Celebrating Black History Month 2021

This February, the NC Department of Administration celebrates Black History Month by highlighting a few of our state and nation’s “Firsts” – A spotlight on African Americans serving as “firsts” in their professions, service appointments, and artistry. Featured profiles serve as beacons of courage who are leading the way, charting new paths, proudly representing the African American community – and inspiring people everywhere. If there is an African American first that you would like to see featured on the DOA website and across social media, send an email to communications@doa.nc.gov

Gen. Lloyd Austin, III | A retired four-star general who served more than four decades in the U.S. Army, Gen. Lloyd Austin will serve as the first African American defense secretary in U.S. history, having been appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021. On his appointment: “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position. Let’s get to work.”

Cheri Beasley | Appointed in 2019 by Governor Roy Cooper, Cheri Beasley was the first Black woman ever to serve as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and served from 2019 to 2021. On the role of courts in racial justice after George Floyd demonstrations: “These protests are a resounding, national chorus of voices whose lived experiences reinforce the notion that Black people are ostracized, cast out, and dehumanized…we must do better, we must be better.”

Simone Biles | Considered one of the best athletes in the nation, Simone Biles became the first female U.S. gymnast in 2016 to win four gold medals in a single Olympic Games and the first to win three consecutive world all-around titles (2013-15). In 2018, at the U.S. national championships, Biles became the first female gymnast in nearly 25 years to win all five events. On her advice to others: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it just matters where you go with it.”

Ralph Campbell Jr. | Elected in 1992 as North Carolina’s State Auditor, Ralph Campbell Jr. was the first African American elected to a statewide political office, serving from 1993 to 2005. On why he decided to run for an elected office: “Aside from pushing for change, you had to be involved in the social process. The people who changed the laws were those who got elected to office.”

Paula Dance | Sheriff Paula Dance made history in 2018 when she became Pitt County’s first African American sheriff and the first African American female sheriff in North Carolina. On why she wanted to become a sheriff: “I didn’t run to be the first African American female sheriff. I ran because I wanted to be sheriff of Pitt County. I want to serve the community I love and help move it in the right direction.”

Katie G. Dorsett | A setter of many records in public service, Katie G. Dorsett was the first African American woman to hold a State Cabinet post, appointed by former NC Governor Jim Hunt to serve as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Administration from 1993 to 2001. Dorsett also was the first African American woman elected to the Greensboro City Council where she served from 1983 to 1986. During an interview in 1990, Dorsett discussed race relations and progress made thus far: “…I believe if you go back and you look at how activity has taken place, every bit of progress in race relations has come with a great deal of strain and a great deal of effort.”

Marcia Fudge | Appointed by President Biden, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge will be the first African American woman in decades to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development once confirmed. Drawing from her 30+ years of public service and inspired by HUD’s first African American female leader, Patricia R. Harris under President Jimmy Carter, Fudge will tackle the looming economic crisis, addressing evictions and housing insecurity. Fudge was a former Congressional Black Caucus chair and first African American and female mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. On teaching Black History in schools: “The failure to teach all of America’s history perpetuates and exacerbates the myth that African Americans and others were mere bystanders in the exploration, development, growth and prosperity of our country. Too many don’t know the full complexity of American history and have been uninformed and misinformed about our contributions to this country.”

Amanda Gorman | Serving as America’s First U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, a young, 22-year-old African American woman from Los Angeles, inspired the nation with her recitation of “The Hill We Climb” during the 2021 presidential inauguration. On writing with responsibility amidst a pandemic and racial tensions: “I have to interweave my poetry with purpose. For me, that purpose is to help people, and to shed a light on issues that have far too long been in the darkness.”

Jaki Shelton Green | Appointed by Governor Roy Cooper in 2018 to serve as North Carolina’s ninth – and first African American – Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green, has been inspiring North Carolinians with her words ever since. Green is an award-winning poet and has been writing and teaching in the literary world for more than 40 years. On being an African American woman: “I’ve been ‘othered’…left out, not included. [My poetry] means a lot for so many who see themselves on the other side of certain margins, especially people of color. I honor their stories and voices and I want to create spaces where those voices are amplified. Because I’m foolish enough to believe transformation can happen, one poem at a time.”

Kamala Harris | Elected in November 2020, Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, first Black and first Asian-American Vice President of the United States of America. On being the first in many positions she’s served in: “…breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us.”

Kristi Jones | Appointed by Governor Roy Cooper in 2017, Kristi Jones is the first African American woman to serve as chief of staff for the Office of the Governor. On being part of Governor Cooper’s diverse leadership team: “I am proud to serve under Governor Cooper’s leadership who requires his administration to reflect the people it serves and who understands that diversity makes us stronger.”

Barack Obama | Elected in November 2008, serving two consecutive terms, Barack Obama broke barriers as the first African American President of the United States of America. On hope and how it transpires in midst of challenges: “Hope—Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”

Michael S. Regan | Having served as North Carolina’s second African American Department of Environmental Quality secretary since Howard Lee, Michael Regan will become the first African American U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator in our history once confirmed. Appointed by President Joe Biden, Michael Regan is ready for the challenge. On leading the EPA: “Climate change is the most significant challenge humanity faces. We’ll make meaningful progress together by listening to every voice — from our youth & frontline communities to scientists & our workforce. I will be honored to be part of that work as EPA Administrator.”

Mark Robinson | Elected in November 2020, Mark Robinson will serve as North Carolina’s first Black Lieutenant Governor. On breaking barriers and sharing his personal story: "Young people from across the board that come from all types of disadvantaged situations, they are going to say if that guy can make it, I can make it as well."

Machelle Sanders | Appointed by Governor Roy Cooper in 2021, Machelle Sanders is the first African American to serve as Secretary for the North Carolina Department of Commerce. On helping underserved populations: "Expanding workforce development initiatives is essential. Collaboration with economic development partners, community stakeholders, higher education networks and affinity groups will help to transform the enormous economic possibilities for rural areas and groups marginalized from enjoying in the promise of economic growth and prosperity."

Raphael Warnock | Rev. Raphael Warnock, a senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church – the spiritual home and place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached – was elected to U.S. Congress in a run-off special election in 2020-21. He became the first African American to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate. On becoming Georgia’s first African American US Senator: "...because this is America, the 82-year-old hands [of my mother] that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator."