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Superintendent's News

Posted: February 10, 2023

Celebrating the Many Contributions of Black Americans

In his weekly message, Superintendent Scott Elder reflects on Black History Month

Black History Month logo

Black History Month logo

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

 When I think of Black history, I think about amazing people like Martin Luther King Jr., who fought tirelessly for civil rights. I think of Rodney King, George Floyd and now Tyre Nichols, Black men whose gut-wrenching stories taught us that we’ve got a lot further to go in our quest to live up to the founding principles of our nation, that all individuals are created equal and deserve equal protection under the law.

Black History Month is a good time to look at the vast accomplishments of African Americans and to understand that their history is America’s history.

Consider Mae C. Jemison, a doctor, engineer and NASA astronaut, who boarded the space shuttle Endeavor on Sept. 12, 1992, and became the first Black American female to travel into space. I was teaching at Highland High at the time and still remember how excited many of our students were to see her reach that milestone.

In honor of Black History Month, here are a few others who, through their hard work, grit and, of course, fate, made history.

Esteban de Dorantes, an enslaved African Moor, “was the first African-born person known by name to set foot in territories that became part of the United States,” according to the Oxford African American Studies Center. He learned the languages and culture of indigenous peoples and in 1539 became the first official representative of Spain to Native Americans in New Mexico.

Dorris Hamilton was the first Black woman to enroll at the University of Arkansas. She went on to become New Mexico’s first African American female school principal when she took the helm of Lynn Junior High in Las Cruces. A 2022 story in the Las Cruces Bulletin notes that she impacted the lives of more than 20,000 students and their families.

Shammara Henderson, a Valley High School graduate, became New Mexico’s first Black Court of Appeals judge in 2020. In a 2021 interview, Judge Henderson told the Albuquerque Journal that a significant influence in her life was Raymond Hamilton, the first Black civil division chief at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico. “He pushed me to work hard, to be open to all opportunities, and I knew he would always support me,” she told the reporter.

Each of these individuals worked hard to leave their mark. They, and countless others like them, are role models – not just for the Black community, but for all of us. I realize we are all busier than ever, but I encourage you to carve out some time to explore the rich history we celebrate this month.

And you can start this Sunday with the Super Bowl, when two African American quarterbacks – Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts – face off, another milestone. That historic game comes five days after LeBron James became the all-time leading scorer in the NBA with 38,388 points.

Have a great weekend!