UPDATED: 9:10 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022
Originally published: March 8, 2021
Celebrated each year on March 8, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to recognize the achievements and challenges overcome by women and girls around the world. This year’s theme is “#BreakTheBias,” a nod to the persistent scourge of gender discrimination.
Today we are highlighting three women who are breaking barriers and choosing to challenge inequity through their work and leadership.
The first Black woman to join the NFL as an official, Maia Chaka, an HBCU graduate, said she saw that moment as bigger than herself.
“I am honored to be selected as an NFL official,” said Chaka in an NFL official statement. “It is an accomplishment for all women, my community, and my culture.”
Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, president of Norfolk State University, called Chaka a trailblazer. “As I have learned more about Maia and her connection to NSU, her story should be one of inspiration for the entire Spartan community and for all women seeking careers in the sports entertainment industry,” said Adams-Gaston.
An alumna of Norfolk State University, Chaka developed her officiating skills at the collegiate level. She credits attending the HBCU with the representation she saw “on and off-campus” as motivating her to succeed. In addition to officiating, Maia served as a health and physical education teacher at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach.
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations called Chaka dedicated and hardworking, noting her participation in the NFL Officiating Development program. “As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Maia is a trailblazer as the first Black female official and inspires us toward normalizing women on the football field,” Troy Vincent, Sr. said in an official NFL communication.
Chaka is the second woman to serve as an official in the NFL.
Felecia M. Nave
Alcorn State University in 2021 inaugurated the school’s first woman president in its 150-year history. Dr. Felecia M. Nave is the historically Black college’s 20th president.
“I am privileged and honored to come home and serve my alma mater,” said Nave when her new role was first announced. “We are Alcorn. I am Alcorn, and I hope the students and the university community will see me as a daily reminder of what an Alcorn education can do.”
With more than 18 years of higher education experience, Nave previously served in university leadership at two other HBCUs, North Carolina Central University and Prairie View A&M University.
Nave graduated from Alcorn State in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She continued her educational training at the University of Toledo where she received a master’s degree in chemical and environmental engineering. Nave went on to complete a doctorate in engineering as well.
Home of another notable first, Alcorn State holds the distinction of being the first public historically Black land grant university in the country. In addition to the main campus in Lorman, Mississippi, the school also has campuses in Natchez and Vicksburg.
Leading a chapter of one of the country’s oldest civil rights organizations is no easy task, but for Mia Schultz taking over the organization is centered on advocacy and empowerment of marginalized people.
As president of the second-largest NAACP chapter in New England, Schultz is the second Black woman to lead the Rutland Area NAACP chapter. Founder Tabitha Moore decided not to seek re-election citing racist harassment.
Speaking with Vermont Public Radio in December, Schultz spoke about her commitment to continue conversations and explore policy considerations impacting equity and justice in her community.
Home to Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a patron of racial and social justice causes and organizations, and the self-proclaimed most progressive member of congress Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont is often seen as a bastion of progressive values.
Despite its liberal and progressive bonafides, the state leads the region in racist propaganda according to the Associated Press. But the state has also seen its share of racist attacks including targeted harassment of Black women leaders like the former state Rep. Kiah Morris and Lisa Ryan, the latter of whom is the first woman of color to serve on the Rutland city board.
Schultz relocated her family to Vermont six years ago. They previously lived in southern California. While she has thought about leaving Vermont she sees some change happening and continues to believe it’s the right place for her and her family.
“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived,” she said. “And I’m like, I need to enjoy this, too.”