History of New Mexico Office of African American Affairs
The New Mexico Office of African American Affairs (OAAA) was enacted by the 44th New Mexico State Legislature in 1999 under House Bill 909, and established by Executive Order under the administration of Governor Gary Johnson. Although the official operation of OAAA started with State Legislation, the heart of OAAA lies with the many New Mexico residents statewide who felt that there was a need to address issues specific to the African American community. The creation of OAAA was designed by community leaders who focused on the need to improve and promote the economic development, education, health and political well-being of the African-American community throughout New Mexico. Through efforts that included advocacy, information sharing, cultural awareness, community networking, and influencing legislation, this group of dedicated citizens went to work on establishing a venue that would allow for the support of African Americans throughout New Mexico. Alice Faye Hoppes initiated the request to institute the Office of African American Affairs. Hoppes, at the time President of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), led the community’s action to define the need for the office to be recognized by the State’s political entities.
The approach African American leadership took in 1997, was to recommend a Memorial Legislation to the Legislature, asking them to assign the Department of Cultural Affairs to do a statewide study on the needs of African Americans. The results of that study, completed in 1998, revealed that there were essential areas of need to be addressed in the African- American community - young people and children, affordable housing and unemployment, and the high disproportionate numbers of African Americans in the prison system.
When the House Bill to institute the office was originally introduced, the governor vetoed it, according to Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton (who supported the Bill), during the first African American Day at the Legislature. Hoppes, who co-organized this day, shared with lawmakers, “Only by illuminating the history of African Americans can we eradicate the myths and distortions responsible for problems in communications that still exist”.
With the support of Representatives Stapleton and Eddie Corley Jr, Hoppes and some 15 individual leaders throughout New Mexcio, crafted the language for the House Bill. African American Day at the Legislature was strategically used to mark the beginning of an action plan to meet with Legislators and over 100 African Americans statewide convened at the Round House to show community support. On April 5, 1999, Governor Gary Johnson signed legislation, officially creating the Office of African American Affairs, which included a $100,000 appropriation for the office and none designated for salaries.
Lou Gallegos the then Governor’s Chief of Staff, assigned one full-time position, Sylvester ‘Butch’ Brown, who was on loan from the Children Youth and Families Department, as Director, along with one half-time position, Doris Fields, who was on loan through the Department of Health, as Deputy Director. The newly formed Office of African American Affairs received aide from an office assistant provided through the DHS Welfare, and also a Kelly Temporary Services contract. Sylvester ‘Butch’ Brown helped to create the foundation for the services which the Office would be responsible for providing. In describing his initial experiences Brown says that he believed that the Office needed additional resources to effectively carry out the charge of House Bill 909.
Brown’s initial focus was to work with other agencies within the State to included the services necessary for the Office show success in the agency’s beginning years of service”. Some accomplishments during Brown’s two-year tenure are the implementation of eight Black town hall meetings throughout the state, the New Mexico Renaissance, a cabaret performance highlighting the contribution of African Americans in arts and sciences. When Governor Bill Richardson took office in 2002, Brown was replaced as Director, and returned to his duties at the Children Youth and Families Department. Under Richardson’s administration, the position of Director was allocated funding and made a Governor-appointed position.
In 2002, Governor Richardson appointed Alice Faye Kent Hoppes as Director of the Office of African American Affairs, with budget of $250,000. Hoppes was well aware that the plans for services the office would provide required far more resources. She was able to increase the budget of the office through her ability to create support from other agencies within the State.
According to many, she was very good at making the right connections to extend the reach of the Office for beyond its allocated resources. Hoppes’ major focus was issues relating to children and families, and strengthening African-American communities.
Although Hoppes did not live to see the outcome of her efforts, she dared to dream beyond what could be seen and she set the stage for others to follow the work she had begun. Because of her Civil Rights service, her body was reposed in the Capitol Rotunda for the public to pay their respects, an honor that is normally reserved only for elected officials of the State of New Mexico. Doris Fields was appointed Interim Director to replace Alice Hoppes. Fields performed a very essential task of maintaining the OAAA’s stability until Dr. Harold Bailey was appointed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in 2004.
