As we continue into 2023, let’s look back at the last decade to celebrate some historical firsts for African-American women. Every year saw new advancements for Black women in America across various industries. While each woman’s achievements are one example of many, there is still a long way to go before decolonization, diversity, equity, and inclusion are seen in every industry. For corporate and entrepreneurial women, it is important we continue to support each other and create spaces where our voices are respected and heard equally.
Monika Washington Stoker
Stoker was the first African-American woman to take command of an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis navy missile destroyer. She led the U.S.S. Mitscher with a crew of 300. Originally from Greensboro, South Carolina, she graduated from the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in ocean engineering before entering into active duty.
Cheryl Bonne Isaacs
Isaacs became the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2013. Today she serves as the Founding Director of the Sidney Poitier New American Film School at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
She oversaw marketing campaigns for many famous movies like Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Austin Powers, The Wedding Singer, and more. While president of the AMPA, she helped remove restrictions on membership that allowed over 400 new members from diverse backgrounds to join. She also implemented A2020, a five-year plan to improve diverse representation and industry practices.
Stackhouse was the first African-American golfer assigned to the USA Curtis Cup team which won that year. The next year, she helped the Cardinals to victory for the National Championship. Then in 2016, she became the seventh African American woman to earn an LPGA Tour card. Currently, Stackhouse is an ambassador for the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf and a founding partner for the Renee Powell Clearview Legacy Foundation Benefit.
Paulette Brown became the first African-American women president of the American Bar Association in 2015. She earned her Bachelors from Howard University and her JD from Seton Hall. In many cases, she defends clients against discrimination and is a nationally recognized speaker on implicit bias. Brown worked for the last eight years as Partner and Chief Diversity Partner at Locke Lord LLP.
Dr. Carla Hayden
Dr. Hayden was the first African-American and the first woman to be the Librarian of Congress. She was appointed to the 10-year term position by President Obama. Previously, the position was a lifetime service, but in 2016 it was redesigned to 10 years with the possibility of reappointment. Hayden was also the first African-American to receive the Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year Award back in 1995.
Jenkins was the first openly transgender Black woman to be elected to a public office in 2017. She served Minneapolis’s 8th Ward on the City Council. Shortly after, she was also elected as the City Council’s Vice President. In 2020, the 8th Ward was where George Floyd was murdered.
Jenkins originally decided to abolish the police department due to his murder but reinstated it after a series of shootings. Today, she continues to serve Minneapolis as the City Council President.
Stewart was the first African-American to be elected as the President of the American Psychiatric Association. The year prior she had been awarded the James G. Hughes Community Advocate Award from the Memphis Child Advocacy Center for her work as the Director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth.
After her one-year term, she became the Senior Associate Dean for Community Health Engagement at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit organization that supports public aquarium and zoo efforts in conservation, education, and more. In 2019, Verret was the first African-American to be the director of the AZA. Today, she also directs the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Morris holds three firsts for the Iowa Writers Workshop, a creative writing MFA program with dozens of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award alumni. She was Iowa’s first tenured African-American Professor of Poetry, their first African-American women professor, and the Distinguished Visiting Poetry Professor. Then in 2021, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry.
The first full-time female African-American NFL coach is Jennifer King. She is the assistant running back coach for the Washington Commanders. Last year, she also was the running back coach for the West team in the 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl, an all-star college football benefit for the Shriners Hospital for Children.
Ketanji Brown Jackson
Jackson made history when she was confirmed and sworn in as the first African-American woman judge serving on the Supreme Court. She is also the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
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