In 1997, on the eve of the new millennium, The Network Journal undertook to re-image Black youth by publicly honoring 40 men and women under the age of 40 who were exceptional performers in their respective industries while being committed to the development of their community. That decision came just shy of two years after The Million Man March, which brought Black men from across the country to Washington, D.C., to show the world a vastly different picture of the Black male and to unite in self-help and self-defense against economic and social ills plaguing the Black community. TNJ’s 1997 list of honorees conveyed that “vastly different picture.” It gave us a peek at the men and women who were the next generation of Black business leaders  and influencers. While many feared that the U.S. Appeals Court’s decision to uphold California’s ban on affirmative action would plunge the Black community back into a pre-civil rights existence, TNJ affirmed that not only were young African-Americans equipped to face down the challenges ahead, but they also would be active players in shaping the new millennium world. As if to buttress our stance, that same year Tiger Woods broke multiple records in the Masters Golf Tournament. He was under 40, just 21. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. At 47, he was the age of some of our earliest honorees.
Fifteen years and 15 TNJ 40 Under Forty Annual Awards later, the number of applicants for the award and the diversity of industry sectors they represent have grown exponentially, while their achievements seem more and more remarkable. The Awards event itself has become a career game-changer for many of our honorees. Some have been recruited on the spot by corporate scouts, others were inspired to leave the corporate sector and launch entrepreneurial endeavors.
To mark this year’s milestone, Jahi’ Fitzgerald, one of the nation’s top emerging designers and the creative genius of Evoli Fac’cion, came on board to style the cover of the magazine in the timeless glamour of such Hollywood greats as Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt and Pearl Bailey. Jahi’ specializes in this niche. I was introduced to his work during New York Fashion Week earlier this year when he showcased his collection at EMERGE! A Fashion Runway Show that featured top emerging designers. Drawing inspiration from world-renowned designers Gianfranco Ferré, Christian Dior and Valentino, as well as from the women in his family, he launched his line in 2005, the year of the 10th anniversary of The Million Man March, targeting today’s professional and “fashion-forward” woman. “Outside of my sisters and my mom, I had a cousin, China, who was a cross between Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge and Marilyn Monroe. Now she was a diva. These women inspired me, along with some of the women I’ve dealt with throughout the years. Well, here’s to all of those beauties,” Jahi’ says.
Up-and-coming, driven by the pursuit of excellence, passion and appreciation of community, Evoli Fac’cion was a perfect fit for the message of TNJ’s 40 Under Forty Awards. We thank Jahi’. We salute the 15th class of TNJ 40 Under Forty honorees.
— Rosalind McLymont
Click here to read the profiles of these achievers 
Profiles by Ann Brown, Toccara Castleman, Bernita Dorch, Renee Flagler, Janelle Gordon, Nafisa Rachid, Patrice Toombs, Bevolyn Williams-Harold.