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Black women continue to make history across industries

Getty Images/Dean Mouhtaropoulos

(NEW YORK) — Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, has the potential to make history as the first Black woman on the country’s highest court.

She was nominated by a historic White House, with the first female and Black vice president in U.S. history — Kamala Harris.

Black women have continued to “break the glass ceiling,” in politics, sports, the humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Despite this progress, there is still a long way to go to achieve racial and gender diversity.

Here are some of the women paving the way for generations to come:

Erin Jackson, first Black woman to win a medal in speed skating

Jackson, 29, won gold for the United States in the women’s 500-meter speed skating competition at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. She’s the first Black woman to ever medal in the sport.

Diversity in winter sports remains abysmal — Jackson is one of few Black athletes on Team USA for the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games.

When asked by “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts about the lack of diversity in the sport, Jackson said she hopes her achievement helps get “more people to come out and try” winter sports.

In an interview with Team USA, she said: “I hope I can be an example. I would love to see more people of color in all the winter sports. It helps to have some visibility out there, to be able to see other people like you doing something maybe you’d never thought about doing before.”

Jackson, who has been an inline roller skater since she was 10 years old, had only begun practicing speed skating in 2017. She qualified for her first Olympic team in 2018 within months of formally starting to train on the ice, according to Team USA.

Simone Leigh, first Black woman to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale is one of the most anticipated international art events and in 2022, Leigh will take the world stage to highlight her work made for and dedicated to Black women.

Leigh, born in Chicago, Illinois, is a multimedia artist who explores the experiences of Black femme-identifying people, often referencing African art and traditions of the African Diaspora, according to the Institute of Contemporary Art.

“Leigh’s unique sculptural work explores and elevates ideas about history, race, gender, labor, and monuments, creating and reclaiming powerful narratives of Black women,” the ICA said in the announcement of her participation.

For the Biennale, Leigh created “a series of new sculptures and installations that address what the artist calls an ‘incomplete archive’ of Black feminist thought, with works inspired by leading Black intellectuals,” the ICA said.

Her work will be on view from April 23 to Nov. 27, 2022, in Venice, Italy.

Clarice Phelps, first Black woman to help in the discovery of a periodic element

Phelps is a nuclear chemist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and in 2010 she played a key role in discovering and confirming Tennessine, a new element on the periodic table. But her groundbreaking work isn’t done — she’s also part of the international effort to discover elements 119 and 120.

Phelps, an advocate for diversity in STEM and youth outreach for the sciences, told ABC News that the discovery of Tennessine was one of the highlights of her career: “While my part may have been small in the entirety of the element discovery team, I think the impact of my presence was monumental for Black girls who don’t normally see themselves occupying spaces and disciplines like this.

“I would hope that the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc., do not have to find themselves alone amongst a sea of faces that do not reflect what they see in the mirror everyday,” she added. “I hope that working in this field allows others to see the valuable contributions that employing diversity yields and make adjustments to enact real change in their workplace environments.”

Jessica Watkins, first Black woman to live on the International Space Station

Watkins has become the first Black woman assigned to a mission at the International Space Station. She will orbit Earth as she conducts research in a microgravity laboratory as a mission specialist for the SpaceX Crew-4 mission.

Watkins, 33, earned a bachelor of science in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University, and a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She joined NASA as an intern and has since worked at various research centers before being selected in 2017 for NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Class.

This will be her first journey to space since becoming an astronaut. She’s officially fulfilling a dream she’s had since she was a young girl.

“A dream feels like a big faraway goal that’s going to be difficult to achieve or something you might achieve much later in life,” Watkins said in a video released by NASA last year. “But in reality, what a dream realized is just one putting one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. If you put enough of those footprints together, eventually they become a path towards your dreams.”

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