Kennedy Center names ‘Next 50’ cultural leaders, nine from DC

New initiative celebrates 50 trailblazing leaders and organizations guiding society and the next generation into the future.

An elementary-aged rapper, an award-winning composer, and a dancer defying the stigmas of cerebral palsy come together in the Kennedy Center Next 50, a new cultural leadership initiative. Each individual included on the list exemplifies the Kennedy Center’s mission to help shape culture and society through the arts—with integrity, creativity, empathy, and artistic excellence. The Next 50 will not only recognize the cultural leadership of these 50 trailblazers and organizations but also create spaces and opportunities for these visionaries to use their talents to put art into action as they influence our communities and create new pathways for the coming generations. The listed culture-makers, presented in partnership with Meta, imagine a world that identifies and connects the abundance of resources in communities across the nation in an effort to uplift and move us toward a more inspired, inclusive, and compassionate country.

Among the Next 50 are nine Washington, DC-based cultural leaders: Nicole Brewer, Erik Bruner-Yang, DJ Underdog, Fly Zyah, José André Montaño, Jason Reynolds, SchoolTalk, The Giving Block, and Lisa Richards Toney.

Also included are Camille A. Brown,  Ty Defoe, Kamilah Forbes, Amanda Gorman, Megan Rapinoe, Jason Reynolds, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Carlos Simon, Yara Shahidi, and esperanza spalding.

“The Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary is not only a time to celebrate the artistic genius of the past but also a moment to imagine how we evolve into our next half-century,” said Deborah Rutter, Kennedy Center president. “We will always uphold our vision—to be the nation’s beacon for the performing arts—however, we recognize that ambition requires us to invest in the future of the arts as a guiding light for social change. Next 50 is our commitment to that evolution.

Over the course of the anniversary season, the Next 50 will participate in programs, forums, residencies, and events—such as Arts Summit, the Active Hope Podcast, Millennium Stage—and work with the Kennedy Center to create opportunities for discourse with other leaders to ensure that the voices of artistic and cultural leaders are lifted and heard. The initiative has already seen the groundbreaking work of Grammy Award–winning singer-bassist esperanza spalding in …(Iphigenia), the comedic genius of Vir Das; and the breathtaking compositions of Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon.

“The Next 50 is an instrument that signals an institutional shift. It’s the Center taking responsibility for identifying artists and creatives as national leaders, committing to a process, and offering a platform to see that work through to fruition,” said Marc Bamuthi Joseph, artistic director and vice president of social impact “For the last 50 years, incredible people have passed through these halls and this is our way of passing the torch to the next generation of creators.”

The Center, through its Social Impact program, undertook a comprehensive process to identify the Next 50. Leaning on the public through a crowdsourcing campaign powered by Meta, the Center queried arts educators, arts and culture administrators, and artistic programming professionals to curate a list that ensured representation and diversity in all of its pluralities—a vanguard of culture-makers—household names, scions of the cultural sector, and everyday people—who the Center believes will lead the country into its next 50 years.

“Once again, the Kennedy Center raises the bar in supporting social change through its imaginative programming and bold thinking,” said Kevin Martin, VP of Meta, North America. “We are proud to partner with the Kennedy Center on the Next 50 initiative, and we celebrate the cultural leadership of these talented change-makers and the role they play in shaping the future of America.”

Below is the full list of Next 50 participants. Their photographs and bios can be found here.

Next 50 Participant



Kyle Abraham
Los Angeles, CA
Award–winning choreographer and Artistic Director of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, Kyle Abraham’s work has been commissioned by leading dance companies including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Cuba, and most recently the Royal Ballet, whom he will be the first black choreographer commissioned to create a one-act ballet.


Adrian Anantawan
Boston, MA
Violinist; memorable performances include: The White House, the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens and Vancouver Olympic Games, and the United Nations.


Manuela Arciniegas
Goshen, NY
Director of the Andrus Family Fund (AFF) and Legacy Women Caribbean Roots Drum Troupe.


Chloe and Maud Arnold
Los Angeles, CA
Internationally-recognized tap dancers and choreographing and producing duo.


Black Futures Lab
Oakland, CA
National organization transforming Black communities into constituencies that change the way power operates—locally, statewide, and nationally.


Qacung Blanchett
Juneau, AK
Award-winning performing artist, culture-bearer, educator, and advocate for equity and inclusion.


Nicole Brewer
Washington, DC
Actor, director, and educator who advocates for anti-racist theater.


J’Nai Bridges
New York, NY
Operatic mezzo-soprano. She is a winner of the Marian Anderson Award and has performed for the Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera, and San Francisco Opera. BET has described her as “The Beyonce of opera.”


adrienne maree brown
El Paso, TX
Author and co-host of the How to Survive the End of the World and Octavia’s Parables podcasts.


Camille A. Brown
New York, NY
Choreographer, educator, and Artistic Director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers. Award-winning choreography reclaims the cultural narrative of African American identity.


Mahogany L. Browne
New York, NY
Executive Director of JustMedia, a media literacy initiative designed to support the groundwork of criminal justice leaders and community members.


Erik Bruner-Yang
Washington, DC
Chef and restaurateur; his portfolio of iconic Washington, D.C. restaurants includes: Maketto, Toki Underground, Brothers and Sisters, Spoken English, and Victura Park.


Natasha Cloud
Philadelphia, PA
Professional basketball player for the Washington Mystics and a 2019 WNBA champion.


Vir Das
Dehradun, India
Stand-Up Comedian, Writer, and Actor. Emmy®-nominated for one of his four Netflix stand-up specials.


