Earlier this month, with the launch of its new list, The Closers, TIME highlighted the work of 18 influential figures working to close the Black-white racial wealth gap. On Thursday night, several of those leaders were among those who gathered in Midtown Manhattan to celebrate that work—and, at a time when the median wealth of white families in the U.S. remains stubbornly higher than that of Black families, to draw attention to how much remains to be done.

Actor and entrepreneur (and TIME Closers cover star) Issa Rae, Operation Hope founder and CEO John Hope Bryant, Senator Cory Booker, and others joined TIME’s Chief Marketing Officer Sadé Muhammad, editor in chief Sam Jacobs, and CEO Jessica Sibley in delivering remarks. “People are often curious why I have been in traditional media my entire career,” Muhammad said during her welcome remarks. “It’s because I believe so deeply in the power of media and entertainment to make everybody pay attention.”

Muhammad—who also introduced Kelly Burton, CEO of the Black Innovation Alliance, which served as a knowledge partner for TIME during the creation of the list—explained that the Black leaders TIME highlighted are “spearheading efforts to eliminate the racial wealth gap and are striving toward a more equitable future through business, policymaking, health care, entertainment, and more.”

Here’s what the honorees had to say:

Aurora James

Founder, the Fifteen Percent Pledge, and Founder and Creative Director, Brother Vellies

The first toast of the night came from the founder of The Fifteen Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that challenged retailers to commit to buying 15% of their products from Black-owned businesses. She told the audience that with her nonprofit, she can bring together Black business owners with powerful stories, who are “the foundation for why I started the Pledge.” James said that in less than four years, she’s been able to get 29 of the largest retailers around the world to commit to the Fifteen Percent Pledge, and they are “in the process of shifting over $14 billion to small Black businesses.”

In 2024, she said, “we have to remember that, yes, we have made so much progress, but each and every one of us and the work that we do every single day is an incredibly important part of the fabric and the quilt that ties us together to give us the strength to keep pushing forward—because as hard as we fought to get this progress, there are people that are working overtime to claw it back from us.”

Ramogi Huma

Executive Director, National College Players Association

Ramogi Huma began his work helping advocate for athletes’ rights while playing football at the University of California, Los Angeles. Over the two decades since, he’s made strides to help end the exploitation of college players. “We’ve made meaningful progress over those years,” he said, “like sponsoring state laws that led to the freedom of athletes nationwide to be paid for the use of their own name, image, and likeness.”

Read more: As College Athletes Finally Start Cashing In, Entrepreneurs Big and Small Also Look to Score

He said he’s been asked how he stays motivated to keep fighting. “How can I not keep fighting knowing that Black college athletes generate most of the revenue yet suffer the worst graduation rates?” he said, adding that he remains hopeful about continuing to secure equal rights and freedoms for college athletes.

Senator Cory Booker

United States Senator, New Jersey

When New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was mayor of Newark, N.J., this country was home to more African American men under criminal supervision than were enslaved in the 1850s. Mass incarceration, he said in his speech, “destroyed economic potential in communities.” Now, Booker has been working to close the racial wealth gap through different initiatives in Congress. He told the crowd that he sees “folks in this room who understand what guts and grit and hard work and resilience is all about.”

The Closers honorees, he said, give him “faith in a different fire—that in this room, we could ignite the real torch of the American ideals that can cast shadows over the lies of the past and bring a about a new truth that this nation can emerge and tell a story of triumph.”

Angelica Ross

Actor, Singer-Songwriter, Human Rights Advocate, and Founder, TransTech

Angelica Ross’ organization TransTech Social Enterprises recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary. “[It’s] not just an incubator—it’s a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ talent, with a special focus on economically empowering our transgender siblings,” she said. “We’ve built a co-working, co-learning community that uplifts and empowers through practical career-ready skills.”

She explained that the road to ten years has “demanded everything from [her],” not least breaking free from “the oppressive chains of a system that seeks to devalue us, to remind us that our Black bodies are expendable.” But, ending on an uplifting note, she shared the latest way her work continues: with a new podcast, called “No Opportunity Wasted”—a venture, she joked, that she wouldn’t waste the opportunity to promote.

John Hope Bryant

Founder, Chairman, and CEO, Operation Hope

John Hope Bryant’s nonprofit Operation Hope is focused on providing financial literacy to underserved communities. “I think financial literacy is a civil rights issue of this generation,” Bryant said. “You cannot have a country with the largest economy on the planet for the next 30 years without these Closers and everybody else in this room that are closing the economic gap—by trading you up, getting you in the economy, becoming homeowners, small business owners, and entrepreneurs.”

Bryant and his organization are working toward their goal of getting to one million Black businesses by the end of this decade. And it’s not just one community that will benefit from that progress, he said. As he put it toward the end of his speech: the Closers are “the business plan of the rest of this century.”

Read more: John Hope Bryant: Financial Literacy Is the Civil Rights Issue of This Generation

Issa Rae

Writer, Producer, Actor, and Entrepreneur

Issa Rae, who appeared on the cover of TIME’s Closers issue, brought her signature comedic wit to the Closers stage when delivering her remarks as the last speaker of the night. She joked that she was annoyed that the text on the cover read “working to close the racial wealth gap” because, she said, she received texts from family members asking how she’s helping close the family wealth gap. On a more serious note, she shared that the idea of changing the world was “daunting,” but she got there step by step: “I chose to focus on myself and try to be better and focus on what I could do in my small environment and then I focused on my family and then my friends and then my communities, and it led me to realize how I can make an impact in my own way.”

After all, even the biggest change has to start somewhere.

“What gives me hope is what so many people in this room are doing: centering us and being hyper-local,” she continued. “In so many instances, it’s the focus on the impact we can make in our respective areas, with the hope that it will inspire and spread, that can truly make the difference.”

TIME Impact Dinner: The Closers was sponsored by L’Oreal | Carol’s Daughter and Pronghorn.

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com.

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