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The powerful story behind this historic photo of black women set to graduate from West Point

May 23, 2019 at 11:45 am | Women

Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei | Contributor

May 23, 2019 at 11:45 am | Women

History in the making: 32 African American females will be with the Class of 2019, the most in the United States Military Academy's history. (US Army photo by Cadet Hallie H. Pound)

The United States Military Academy in New York, also known as West Point, will make history on Saturday when it graduates its largest number of African American women in the history of the school.

They are just 34 out of the over 950 cadets graduating, but this is a historic moment because the prestigious military academy has never had more than twenty black women graduating since it was established in 1802.

Ahead of the graduation, the African American women cadets posed for a powerful picture which grasped the attention of the world to the historic story of West Point’s Class of 2019.

“My hope when young Black girls see these photos is that they understand that regardless of what life presents you, you have the ability and fortitude to be a force to be reckoned with,” cadet Tiffany Welch-Baker told the website Because of Them We Can.

This is the second time an iconic photo of graduating black women from West Point has gone viral. In 2016, 16 cadets took a photo with their fists raised creating a lot of controversies which died down after the military academy decided not to take action because they did not violate the army’s rules on political expression.

The academy is noted to have graduated its first class of women in 1980. This will be the 5000th class of women graduating since its establishment. Until now, there hasn’t been any major improvement in the number of undergraduate women as well as black women in the academy.

In this decade of equality and diversity, West Point also joined the bandwagon and in 2014, created an office of diversity to offer equal opportunities to Americans of different races and gender.

The academy, which graduated its first African American cadets in 1877, selected Simone Askew in 2017 to be the first ever black woman to serve as cadet commander. In 2018, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams was appointed as the academy’s first black superintendent, CNN reported.

With the diversity in place, only 10% of undergraduate students are black and 20% of the cadets are women, the school estimates.

Besides this year having the highest number of black woman graduating, it will also have the highest number of female Hispanic graduates.

“Last year’s graduating class had 27… And the expectation is next year’s class will be even larger than this year’s,” said West Point spokesman Frank Demaro.

Vice President Mike Pence is expected to attend the graduation ceremony on Saturday to witness the commissioning of the cadets as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.

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