Ty Defoe
New York, NY
Grammy Award®–winning composer, playwright, librettist, interdisciplinary artist, actor, choreographer, eagle dancer, and hoop dancer.


DJ Underdog
Washington, DC
DJ, graphic design teacher in District of Columbia Public Schools, community-maker, and weaver of sounds, visual art, cultures, and communities.


Sage Dolan-Sandrino
New York, NY
Youth leader, queer and trans artist, and Founder & Creative Director of digital zine and youth creative studio of TEAM magazine.


Tony Duncan


Gilbert, AZ
Six-time “World Champion Hoop Dancer” and flute player. Duncan has performed for audiences worldwide including performances at the Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian Institution, The Tonight Show, and The White House.


Final Bow for Yellowface
New York, NY
Co-founded by Georgina Pazcoguin and Phil Chan, Final Bow for Yelllowface is a globally recognized initiative that works to improve Asian representation in the performing arts.


Fly Zyah
Washington, DC
10-year-old emcee representing Washington, D.C., was presented with the DC Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Youth Creativity.


Kamilah Forbes
New York, NY
Award-winning director and producer for theater and television and Executive Producer at the World-Famous Apollo Theater in Harlem.


Pierce Freelon
Durham, NC
Musician, producer, educator, and co-creator of Beat Making Lab, an Emmy Award®–winning PBS web series. He is also writer, composer, and co-director of the PBS animated series The History of White People in America.


Girls Tales Podcast
New York, NY
Podcast featuring reimagined fairytales written by women, non-binary, and trans male playwrights.


José Cruz González
Nipomo, CA
Playwright and educator whose work includes American Mariachi, Under a Baseball Sky, Among the Darkest Shadows, The Astronaut Farmworker, The Long Road Today.


Amanda Gorman
Los Angeles, CA
The youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Gorman’s activism and poetry have been featured on the Today Show, PBS Kids, and CBS This Morning, and in the New York Times, Vogue, and Essence.


Chinaka Hodge
Los Angeles, CA
Poet, educator, playwright, screenwriter, and  founding curator of Brave New Voices, the National Teen Poetry Festival, as well as a co-founder of Life is Living, West Oakland’s interdisciplinary arts festival.


Maori Karmael Holmes
Philadelphia, PA
Curator, filmmaker, writer, and founder of BlackStar.


Roger Ideishi
Philadelphia, PA
Director of Occupational Therapy and Professor of Health, Human Function and Rehabilitation Services at The George Washington University. Dr. Ideishi has worked for decades developing community programs for people with disabilities.


Kinetic Light
Los Altos, CA
A disability arts ensemble featuring Alice Sheppard, Jerron Herman, Laurel Lawson, and Michael Maag.


Charles Limb
San Francisco, CA
Francis A. Sooy Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the Chief of the Division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at UC San Francisco. He is also the Director of the Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center at UCSF and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery.


Bettina L. Love
Atlanta, GA
Award-winning author and the Athletic Association Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia. Love’s writing, research, teaching, and educational advocacy meet at the intersection of education reform, abolition, and Black joy.


Elizabeth Méndez-Berry
Montclair, NJ
Journalist and Vice President and Executive Editor of One World.



Cecilia Méndez-Ortiz
Boston, MA
Artist, educator, and Executive Director of the Center for Art and Community Partnerships (CACP) at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.


José André Montaño
Washington, DC
Self-taught jazz pianist who has performed internationally with live presentations that have received standing ovations in Italy, Canada, Malaysia, Finland, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, and Colombia.


Beth Morrison
New York, NY
President & Creative Producer of Beth Morrison Projects (BMP). Recipient of the Musical America Award for Best Artist of the Year as Agent of Change.


Gregg Mozgala
New York, NY
Choreographer, dancer, and actor with Cerebral Palsy. Mozgala is the founder and Artistic Director of The Apothetae, a theater company dedicated to the production of works that explores and illuminates the, “Disabled Experience.”


Chef Kwame Onwuachi
Los Angeles, CA
James Beard Award-winning chef, and author of the critically-acclaimed memoir Notes from a Young Black Chef.


Jamaica Heolimeleikalani



Wahiawa, HI
Kanaka Maoli wahine artist, activist, scholar, and storyteller.


Lori Pourier
Očéti ŠakówIŋ Territory (SD)


Founding President of First Peoples Fund


Megan Rapinoe
Seattle, WA
Professional soccer player and two-time World Cup Champion and co-captain of the US Women’s National Team.


Jason Reynolds
Washington, DC
New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books for young people, including Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, All American Boys, and Long Way Down.


Cody Renard Richard
New York, NY
Advocate, educator, producer, and professional stage manager with a career that spans many genres including Broadway, television, Cirque Du Soleil and opera.


Michaela Jaé Rodriguez
Los Angeles, CA
Emmy®-nominated actress; best known for her role as “Blanca” in POSE on FX.


Washington, DC
A District of Columbia–based nonprofit whose mission is to create spaces that promote self-determination and a voice for youth with disabilities and their peers.


Yara Shahidi
Los Angeles, CA
Award–winning actress, producer, change agent, and breakout star of ABC’s Emmy-and Golden Globe–nominated series Black-ish.


Carlos Simon
Atlanta, GA
Composer, Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence, and recipient of the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence.


Jose Solís
New York, NY
Founder of the BIPOC Critics Lab and co-creator of the web series and podcast Token Theatre Friends.


esperanza spalding
Portland, OR
Four-time Grammy Award®–winning jazz bassist, singer, songwriter, and composer.


The Giving Block
Washington, DC
Consulting firm that equips nonprofits to accept cryptocurrency donations and build fundraising programs.


Lisa Richards Toney
Washington, DC
President and CEO of Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP).



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