Doris Fields was appointed Interim Director to replace Alice Hoppes. Fields performed a very essential task of maintaining the OAAA’s stability until Dr. Harold Bailey was appointed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in 2004. Dr. Bailey came into the office with the intent to build upon the foundation of the office. He focused on broadening the outreach of services and program contracts. Dr. Bailey pointed to the fact that he was surrounded by exceptional workers during his administration, who worked with him to expand the successes that had preceded him. Bailey implemented several new initiativesfor the office, highlight events include the New Mexico Black Expo, and the African American Outstanding Awards Banquet. Also under his directions several African American focused publications for the State of New Mexico were archived. He was instrumental in the placement of the monuments commemorating the services of the New Mexico Buffalo Soldiers, and the Tuskegee Airmen. Bailey states, “I think that we did a lot, but I had more time than everyone else. It’s a collection of good people who are just committed to making sure that the Black experience in New Mexico is carried forward.”
At the time Dr. Bailey retired, he had secured a budget of $681,000. Dr. Bailey identified the initial efforts of Representative Eddie Corley Jr,, and the follow up of Representatives Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Kiki Saavedra, as champions for making sure the agency continued to receive appropriations.
In February 2012, Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Yvette Kaufman-Bell as Director of the Office of African American Affairs. Kaufman-Bell shared, “My number one goal was to make sure to carry forward the successful strategies of the Directors who came before me and to make sure that we are maximizing the capacity of services and programs provided by the Office.”
In September 2012, Kaufman-Bell organized a New Mexico African American Leadership Summit which was made possible due to the overwhelming participation of 120 leaders from eight counties, three state departments, and 15 funding partners. According to Kaufman- Bell, “I wanted our communities to see a 142-page report generated for me to show the state of African American’s in New Mexico, county by county, which gives an idea of how we far when measured to other communities of color dealing with some of the same disparities.”
Kaufman-Bell and her staff have worked with three implementation teams, created as a result of the 2012 Statewide Leadership Summit. The three teams focus on implementing recommendations made by summit participants to improve the quality of life for African Americans in the areas of healthcare advocacy, economic empowerment, and education advancement. Each volunteer team serves and works very hard to develop programmatic and partnership initiatives across the state.
“The education team has taken an in-depth look at the school-to-prison pipeline and are pushing forward discussions throughout the state related to how to make positive changes in the outcomes of the consequences our youth face in schools that push them into the juvenile justice system for minor infractions. African American history lesson plans for teachers have been implemented in over 79 classrooms in the state. The education team has also piloted a six week summer literacy enrichment program which improved reading awareness and excitement of 60 children in 2013. Summer of 2014, the literacy enrichment program will grow to four sites statewide. The economic team is working to develop an ongoing interactive partnership with Black-owned businesses and professionals throughout the state to offer resources which promote visibility and development opportunities. The health team has worked as a group of 20 health focused organizations and departments to develop an Affordable Care Act informational DVD, and trainings and health fairs held through-out the state. With the help of Representative Jane Powdrell-Culbert and Senator Gay Kernon, House Bill 112 was amended to insure data desegregated in New Mexico’s public school system reflected the federal standards, which includes African American and children in low income households.”
Future major projects the agency is partnering with community volunteers and stakeholders to celebrate the agency’s 15 years of service are; County Black Expos, County Town Halls, Senate Bill 69: African American Infant Mortality Pilot, Community Health and Well Being Challenge, Statewide Youth Summit, formation of a Youth Council, Tuskegee Airmen Monument Dedication, Heart Gallery Dedication (spotlighting African American children in the foster care system), building upon the New Mexico Black Expo to increase participation, visibility of the African/African American culture, and resources for the community (August 29-30, 2014 at the Albuquerque Civic Plaza). Under Kaufman-Bell’s administration the legislative appropriation for the agency has increased to $757,000 for fiscal year 2015.
African Americans in the state of New Mexico have benefited greatly from the creation of OAAA. The agency is an invaluable resource that works to diminish disparity in health, economics and education in partnerships with supports, collaborates, while celebrating African American history and legacy in the state. The services and programs provided through OAAA have served to strengthen the quality of life for African American families. It has been through the quality leadership of the agency that each administration has been able to move closer to the original goal for its creation which lies within the vision: To study, identify, and provide solutions to issues of concern relevant to the African American community.
Office of African American Affairs (OAAA) logo came into existence after permission for use of the Zia symbol was sought and granted by members of the Zia Pueblo. The Zia believe that the symbol represents great brotherhood of all things and that mankind has four sacred obligations: to develop a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of their people.
Inside the Zia symbol is one type of the African Kente cloth. Cloths come in various colors, sizes and designs and are worn during very important social and religious occasions. In a total cultural context, Kente is more important than just a cloth. It is a visual representation of history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, moral values, social code of conduct, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles. The Kente cloth is also regarded as a symbol of social prestige, nobility and a sense of cultural sophistication.
Therefore, by merging both symbols together, the OAAA logo represents the tapestry of multi-cultural blending which defines New Mexico.