AT&T Dream in Black is back with its 5th class of Black Future Makers – a program recognizing artists, entrepreneurs and activists pursuing their dreams, positively impacting their communities and inspiring the culture and others to do the same.

Big Sean, Lori Harvey, J. Alphonse Nicholson, and Shangela represent the group of distinguished 2023 Black Future Makers who are helping to amplify Black excellence and intersectionality. AT&T Artist In Residence, Handel Eugene, is the amazing artist bringing to life the 5th class of AT&T Dream in Black: Black Future Makers.

Black Future Makers is a one-of-a-kind diversity and inclusion program. AT&T continues to invest in it year after year to celebrate Black dreamers. It highlights their accomplishments, empowered by digital access and a commitment to help bridge the gap to greater possibility.

After 5 years of highlighting influential leaders, more than 80 celebrity influencers have been recognized. Additionally, more than $200,000 has been given to everyday leaders. The recipients have shown that they are on pace to make significant impacts in their areas of interest.

21Ninety had a chance to catch up with the 2023 Black Future Makers. They each discussed the hard work it took to get to this point and the importance of this one-of-a-kind campaign. The campaign is known to help build and support not only our community but societies and businesses as well.

AT&T Dream In Black 2023 Black Future Makers Class

Lori Harvey

2023 Black Future Maker, Lori Harvey

First up in the 2023 Black Future Makers Class is none other than the It-Girl herself. Model and entrepreneur, Lori Harvey! “I am so honored to be featured as a Black Future Maker this year,” she said about being featured. “I believe if you are truly passionate about doing what you love, the results of your hard work will eventually pay off, so trust in the unknown and never give up on your dreams.”

It’s no secret that the boss lady is a common trending topic. She often leaves fans wondering what move she’s going to make next. Just recently she sat down with Essence and touched on public opinions. She revealed that while the internet has created numerous narratives about her life, she will remain confident and always remember the piece of advice her mother gave to her.

“For those who know and love you, no answer is needed. But for those who don’t, no answer will do.” She went on to explain “That’s where the strong sense of self comes into play. Just understanding and really knowing who I am, and not letting the outside opinions or noise affect me internally.”

Big Sean

2023 Black Future Maker, Big Sean

Next up in the 2023 Black Future Makers Class is Detroit’s very own, artist, songwriter, producer, and designer, Big Sean! If you’re a fan of Big Sean, then you know he continuously gives back to his community. He is known to bring light to his hometown of Detroit. He unselfishly spotlights other artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs in his city. Now it’s time that the spotlight is turned on him!

Liz Smith: As a native of Detroit, what’s your definition of dreaming in Black? How did your city help push you to achieve what some deem impossible?

Big Sean: First of all, Detroit is the Blackest city in the whole country. It’s like Chocolate City. So it’s just always been a city that has so much soul and so many breakthroughs. From music to automotive, creating genres of music, obviously, from Motown to techno music and being a forefront in hip-hop as well. That gave me the inspiration! I’m so lucky to have grown up in Detroit. Some look at growing up in Detroit as an unlucky situation. But you really got to earn respect and that’s in my DNA. So being able to pass that along with my team creatively and work with the people I work with and do what I’m doing is amazing.

I’ve been keeping my head down working. Besides becoming a dad, I’ve been really working on my next creative offering. Not just music, but in so many other ways. It’s almost time to unveil it to the world!

LS: That’s great news! In due time. One of your recent pictures on Instagram has the caption “Life is changing.While that is true with you being a new father, what other changes in your life do you hope to make in 2023 to see your dreams blossom even more?

BS: Yeah, life is changing. I really have been working these past few years. I’ve been working on myself more than ever. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since 2021! I’ve been in a gym, taking care of myself, I’ve been on my supplements game of vitamins. I’ve just been really stepping it up like that differently. Just to see how that affects me in all these other ways. Spiritually, mentally my mood, my focus, my output, and those are the ways that I’ve been changing in my life.

Also like you said, having a kid and really having a family, Not just the family that raised me but having a family that is gonna live on after me, is super motivating. That has been the biggest change of my life. Just waking up and that being the first thing that is on my mind is just an experience.

LS: I love that. It’s so precious to see because I have a lot of friends who are in that same space in their life. I’m not there yet but I know it’ll come at the right time! Speaking of the right time, we’ve been patient but I have to ask this because I’m a huge fan of the album. Are we ever going to get another “Twenty88” album? Because the people you know, we need it that.

BS: No, you’re right! I feel like not only do people need it, I need it too. The dynamic of our relationship has been such a ride, I think it’s so important to put that into our creativity. There’s hardly any music like it, like one perspective at a time. So you always get a male’s perspective, or a female’s perspective. It’s cool that we can go back and forth as male and female on the same track and give our perspectives separately and together. That’s really nonexistent right now. I can’t wait to give everybody that offering because this is definitely in the works.

LS: I’m so excited to hear that! Fans, you’re welcome! Before I let you go, we always talk about giving people their flowers before it’s too late. If you could give someone in your respective industry their flowers today who would that be and why?

BS: Honestly, I’ve given flowers to so many people so I’m gonna give myself my flowers. I never really do that and like I said, I’ve worked hard and I got a lot of work to do and keep going. But I’ve done things that I kind of downplay sometimes. Like being the first rapper to perform at the White House.

From Babyface to Sada, Tee Grizzley even Ryan Destiny and they do the same for me. So I give them their flowers but I’m picking my own flowers because I work motherf*cking hard!

On February 10th, invited consumers can visit AT&T’s Chicago flagship store (600 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611) for an exclusive special performance by award-winning artist and inductee Big Sean. Big Sean’s performance will later be streamed for the public on February 24.

J. Alphonse Nicholson

2023 Black Future Maker, J. Alphonse Nicholson

Next up in the 2023 Black Future Makers Class is Greensboro, NC native. Skilled drummer and actor on hit television series “P-Valley”, J. Alphonse Nicholson! The world fell in love with J. Alphonse when he showed his amazing acting skills and vulnerability on screen. It’s very clear to see that he’s just getting started.

Liz Smith: At what point in your life did you feel comfortable enough to trust your dream and see it through?

J. Alphonse Nicholson: Shoutout to my mom and my dad who were dreamers and accomplished their goals. At a very early age, I saw my dreams and I could feel my dreams come into fruition. That held true with drumming because at a young age, I wanted to be a drummer whether that was at church or in the marching band. Once that happened for me, it made me a believer of dreaming and your dreams becoming a reality. As far as being an actor, around 18, 19 years old I started auditioning for professional plays within my community. I eventually made my way to New York and the dreams have constantly continued to happen. I see it in my brain and then I actually make them tangible.

LS: You come from humble beginnings. We saw that from your Instagram post of you showing your musical skills in the subway of New York. Well now I’m sure you’re living out your ancestors’ dreams and my ancestors’ dreams. What dreams do you have for the rising future makers following your footsteps?

JAN: I want them to understand that everything is attainable no matter what you want in life. Avoid being a capitalist. Avoid stepping on people to get to where you need to be and just take a pure path because there aren’t any shortcuts in life. Just understand you can do it. Whether that’s owning your own janitorial service. Whether that’s being a doctor, manager at McDonald’s, actor, musician like myself. All these things are attainable as long as you continue to put forth that work.

LS: Great advice! AT&T not only makes sure we stay connected with our devices but they also make sure we stay connected in the community by amplifying our voices and highlighting our successes. In what ways do you stay connected to your roots as you continue to excel in your career? 

JAN: Just always remembering where I come from and always keeping my mother’s voice and my father’s voice in my head. I try to stay connected to my community through my J. Alphonse Nicholson Foundation. I go back to the school system that I came from and give back to the young ones. I go back to my college and give back to them as well. Just staying connected to the Black community and trying my best to help them grow.


2023 Black Future Maker, Shangela

Rounding out the 2023 Black Future Makers Class is Actor and Performer, D.J. and the fiercest one of them all, Shangela! Shangela currently stars as a co-host of the Emmy-winning HBO series “We’re Here” and recently competed as a
finalist on the hit Disney+ series “Dancing with the Stars” making history as the first drag queen ever cast on the U.S. version and the first male performer to be partnered with a male professional dancer.

