Who are today’s standout Black leaders, innovators and culture shapers? Who are the most influential African Americans 45 and under?

To answer these tough questions, The Root looked back at the year’s most significant moments and themes and asked, “Who made this happen?” As we have each year since 2009, we scrutinized the more than 500 nominees submitted by our readers, measuring how many people their work reached and rating the substance of their contributions. The result: The Root 100 2014 ranking of the most influential African Americans.

Some of our 100 honorees had widely recognized achievements in their fields, while others worked doggedly behind the scenes. What connects them is that they not only had standout years but also showed promise for shaping the future.

Our top-ranked honoree is Ta-Nehisi Coates. His cover story for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” single-handedly reinvigorated the debate surrounding compensation for what he called the “multicentury plunder of Black people in America.” Coates laid out a bulletproof argument that “until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” America listened—or, more accurately, read: The piece set a single-day record for traffic to Atlantic.com and sold out on newsstands, delivering a resounding message that the Black experience is not to be ignored.

Coates’ reporting here, combined with the ongoing analysis he offered at his blog, reminded us never to settle for anything less than a clear-eyed, fact-based understanding of the forces that shape the lives of African Americans.