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The Cover Story
Meet TIME's Next Generation Leaders
By Eliza Berman and Lily Rothman
Senior Editors, TIME

Akwaeke Emezi prefers the word "amplifier" to "leader." The award-winning Nigeria-born writer, whose June memoir marks their fourth book in as many years and almost as many genres, aims “to climb as high as possible and be as bright as possible” in order to make their vision of a better world that much closer to reality. Through their storytelling—which, in the case of their new book, tackles such topics as navigating a publishing industry that has long centered whiteness—they aim to lead the way to a gentler, freer society.

Getting to know Emezi leaves no doubt: Leadership comes in many different forms and means different things to different people. That's a big part of the reason why it was such a pleasure to put together TIME's latest list of Next Generation Leaders. At a time of great uncertainty—about our changing climate and the ongoing quest for racial justice worldwide, about our ability to put a devastating global pandemic behind us and work through political divides—they all, in their own ways, prove that hope need not be elusive after all.

American performer Anthony Ramos, who's about to get his first leading role in a major movie in the adaptation of the musical In the Heights, hopes the very fact of seeing his face on the big screen will provide inspiration to kids who, much like him, never saw a place for themselves under the bright lights. In an industry with a history of misogyny, Japanese entrepreneurs and twin sisters Anna and Mizuki Nakajima are building an inclusive gaming business, both among their company's ranks and in the characters and storylines of their mobile games.

French-Lebanese volcanologist Yves Moussallamis deepening our understanding of the changing climate by gathering crucial data from dangerous, remote locales, while Australian activist Grace Tame works to eradicate a culture of silence around sexual assault. Afro-Brazilian pop star Iza wields her platform to speak out about racism, and Zarifa Ghafari, who at 27 is the youngest mayor in Afghanistan and one of few female politicians in the country, leads by staying focused on providing practical solutions to the problems of daily life—not allowing even assassination attempts to shake her resolve.

These 11 young leaders prove that whatever our passions might be—scaling climbing walls, finding new takes on classic recipes or training a camera on the fashions of a continent—if we lead by example, with equal parts grit and compassion, there's no telling how many we'll inspire to make their own marks on the world.

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