Folsom is the founder of not one but two businesses supporting the growth of small businesses, including First Capital Partners, the largest minority woman-owned investment firm for small and medium-sized companies. Similarly, Folsom founded Founders First Community Development Corporation, a growth accelerator for small businesses. Her work and dedication to supporting growing businesses led her to partner with Vice President Kamala Harris and the Treasury Department for an inclusive $10 billion investment fund for small businesses. 

Robyn Gardenhire

On a mission to make ballet education more accessible to students of color and low-income students, Robyn Gardenhire founded the City Ballet of Los Angeles. As a ballerina, Gardenhire pushed the School of American Ballet, where she trained, to increase its diversity. Her efforts resulted in Misty Copeland receiving the school’s first scholarship, kickstarting the prima ballerina’s career. 

Claudine Gay

Claudine Gay is Harvard University’s 30th president and the first woman of color to lead one of the country’s oldest universities. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford and her Ph.D. from Harvard, where she won an award for best political science dissertation. Since entering office in July, Gay has had to lead the university through the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action and college admissions. 

Tracy Gray

Tracy Gray is the founder and managing partner of The 22 Fund, a venture capital fund for women and minority entrepreneurs with clean tech-based manufacturing companies. Additionally, Gray was appointed to Los Angeles’ Commission on the Status of Women by Mayor Karen Bass and is the founder of We Are Enough, a nonprofit organization teaching all women the importance of investing in women-led businesses. 

Tracie D. Hall

At 51, Tracie D. Hall became the first Black woman to lead the American Library Association as its executive director. In light of the growing push to ban books, Hall strengthened the association’s in-house legal defense fund and launched the “Unite Against Book Bans” initiative to help communities fight against literary censorship. 

Kim Heirston

As the founder and principal of Kim Heirston Art Advisory, Kim Heirston is a thriving art adviser. Having worked with a wide range of high-value artwork, Heirston was recruited by Oprah Winfrey to help curate the first significant sale of exclusively female artists’ work: “By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women” at Sotheby’s. 

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison, who has been to space, continues to look beyond Earth. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

Mae Jemison was the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992. Since then, Jemison has founded 100 Year Starship, an initiative dedicated to making human travel beyond the solar system possible within the next 100 years, with the financial support of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects agency. 

Patti LaBelle 

Commonly known as the “Godmother of Soul,” Patti LaBelle does more than create hit records. In addition to being a Grammy Award-winning artist, LaBelle is the co-founder of Patti’s Good Life, the comfort food brand behind the viral Patti LaBelle sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, hot sauces, and other meals based on the star’s personal recipes. Available at major grocery stores like Walmart and Target, Patti’s Good Life products earned $85 million in sales last year, Forbes reports. 

Dionne Mahaffey

Dionne Mahaffey is the founder and CEO of Culture Greetings, a company adding diversity to the traditional greeting card industry. Since its founding in 2018, Mahaffey has partnered with Walgreens, allowing consumers to customize cards that can be printed, mailed, or picked up at one of the 9,000 participating Walgreens or Duane Reade stores nationwide. 

Depelsha McGruder

In addition to serving as vice president, chief operating officer, and treasurer of the Ford Foundation, Depelsha McGruder is the founder of Moms of Black Boys United, also known as MOBB. Founded in response to the rise of police brutality against Black boys and men, what started as a Facebook group has now blossomed into two nonprofit organizations: MOBB United and MOBB United for Social Change. 

Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson is a microbiologist working as chief scientific officer at Thermo Fisher Scientific, a supplier of scientific instruments, software and chemical agents. Nelson also acts as editor-in-chief of the Microbial Ecology journal and has authored and co-authored over 200 peer-reviewed works. 

JoAnn Price

JoAnn Price cofounded Fairview Capital Partners almost 30 years ago. In the years since, Price has led the company to manage over $10 billion in assets and become one of the largest minority-owned venture capital and private equity investment firms. 

Lacey Robinson

Lacey Robinson is CEO and president of UnboundED, a professional development platform for educators. Under Robinson’s leadership, the organization pivoted to a virtual model during the pandemic. It recently merged with Pivot Learning and CORE Learning, making UnboundEd a prominent national leader in educator development focusing on K-12 equity.

Nina Shaw

Nina Shaw is a founding partner of the entertainment law firm Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. In addition to Lupita Nyong’o and Jamie Foxx, Shaw’s client list contains numerous successful actors, producers, directors, writers, entertainment executives, and others. 

Lisa Skeete Tatum

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Lisa Skeete Tatum founded Landit, a career platform connecting companies and diverse candidates. Having launched the company in 2017, the same year Tatum turned 50, the medium was inspired by her experience when trying to change career paths. 

Faye Wattleton

Faye Wattleton speaks onstage at the Spirit of the Dream Gala in New York in June 2017. The former Planned Parenthood president later entered the tech world. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for I Have a Dream Foundation)

Faye Wattleton is a reproductive rights advocate and was the first Black woman to serve as the president of Planned Parenthood in 1978. Today, Wattleton has pivoted into the tech sphere as the founder of EeroQ, a quantum computation-focused firm. EeroQ hopes to change the healthcare, sustainability, finance, and manufacturing industries by using quantum computer hardware to solve problems faster than average computers. 

Brenda Darden Wilkerson

On a mission to diversify the tech industry, Brenda Darden Wilkerson serves as the president and CEO of AnitaB.org, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that “the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for whom they build it.” Having previously led IT and computer science education initiatives in Chicago Public Schools, Wilkerson’s work inspired the Obama administration’s 2016 Computer Science For All program

Verna Williams

Following tenures as a professor and dean at the University of Cincinnati Law School, Verna Williams joined Equal Justice Works as its newest CEO. Equal Justice Works generates funding and enables avenues for law students and graduates pursuing careers in the public interest and equal justice fields. Williams was also asked to help document former first lady and classmate Michelle Obama’s journey, creating a foundation for Obama’s NYT bestseller, “Becoming.” 

Fani Willis

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta in April. (Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP)

Fani Willis is Fulton County’s district attorney, making her the first woman to serve Georgia’s largest county. With 24 years of legal experience, Willis launched a criminal investigation on former President Donald Trump and his associates just one month into her role.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Jessie Woolley-Wilson serves as president and CEO of DreamBox Learning, a virtual video game-style platform teaching children math and reading skills. The ed-tech program uses a creative interface to increase students’ retention and educational development from Pre-K to 12th grade. 

For the full list of Forbes’ “50 Over 50” honorees, click here.

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