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Who Are This Year's Game Changers?

Here are 10 people you should know about.

Meet a trailblazing Alzheimer's researcher, a barrier-busting ballerina, a principled chef feeding those in need, and other people doing great work.

Mary-Barra-game-changers-digital-issue-JOHN-F. MARTIN-FOR-GENERAL


The Innovative Titan of Industry

When Mary Barra was getting her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at General Motors Institute (now called Kettering University), she had no idea she’d one day be CEO of the company. To pay for her education, Mary got a job inspecting fenders at GM, and she worked her way up, eventually becoming the first woman to lead one of the big three U.S. automakers, in 2014. She still sits at the head of the table, and holds the fourth slot on Forbes’s 2022 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world—just after Vice President Kamala Harris. What is it about Mary? Simply put, she gets things done.

Change can be slow-moving at a 100-plus-year-old company stuck in its ways. That isn’t the case at GM, because Mary isn’t a stuck-in-her-ways kind of leader. She and her team pivoted quickly at the start of the Covid pandemic: “In just 154 days, our employees produced more than 200 million face masks,” Mary says. She’s currently pushing the company to roll out electric vehicles exclusively by 2035, vowing to make eco-friendly cars accessible to all. (It’s her goal to leave a zero-emissions legacy.) And under her leadership, GM is closing its gender pay gap. Mary, a first-generation college graduate, believes education opens doors and is passionate about offering opportunities through GM’s partnerships, including one with the Girl Scouts. “I got where I am because I had people who believed in me, who encouraged me to take the tough assignments, and who gave me a chance.”—Keydra Manns



The Body-Positive Yoga Instructor

It may surprise you to learn that a fitness pro who has more than 400,000 Instagram followers, and who’s appeared in a national Gatorade commercial alongside Olympic athlete Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, still feels uncomfortable at the gym. It’s true: Jessamyn Stanley, a body positivity advocate and author, says she isn’t immune to self-doubt in an unfamiliar workout setting. “Am I good enough to be here? Should I be in this space?” she says. Because, well, gyms aren’t always known for being welcoming to all body types, and Jessamyn isn’t thin and white, like the stereotypical American yoga instructor. Whenever those doubts creep in, she remembers she just wants to have a good time and summons her confidence, which she honed by—you guessed it!—practicing yoga. In her living room. “When you can harness that energy at home, it’s easier to take it out into the world,” she says. “You might be in a random fitness class and not know what’s going on. You might not be wearing the same thing as everyone else, and maybe you’re out of breath five seconds in. If you’re just there to have fun, none of that matters.

JESSAMYN STANLEY, on becoming a game changer

Don’t be scared because you’ve never seen anyone do it. That means you’re in control of your own destiny and you don’t have to follow anything. You get to write the rules.

— JESSAMYN STANLEY, on becoming a game changer

Jessamyn wants to make yoga inclusive for people who feel like they don’t belong in a studio, whether because of their skin color, body shape, age, or skill level. That wasn’t the plan when she started her home yoga practice in 2011 and began posting about it on social media. At the time, she was in graduate school for performing arts management, and she only became an instructor because people were inspired by her posts and asked her to teach them. “I realized that it’s through the shared experience of difficulty and hardship that other people can see themselves in me. Everything I’ve done is about showing that it’s OK to be yourself, and you don’t have to apologize for your existence,” she says. So far, that includes writing two books (Every Body Yoga and Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance), launching a podcast (Dear Jessamyn), and co-creating the Underbelly wellness platform.

Up next: in-person retreats and a cookbook incorporating intuitive eating practices. (Jessamyn also attended culinary school!) “I want us all to come to a place where we can feel at home within ourselves, and where food is seen as a loving tool and not an opponent in our lives,” she says. “My biggest goal is to bring yoga and the practice of self-acceptance to as many people as possible.” —Melissa Matthews



The Trendsetting Makeup Artist

Name a runway look that has entered the mainstream (colored mascara, dewy skin, two-tone lips, etc.) and Pat McGrath most likely helped kick off the trend. “I constantly want to challenge my eye with newness,” Pat says. “My work has always been about pushing the boundaries of what is possible through artistry.” In addition to everyday makeup you could wear to work, Pat creates masterpieces using unexpected items, like crystals, feathers, and tulle, and a color palette that rivals the biggest box of crayons. Since she began working on magazine covers and fashion shows in the 1990s, Pat has become one of the most sought-after runway artists for design houses such as Valentino, Prada, and Dior. And she was honored by Queen Elizabeth II in 2021, when she became the first makeup artist to earn the honorific Dame of the British Empire, given to women who are influential in their fields.

Her itch to change how we do things is reflected in Pat McGrath Labs, the line she created in 2015, which is designed to inspire individuality and known for collabs that sell out in days (think: the Bridgerton collection of lipsticks, blushes, and eye shadows). Even if you’re not shopping her line, you’ll see her vision in the latest TikTok posts, and eventually your local drugstore. —Heather Muir Maffei



The Trailblazer En Pointe

Misty Copeland spent the first two weeks of her ballet class at the Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro, Calif., just watching from the bleachers. She was 13 years old, and though her junior high drill team coach, a former ballet dancer, insisted she had a talent for piques and pirouettes, Misty was too intimidated to join those twirling girls in perfect pink tights. She eventually summoned the courage to step onto the floor in her gym socks and set her hand on the barre. “I couldn’t let go,” she says. “It became a part of me. I’d never had an identity outside of being the shy Black girl, but with ballet, I became a part of something much bigger than me.”

Ballet changed Misty’s life, and she changed ballet in 2015 by becoming the first Black principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the premier dance companies in the country. “My first few years there, when I was in the corps de ballet, I was the only Black woman,” she says. “I was still so young and trying to figure out whether I truly belonged.” In a profession where the standard is white, thin, and bound by tradition, she sometimes felt isolated dealing with criticism of her muscular body and unconventional career choices (she was a featured performer on several tours with Prince). Misty sometimes considered leaving ABT for less classical work, but she knew ballet was her place.

MISTY COPELAND, on handling critics

It’s important to know when to stop taking feedback to heart. There’s more reward in taking a risk than in listening to naysayers who don’t understand the mission.

— MISTY COPELAND, on handling critics

“Having mentors and a support system has been my saving grace,” she says. “It’s given me the strength to persevere as long as I have.” Now she’s paying it forward. Misty, who’s been on hiatus from the stage as she focuses on another project—raising her son, Jackson, almost 1—is guiding a new generation of dancers through the Misty Copeland Foundation, which promotes diversity in dance by providing education for young people in under-resourced communities. “Ballet changes people’s lives,” she says. “It gives them a beautiful escape and a way of communicating. It’s so inspiring to see this next generation want to put their phones away and come to the theater, to know that they’re the future and they’re going to make such big changes to the art form. That’s what motivates me every day.” —Amy Maclin



The Writer Who Represents

Kisses, crushes, heartbreak—the teenage years are filled with so many memorable firsts. And writer Jenny Han captures them better than most. Known for her best-selling young adult trilogies, The Summer I Turned Pretty and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny has a knack for tapping into those years in a way that brings all the feels. “It’s a time in life that is so rife with natural drama—it’s catnip for storytellers,” she says.

Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, to Korean parents, Jenny says that though she loved writing stories as a young girl, she didn’t consider it a career path. “It never occurred to me to dream that big,” she says. “There wasn’t a specific moment I realized I wanted to be a writer, but there was a moment I decided I could be one, which is when I took my first writing workshop in college.” After graduating, she started on a coming-of-age novel for young adults. When The Summer I Turned Pretty was released in 2009, big sales seemed unlikely. And yet the book made it to number one on the New York Times bestseller list—as would the second and third in the series, in 2010 and 2011. In 2014, she began publishing another trilogy, and once again, all three were bestsellers. The first, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, was named one of the 100 best young adult books of all time by Time magazine.

Almost immediately after the book hit shelves, Jenny got calls from movie producers interested in adapting To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before for the screen. But there was a problem: Many of the execs she spoke with, she says, had little interest in casting an Asian American as Lara Jean, the lead. “They didn’t understand why it was central to the story,” Jenny says. “I had to explain that there didn’t need to be a reason for the main character to be Asian—she just was. Asian Americans can fall in love, have big, ambitious dreams, and be the main character without having to justify their existence.”

Jenny eventually found producing partners who understood her position. When the movie version was released on Netflix in 2018, with Vietnamese American actor Lana Condor in the starring role, it became one of the streaming platform’s most-viewed original films—and proof that non-white protagonists could attract a mass audience. Movie adaptations for the following two books were greenlit almost instantly.

