Black Americans Shaping a New America

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by Cheyanne M. Daniels

Madeleine Monroe/Greg Nash/Associated Press-Julio Cortes

Madeleine Monroe/Greg Nash/Associated Press-Julio Cortez

The story in brief

  • Several black Americans made history in 2022 by breaking through the glass ceiling.

Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, while Hakeem Jeffrey is the first black to lead the House Democrats.

  • Britney Griner made a different kind of history as her imprisonment in Russia sparked a political movement.

Black political power was on full display last year as record numbers of black candidates voted for both parties in the midterm elections.

Several of these candidates became the first black Americans elected to their positions.

Here’s a look at some black Americans who made history this year.

Karina Jean-Pierre

Karina Jean-Pierre broke two glass ceilings when she was appointed White House press secretary in May. Not only did she become the first black woman to hold the position, but she also became the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the title.

“You can’t underestimate how huge it is, how important it is going to be for so many people of color who work so hard in communications to see a black LGBTQ woman representing the president of the United States on the podium,” he told The Hill in May. Democratic strategist Rodel Mollineau.

Jean-Pierre previously worked on President Biden’s campaign and served as chief of staff to then-Vice Presidential candidate Kamal Harris. She was also a spokesperson for the progressive social justice organization MoveOn and a commentator on MSNBC.

As press secretary, Jean-Pierre has faced questions about the Biden administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, the Russia-Ukraine war and record inflation, among other topics.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court when he nominated Jackson to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer.

Jackson, a former public defender and former vice chairman and commissioner of the United States Sentencing Commission, was confirmed in April in a 53-47 Senate vote. Harris, the first woman and first black vice president, presided over the vote.

Jackson was sworn in as the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice on June 30, a monumental moment, especially for black women.

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Since being sworn in, Jackson has been vocal in court cases — Insider reports that the new justice has spoken just over 11,000 words in the first eight oral arguments, more than any other justice. She cast her first vote as a judge in July and gave her first written opinion, a dissent, in November.

Wes Moore

Democrat Wes Moore won Maryland’s gubernatorial race on Nov. 8 and will become the state’s first black governor when he is sworn in. He will also become only the third black governor ever elected in US history.

Moore, an Army veteran, best-selling author and former executive director of one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty organizations, beat out 10 other candidates in the Democratic primary in July.

“It’s humbling because I know the history of this state and I understand how absolutely incredible this journey is,” Moore told The Grio’s April Ryan after his election.

Moore, a husband and father of two, will be inaugurated Jan. 18 with Arun Miller as his lieutenant governor. Miller is the first Asian American and the first immigrant to be elected lieutenant governor of Maryland.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffrey

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.) was elected House Democratic leader in November, becoming the first black politician to lead either party in Congress.

Jeffrey succeeds 82-year-old Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as House Democratic leader. It’s not just a culture change, but a generational change for House Democrats, as Jeffries is 52 years old.

“Together, this new generation of leaders reflects the vibrancy and diversity of our great nation, and they will revitalize our Assembly with their new energy, ideas and perspective,” Pelosi said after Jeffrey’s election.

His election has also been hailed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who endorsed Jeffries in a tweet in late November that highlighted his accomplishments over the past five congressional terms.

Jeffrey has supported legislation for social and economic justice, including addressing policing and racial injustice.

Representative-elect Maxwell Frost

Representative Maxwell Frost, elected in November, became the first Generation Z candidate to win a parliamentary election.

Just 25 years old, Frost, a progressive Afro-Latino, won a Florida district vacated by Rep. Val Deming (D), running for Senate.

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Although Frost has yet to be officially sworn in, it’s already making headlines. He is now not only the first Gen Z member of the House, but also the first Afro-Cuban member of Congress.

He recently shared that he was denied an apartment in Washington because he had “very bad” credit. He is a self-described organizer and musician, and a member of what he calls the “mass shooting generation.”

These issues have become the backbone of his political platform. He spent the summer after George Floyd’s murder protesting police brutality, uses his social media to speak out about housing inequality, and consistently promotes universal health care.

“Our generation has lived through some of the challenges our country faces today, yet we don’t have representation in Congress and we deserve to be at the table,” Frost told CNN before the election.

“I’m not saying here that I represent the values ​​and thoughts of every member of Generation Z,” he added. “We’re like any other generation… lots of different ideologies and stuff. But I think I holistically represent our experience as young people.

Claudine Gay

Since its founding 386 years ago, Harvard University has never had a black president. That changed this year when Claudine Gay was chosen as the Ivy League school’s 30th president.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1992 and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1998.

Since 2006, she has been Professor of Government and African American and African American Studies at Harvard. Since 2018, Gay has been the Edgerly Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Gay, now 52, ​​will take up the post in July. She will become only the second woman in school history to hold the title.

“Today we are in a moment of remarkable and accelerating change—socially, politically, economically and technologically,” Gay said after her selection as Harvard’s president. “Many fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should interact with each other are being tested.”

“There is an urgent need for Harvard to engage with the world and bring bold, daring, innovative thinking to our greatest challenges,” she added.

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Britney Griner

WNBA star Brittney Griner made history this year, but not by breaking through the glass ceiling.

Instead, the Phoenix Mercury center was arrested and held captive in Russia for 10 months. Her arrest sparked difficult debates about race, sexuality and equal pay.

Griner was arrested in Russia for traveling with vape cartridges that allegedly contained less than a gram of hemp oil. She was considered a political prisoner and was only released after the Biden administration agreed to free the notorious arms dealer.

Questions about whether Griner would be mistreated because of her gender, race and sexuality were constant fears as her advocates lobbied the Biden administration to secure her freedom.

The saga also raised questions about equality, as Griner was in Russia to earn extra income as a professional basketball player. WNBA salaries are under $500,000 — much less than NBA salaries. The league average salary is much less, just over $100,000, according to NBC News.

Many black women felt a sense of kinship with Griner, and across the country they united to secure Griner’s freedom. Black women’s groups sent letters demanding that Biden deal with the freedom of Americans who voted for him in 2020 and to show that he truly prioritizes the demographic that helped him win the White House.

Since her return, Griner and her wife, Cheryl Griner, have become advocates for other illegally detained people in Moscow and encouraged their fans and supporters to join the defense. Both have expressed support for the freedom of Americans like Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who remains imprisoned in Russia.

“There are still too many families who have loved ones wrongfully detained,” Brittney Griner wrote in a letter posted on her Instagram site. “These families stood with you and everyone who supported the WeAreBG campaign to bring me home and it’s our turn to support them. I hope you will join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continue to advocate for the rescue and return of other Americans to their families.

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