The moment of the announcement was this tremendous relief and release, very similar to the moment when I became a grandmaster myself. It was finally done and now you can move forward, now you can move on.
Bennett-Haron, 47, became the first black female jurist in Nevada's court system in 2002. She grew up in Las Vegas and worked as a federal public defender and for the Las Vegas Housing Authority.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, January 22, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Black pioneers: An article in Monday's Section A about firsts achieved by African Americans said James T. Reynolds was the first black superintendent of Death Valley National Monument. Although his appointment occurred when Death Valley's status was as a monument, during his tenure it became Death Valley National Park.
Las Vegas in particular has always had that reputation of being the Mississippi of the West. There are some who are going to tell you that it no longer has that reputation. I'm not so certain about that. You're reminded regularly there's a double standard. There's no question about it.
How did it impact me? I think it probably made me better, quite frankly, especially as a young lawyer. There was concern expressed by members of the county commission after my appointment that the selection process needed to be revamped. [I was] being scrutinized at a level that I don't think other people have been.
I'm not real big on "firsts." I think it's sad: "2002, first black female in the state judiciary." That's a sad commentary.
I'd like to see less focus on the first and more focus on more diversity. Sometimes I think people tend to see one person of color in a position and say, "OK, job done, we've got diversity achieved."
Santa Monica High School principal
In 1993, Rousseau became the first black and first female principal of Santa Monica High School, where she reduced the dropout rate, helped raise test scores and increased the college entrance rate for blacks and Latinos. She is now a professor in USC's Rossier School of Education.
I come from a family of firsts. At the University of Cincinnati, an uncle was the first African American to graduate from the school of pharmacy, and an aunt was the first African American to head a local branch of the library. It's like that African proverb: We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.
I think Obama has an edge that many of us don't have. He has not inherited the slave experience. Those of us whose ancestors were part of the whole slave institution, we have built a resilience. But we also carry a baggage. It's as if he didn't get the memo: that I am inferior, as some people portray African Americans.
Our struggle has been external and internal. It's impossible to come through some of the experiences our people have had without having an effect on who we see ourselves to be.
I was reared in a home where my father would say to us, "You are one of the more fortunate ones." And when I went to college, he said, "I am not sending you off to become an educated fool. Your role is to serve those who are not as fortunate as you." I was always conscious that my being in a certain position is an opportunity to make it easier and to give access to those who don't have it.
I felt in many instances, even by well-meaning people, that I was being tested: Is she really as smart as she might appear to be? There was always a sense in which I felt I was having to prove something about myself.
Pasadena Water and Power
In 30 years with the city of Los Angeles, Currie held various jobs, including chief financial officer for the Department of Water and Power. Currie, 61, is now general manager of the Pasadena Water and Power Department, the first black woman to run the agency.
Looking back, I've come to think that perseverance can be more valuable than sheer brilliance. People who don't give up learn to lead, and succeed, in small steps. One after another.
When I was growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, the mantra repeated by my parents, grandmother and church members was this: "Get educated and be prepared."
Today, it's a message I convey to staffers when we go before the City Council with a proposal that gets shot down, and to Girl Scouts launching a new project, and everyone else.
Racism? It's always taken a back seat. Oh sure, there were racist attitudes manifested by some teachers who had low expectations of black students.
But I graduated from Manual Arts High School, where I was privileged to have had Mr. Gann as an English teacher. I don't know where he is today, but he will always be my hero.
On the first day of class, he said, "Students, when you finish this course, you will be able to pass the English placement exam for freshmen at UCLA, and you will not take dumbbell English."
It worked! I did that. And I earned a master's degree in business administration at UCLA. There weren't many black students there at the time.
I went on to become the first African American in many different positions. I still get phone calls or e-mails from people congratulating me for being the African American this or that.
"We're proud of you," they say. But I don't think too much about that. Being first is not as important as just doing a good job.
This story was reported by Times staff writers Robin Abcarian, Erika Hayasaki, Ashley Powers, Louis Sahagun and David Zucchino.