When Jenny had the opportunity to adapt The Summer I Turned Pretty into a series for Amazon Prime, she negotiated to be a co-showrunner, executive producer, and writer. One of the first orders of business? Making sure an Asian American was cast as Belly Conklin, the lead role. Jenny understands how important representation is on-screen. “Growing up, I never saw main characters like Lara Jean or Belly,” she says. “It’s been so gratifying to see these stories reach young readers and viewers, who are at a pivotal moment of defining themselves in their own stories.” —Bethany Heitman



The Alzheimer’s Pioneer

Women are more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s, yet they tend to be under-represented in the research, according to a 2021 paper in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy. Jessica Caldwell, PhD, director of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at the Cleveland Clinic (the first in the country to offer female-specific Alzheimer’s support), is trying to change that. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that to find a cure, we have to consider sex and gender,” she says. Jessica has helped challenge the long-held assumption that women are more likely to develop the disease simply because they live longer, leading research on how hormones, genetics, and lifestyle factors increase women’s Alzheimer’s risk. In 2021, Jessica was on one of the first teams to study sex-related differences associated with inflammation and memory loss. “These are tough problems, but I’m a problem-solver,” says Jessica, who in 2021 received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine how gender-linked stress and estrogen interact to affect brain health. “Getting feedback from women who tell me this work provides hope is incredibly rewarding.” —A.M.



The Chef Without Borders

Chefs are some of the most philanthropic folks around—they often give a quick yes to cooking for charity auctions or supporting local soup kitchens. Then there’s celebrated chef José Andrés, a Spanish immigrant who owns restaurants all over the United States, José takes giving to a whole new level. “My parents were the most important influences early in my life,” he says. “They were both nurses and taught me the power of helping others.” Their message clearly got through.

In 2010, José and his wife, Patricia, flew to Haiti to cook after seeing the destruction caused by an earthquake. Struck by how people took comfort in eating familiar meals during a time of crisis, they started World Central Kitchen (WCK), an organization that has quite literally fed the planet. When people are hungry after an emergency—a hurricane in Puerto Rico, a flood in California—WCK, rather than shipping ingredients or canned goods, sends cooks to massive tent kitchens, where they prepare nourishing dishes that local populations have a connection to.

JOSÉ ANDRÉS, on making a difference

Do you want to be a game changer? Today is your day to start! We cannot change the game if we are not acting with the fierce urgency of now.

— JOSÉ ANDRÉS, on making a difference

To date, WCK has served 250 million meals, helping more people with each humanitarian, climate, and community crisis. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, José and his team set up shop, creating pop-up kitchens and calling on local food trucks to serve nearly 4 million meals in just nine months. During the height of Covid, with restaurants closed, chefs out of work, and a new wave of hungry Americans, WCK created a system to help solve each of those problems. The  organization hired chefs to cook in empty restaurants and distributed fresh meals to people in need, including seniors and health care workers. Throughout the pandemic, WCK delivered 40 million meals in the United States, Indonesia, Spain, and the Dominican Republic. Since the start of the war in Ukraine last February, the group has served more than 180 million meals in eastern Europe.

When he’s not on the ground in a disaster zone, José is overseeing a small empire. He has more than 30 restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, a television series on Discovery+ (José Andrés and Family in Spain), and multiple cookbooks. Ask him what he’s most proud of, and José will cite WCK. But the Spanish-food evangelist will also take partial credit for the popularity of tapas in the U.S. “And we are getting nearer to my lifetime dream of every American family having a paella pan in their home!” he says. —Jenna Helwig



The Risk-Taking Storyteller

Sheinelle Jones remembers the exact moment she understood her mission as a journalist. More than a decade ago, she was listening to the radio on her way to work in Philadelphia, where she was a morning-news anchor, when the lyrics to a gospel song resonated with her. The message? Your life is not your own. “From that moment on, my career changed. My mindset changed,” says Sheinelle, now cohost of the third hour of NBC’s Today show. “Remembering that what I do is not about me—it’s about the people I talk to—gives me purpose. It helps me ask the tough questions.”

