New Mexico’s Black Diamonds in the Rough

“We are like diamonds in the rough.”

Last year, as Chris Walker began thinking about potential names for a Black-led supporter group in New Mexico, he first reflected on his own experiences as a soccer supporter in the U.S. 

“When I go to a soccer match, I may not see someone in the stands who looks like me for a while,” explained Chris. “It’s like being there but not always being accounted for.”

Knowing that he wasn’t alone in those experiences, Chris wanted to find a way to acknowledge that and capture Black excellence within the sport. He also wanted to pay homage to the New Mexico United team he loved so dearly. 

That’s when the idea of Black Diamonds arose. 

As Chris explained when we spent a few days together last fall, the name is a twist on the diamond shape found in the New Mexico United logo, which signifies the year the club was founded – 2018. 

Shared Chris, “We love the diamond in the shield, but as far as representing the group, we needed a new jewel. A Black excellence gem. That’s why I felt Black Diamonds was the perfect name to represent the group.”

The name was just the beginning though. 

From their logo and matchday songs, to local fundraisers and partnerships in the community, Chris and his fellow Black Diamonds leaders are steadfast in their approach to building a supporters group that celebrates and prioritizes Black culture. 

Black Diamonds supporters in New Mexico

For example, when developing Black Diamonds, New Mexico United had a few players on the team from Uganda and Ghana. Chris immediately saw that as an opportunity to strengthen the connection between the group, the club, and their African heritage. What resulted was the use of characters from the West African alphabet in the Black Diamonds crest. 

“I studied the characters and worked with players to learn how to pronounce the letters,” said Chris. “I really want to have that cross-cultural experience be part of Black Diamonds.”

Then, after working with fellow New Mexico United supporters on the initial design, the group enlisted the support of famed Black soccer ambassador and creator Greggo Jackson to mockup what would ultimately become the final Black Diamonds logo. 

“Any chance we get, we want to celebrate Black culture in soccer and here in New Mexico,” explained Chris.

For Chris and Black Diamonds, that means every detail is on the table, down to the lyrics and songs fans hear during matches.

Like most U.S. soccer stadiums across the country, the matchday songs at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque have a strong European and Latinx influence. But starting in 2022, Black Diamonds hopes to incorporate more Black culture into that matchday music and atmosphere. Drawing inspiration in everything from the lyrics of 90’s hip hop to Afro-Caribbean beats, Chris has been working on a new set of chants that can be added to the supporter section song sheet for the new season. 

Black Diamonds supporters in New Mexico

Outside Matchdays

With a goal not just to diversify the stands at Isotopes Park but to better the community, Black Diamonds set out to do more as soon as the group was announced. Months into the 2021 season, Black Diamonds launched a fundraising campaign in honor of Juneteenth. 

The group worked with local artist Warren Pemberton to design a t-shirt, aptly named “Elevate,” with proceeds going to create a free youth soccer program in New Mexico. The front of the shirt depicted the faces of New Mexico United’s Black players and coaches in a retro 90’s caricature-style design. 

When asked about the inspiration for the design, Chris said, “The shirt was a way for us to honor the history of New Mexico United while also showing little kids in the community that there are people who looked just like them playing at the professional level.”

At first, the campaign garnered strong local support but still fell short of its 150-shirt goal. Then Chris decided to spread the word more widely. After sharing the information with the broader soccer community and other national groups, contributions poured in. 

“It was wild to see how far the campaign went and how many people were supportive of our work,” shared Chris. 

By the end, sales were coming in from more than 30 different states, with people either purchasing shirts for themselves or sending money for Black Diamonds to donate shirts to local youth. 

“The positive feedback was overwhelming, and this fundraiser is just the beginning,” explained Chris. “With the funds we raised and our plans for the future, we will be able to create a more accessible and viable pathway for Black youth interested in pursuing soccer.”

And for Chris, that’s what Black Diamonds is all about.