2023 Year in Review: The Best and Worst of Times

by Hiram Jackson

Retrospectives of the preceding year are not simply a recap. They are, in many ways, a forecast for what’s to come. If we don’t take the time to reflect on what’s gone before, we’re more likely to make the same mistakes and less able to apply what we’ve learned going forward — case in point, the strange case(s) of Donald Trump.

Trump is the story that keeps giving. The former president, the only president in the nation’s history to be indicted on federal charges, faces a litany of criminal charges after being impeached twice. The fact that he remains a frontrunner in the 2024 election and is still a Republican party favorite is a national tragedy.

But the upside: three Black women law officials — New York Attorney General Letitia James, Atlanta-based District Attorney Fani Willis, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan — continue to hold his feet to the fire for crimes ranging from fraud and sexual harassment to election tampering and inciting a riot.

That these three Black women are in a position to hold and preside over such high-profile cases underscores this nation’s progress on the judicial front and moves the jurisprudence system closer to the promise: “No one is above the law.”

Two Black quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts, faced off against each other in the Super Bowl, while 14 Black quarterbacks started for NFL teams during the 2023 season. Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. after 10 months of imprisonment in Russia, and Damar Hamlin returned from a near-death experience on the gridiron.

Black entrepreneurs are emerging in spaces once considered the domain of the ethnically privileged, and initiatives to increase access to quality education for underserved communities are working. Arian Simone, co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Fearless Fund, made major waves in the venture capital space where only 3% of investors are Black. Morgan DeBaun, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Blavity, continues to expand the the media company’s reach, popularity, and size.

The Bruce family’s descendants sold oceanfront property that was stolen through a Jim Crow application of eminent domain in 1912. They won the property back in 2002, and in 2023, they sold it back to Los Angeles County for $20 million.

And although local and national calls for reparations have yet to produce a national policy to compensate for slavery, a Black woman in Denver, Colorado, who worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for $30,000, sued her employer for underpayment and was awarded a judgment of $830,737.68, plus attorney’s fees that are estimated to be about $250,000.

Hakeem Jeffries became the U.S. House of Representatives Minority leader and made history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress, and two Black lawmakers, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson of Tennessee, were reinstated to the state legislature after expulsion when they called for gun reform in the wake of the Nashville school shooting.

Cherelle Parker became the first woman mayor of Philadelphia, and artificial intelligence caused a Hollywood shutdown.

A lot happened this year, and many of the key actors in the events that made history in the past 12 months will bring much of what they started in 2023 into 2024. But the best way to close out this year and every year is to take what we learned over the preceding months, including the impact that the year’s events have had on our individual lives and communities, and be vigilant but hopeful about our futures.

Although we don’t expect the 2024 presidential election to be as fraught with false claims of fraud, we know that at least one candidate for the office will continue to disrupt the political process with lies and insidious inventions. But since past behavior is a predictor of future behavior, expect an eventful ride in 2024.

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