That guiding principle explains Sheinelle’s journey to becoming executive producer of Stories We Tell: The Fertility Secret, a documentary about the particular challenges affecting women of color. During the pandemic, Sheinelle became inspired by close friends and family who were having trouble conceiving. “I’d see articles about fertility and egg freezing, but when it comes to women of color, you just didn’t see us represented,” she says. “I’m a journalist, so telling that story is part of what I am supposed to do.”

SHEINELLE JONES, on the importance of inclusion

Growing up, I remember watching a Black national news anchor, Carole Simpson. I thought, ‘I could be like her.’ It shows the power of representation.

— SHEINELLE JONES, on the importance of inclusion

Despite having tons of reporting know-how, she was nervous about taking on the passion project, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. “After it aired, I did the ugly cry!” she says. “I heard from women who were dealing with this silently and felt seen. I recently had a woman tell me she decided to freeze her eggs because of that documentary.”

Sheinelle is already thinking about how else to share overlooked stories. “If you’ve got a little itch inside of you, I think sometimes you go for it!” she says. “And you realize it was the right thing to do.” —M.M.



The Paralympic Champion

Tatyana McFadden noticed that the stands seemed incredibly empty when she won the bronze and silver medals in track and field during the 2004 Paralympic Games. She was just 15 years old and wondered whether the achievement mattered if no one wanted to watch her race. “I think the biggest problem was that the public didn’t understand how cool wheelchair racing is,” says Tatyana, now a 17-time Paralympic medalist and widely considered one of the fastest women in the world.

She’s worked to change the public’s perception by pushing to get wheelchair racing in the limelight—and the equal treatment it deserves. In 2005, she filed a lawsuit against the Howard County Public School System in Maryland because she wasn’t allowed to race alongside runners at her high school track events. She won the case and gained that right, ensuring her younger sister Hannah, who was also a wheelchair racer, wouldn’t feel like an outsider at school.

In 2009, Tatyana was again disheartened by what she felt was unequal treatment between wheelchair racers and runners at events she competed in—the two types of athletes got separate press conferences, and the media only really showed up for the runners. Whenever Tatyana had the opportunity to meet with race organizers, she’d explain how important it is for all athletes to share the spotlight equally. In 2016, the New York City Marathon began celebrating wheelchair racers and runners at the same press conference. “I love seeing the change, and it makes me excited to stay in the game longer,” she says. —M.M.

Carmeon-Hamilton-game-changers-digital-issue-by-Emily Dorio

Emily Dorio

The Designer Redefining Home

Carmeon Hamilton created a mural that nearly broke the internet. The interior designer had been blogging about home decor for years before she shared this particular project on Instagram in 2020. “We moved into our house and I couldn’t afford wallpaper, so I made my own,” she says of the black-painted wall with geometric brushed dashes. The post was so popular, it got the attention of execs at HGTV, who recruited Carmeon to compete on the first season of Design Star: Next Gen, which she won. A champion of beautiful design that’s accessible to the masses, she went on to showcase her skills in Reno My Rental. “I was a renter for a long time, so I sympathize with people who aren’t able to or don’t want to buy a home, and there are no TV shows out there explaining how to make your rental space livable,” she says.

Carmeon’s focus on creating personal and inviting space is inspired in part by her first design job, at a firm serving people in assisted living facilities. There she saw that colorful rooms filled with familiar items can really alter a person’s mood and make them happier. “That job taught me the importance of our environment to our well-being,” she says. “That was the awakening behind why I do what I do now.”

CARMEON HAMILTON, on gratitude

By staying in a state of gratitude, I feel like I’m never without, and if I’m never without, I have this abundance to give away, so I can be who I need to be for my son, my employees, and my friends.

— CARMEON HAMILTON, on gratitude

Mental and emotional well-being is top of mind for Carmeon: In 2021, her husband of 10 years, Marcus, was killed in a motorcycle accident, and she openly grieved with her Instagram community. In deeply personal videos, Carmeon talked about dealing with new responsibilities while trying to process her loss. Marcus had been her biggest cheerleader, and Carmeon didn’t want to hide how she, and the home they’d created for themselves and their son, was affected by his absence. “Your environment is important, but the relationships you have are more important. I wanted to talk about the importance of both of them,” she says.

These days, Carmeon spends more of her time doing speaking engagements about design and wellness than she ever anticipated. “I’m reminding people of what’s important in life while also appreciating pretty things—it’s become my mission.” —Erica Finamore

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