Shangela is making history one drag queen show at a time!

Liz Smith: When did you feel comfortable enough to love yourself more and be fearless?

Shangela: I think that loving yourself is a constant journey! I always describe it like a gas tank because I’m from Texas and we drive, so I always say you can drive your truck around but sometimes your gas will get low and you have to fill it back up. That’s what I feel like loving yourself means, that’s how it relates to me. A lot of times we can say I love myself so much but there are moments when life will challenge you and try to break that spirit of confidence down but you gotta find ways to fill it back up.

LS: Amen! I’m using that analogy from now on. Now, how did it feel to be named one of the most powerful drag queens in America? That’s a big title to hold.

SP: It was wonderful for them to say that but I never think of myself as the most powerful. I do embrace the power I have as an entertainer, as a leader, as someone in my family that I hope to inspire others to just go out and do whatever it is that you want to do. That to me is where the real power lies and the belief in yourself that not only can you dream big but you can also feel confident about putting the work behind your dream and making it come true.

LS: Absolutely love that, well said. We know AT&T has allowed us to not only stay connected with loved ones thru our devices but also by amplifying our voices to those who need to hear it the most. You’re doing the same with your hit show “We’re Here” on HBO. Can you tell us about a city that needed your presence the most and what impact that city left on you?

SP: Oh my goodness, in the three seasons that we’ve been doing the show “We’re Here” we’ve gone across the U.S. to some of the really conservative spaces and helped to amplify and highlight the voices and stories of queer people that need to be heard. I would say that city is Selma, AL. You know Selma is a very historic city and I thought of the movie, the civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday and the things that happened there. More so than all of that we have to remember that Selma is still a city that includes people and amongst those people are amazing queer people and amazing Black gay and queer people. So it was important for us to be able to go to Selma and highlight the experience of LGBTQ people especially people of color who don’t always get their stories amplified.

AT&T will support 2023 Black Future Maker inductee, Shangela, by sponsoring her Fully Lit tour stop at the AT&T Chicago flagship store.

AT&T Dream in Black Collaboration

2023 Black Future Maker, Handel Eugene

This year, AT&T Dream in Black has chosen to collaborate with multidisciplinary artist and animator Handel Eugene as the 2023 Black Future Maker Artist in Residence. Handel pushes the boundaries of his work by utilizing new platforms such as VR, AR & interactive technology, which will be featured through this year’s Black Future Makers portraits and imagery which will be on display in select retail stores.

“Black art is important and it’s imperative. Black artist in general, we have influence, we have impact and we have the ability to inspire change and as artist we’re storytellers. We create powerful and beautiful messages with the artwork that we create so Black artist are needed and we shape the culture and future.”

– Handel Eugene

Liz Smith: What is your signature design style and how did you discover your artistic medium?

Handel Eugene: I fall under the category of multidisciplinary artist and that means I work in a lot of different mediums and styles. However, one consistent aspect in my work is using vibrant, elegant and interesting colors. I’m very specific about color schemes, colors that are aesthetically pleasing and trying to incorporate that throughout my work. To help develop my artistic eye I studied great art work, amazing artists and designs. Also studying people who have gone on to accomplish great things. Another aspect is surrounding yourself with great and talented artists and pick their brains. Lastly, exploring and trial and error. I made mistakes and that helped me to get to where I am now.

Through this collaboration, Handel’s work will be featured in an exclusive short video series and will extend this year’s immersive Black Future Makers experiences at AT&T Flagship locations in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. And in celebration of Black History Month, some of the nation’s most prominent collections – including Getty, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art – will showcase work by Black artists and makers on Smartify.

How To Enter The Black Future Makers Contest

AT&T is all about amplifying Black excellence and intersectionality and now YOU can have a chance to be noticed. According to AT&T, beginning today, consumers can share how they are a Black Future Maker via the Black Future Makers Contest page.

AT&T Dream in Black appointed judges will select four winners who exemplify the values of the Dream in Black program—pushing the culture forward and uplifting their communities. Winners will be announced in March on AT&T’s Instagram and Tik Tok page. Check out contest rules here.