Black Americans Shaping a New America

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By Cheyanne M. Daniels

Madeline Monroe/Greg Nash/Associated Press-Julio Cortez

Madeline Monroe/Greg Nash/Associated Press-Julio Cortez

A story at a glance

  • Several black Americans made history by breaking glass ceilings in 2022.

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

  • Britney Greiner made history of a different kind 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 those candidates were the first black Americans elected to their offices.

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

Karine Jean-Pierre

Karine Jean-Pierre, who was appointed White House press secretary in May, broke two glass ceilings. Not only is she the first black woman to hold this position, she is also the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the title.

“You can’t understand how big this is, how important it is to so many people of color who are working so hard in communications to see a black LGBTQ woman representing the president of the United States on stage,” Democratic strategist Rodel Molyneux told The Hill in May.

Jean-Pierre previously worked on President Biden’s campaign and served as chief of staff to then-Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris. He was a spokesperson for the progressive social justice organization MoveOn and an MSNBC host.

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

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

Jackson was sworn in as the nation’s first black female 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 — with Insider reporting that the new justice spoke just 11,000 words in the first eight oral arguments, more than any other justice. He cast his first vote as a justice in July and issued his first written opinion, a dissent, in November.

Wes Moore

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

An Army veteran, best-selling author and former CEO of the nation’s largest anti-poverty organization, Moore defeated 10 other candidates in the Democratic primary in July.

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

Moore, who is a husband and father of two children, will take office as Aruna Miller’s lieutenant governor on January 18. Miller was the first Asian American and the first immigrant elected lieutenant governor of Maryland.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries

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

Jeffries as leader of House Democrats Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 82, succeeded him. It’s not just a cultural shift but a generational shift for House Democrats, as Jeffries is 52 years old.

“Together, this new generation of leaders will reflect the vitality and diversity of our great nation — and they will reinvigorate our congregation with their new energy, ideas and perspectives,” Pelosi said after Jeffries’ election.

His selection was applauded by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who endorsed Jeffries in late November in a tweet highlighting his accomplishments over the past five congressional sessions.

Jeffries has a history of supporting social and economic justice legislation, including policing and tackling racial injustice.

Representative-elect Maxwell Frost

In November, Representative-elect Maxwell Frost became the first Generation Z candidate to win election to the House.

Just 25 years old, Frost, an Afro-Latino progressive, was Rep. She won the Florida district vacated by Val Demings (D).

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Although not yet officially sworn in, Frost has already made headlines. He is now the first member of Gen Z in the House, but he is also the first Afro-Cuban member of Congress.

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

These issues form the backbone of his political platform. He spent the summer following the killing of George Floyd protesting police brutality, using his social media to speak out about housing inequalities and constantly promoting universal health care.

“Our generation has been through some of the modern challenges that our country is going through, yet we are not represented 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 ideas of every member of Gen Z,” he said. “We’re like any generation…so many different ideologies and everything like that. But I think I represent our life experience holistically 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 elected the Ivy League school’s 30th president.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay graduated from Stanford University in 1992 and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1998.

He has been a professor of government and African and African American studies at Harvard since 2006. Since 2018, Gay has served as the Edgerly Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Now 52, ​​Gay will take over in July. She will become the second woman in school history to hold the award.

“Today, we are at a moment of significant and accelerating change – socially, politically, economically and technologically,” Gay said after being elected Harvard president. “Many fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should relate to each other are being tested.”

“Harvard urgently needs to engage with the world and bring bold, brave, pioneering thinking to our grand challenges,” he said.

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Britney Greiner

WNBA star Brittney Griner made history this year despite not breaking the glass ceiling.

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

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

Questions about whether Greiner would be treated poorly because of her gender, race and sexuality were persistent fears, and her lawyers lobbied the Biden administration to secure her freedom.

The adventure raised questions about equity because Griner was in Russia to earn extra income as a pro basketball player. WNBA salaries max out at $500,000 – less than NBA salaries. The league average salary is much lower — just over $100,000, per NBC News.

Many black women felt a sense of kinship to Griner, and across the country they banded together to secure Griner’s freedom. Black women’s groups have sent letters urging Biden to talk about the freedoms of Americans who voted for him in 2020 — and to show that he truly prioritizes the demographic concerns that helped him win the White House.

Since his return, Griner and his wife, Cherelle Griner, have become advocates for others wrongly detained by Moscow and have encouraged their own fans and supporters to join in this advocacy. Both have supported securing the freedom of Americans such as former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is still being held in Russia.

“There are too many families left who have had loved ones wrongly incarcerated,” Brittney Greiner wrote in a letter posted to her Instagram. “Those families stand with you and all who supported the WeAreBG campaign to bring me home, and it’s our turn to support them. I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continue to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.

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