Black History Month provides opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans and recognize the breadth and depth of their contributions to society.

Among those who have joined University of the Pacific for Black History Month this year are astronaut Sian Proctor and Major League Baseball player and manager Dusty Baker.

“Sian Proctor and Dusty Baker are examples of Black leaders who are making a positive impact on society,” said Mary Lomax-Ghirarduzzi ’89, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and professor of communication. “They are like many who are making impacts in such areas as science, art, government, athletics and more. We were honored to have both speak at Pacific.”

Sian Proctor: Gratitude to those who created opportunity

Proctor made history in 2021 when she became the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft. She was joined by Mera Burton, a former NASA education program manager, for a panel discussion before a near-capacity audience at Janet Leigh Theater on the Stockton Campus Feb. 10.

Prior to the discussion, the audience was treated to an advance screening of “The Space Race,” a National Geographic film that tells the inspirational life stories of Black astronauts including Ed Dwight, Guion Bluford and Charles Bolden, among many others. The documentary is now streaming on Hulu and Disney+.

The film delves into the association between space exploration and civil rights, focusing on the many challenges Black astronauts had to overcome.

“The film was extraordinary. The heroes of this film are people I have met before, but I never knew the whole story of the sacrifices they made to open doors for others,” Proctor said. “The documentary was touching and moving. I consider these trailblazers to be my family.”

As a civilian astronaut, Proctor said she experienced doubts and concerns in preparation for space travel.

“I flew on SpaceX and was part of an all-civilian crew,” the Arizona junior college geology professor said. “All four of us had never been astronauts and we came together as strangers during COVID. In my case, I won a contest to get the chance to travel in space. And now I very much want to open space for travel by regular people such as me.”

Students from primary grades to college were inspired by Proctor’s message.

“This event was phenomenal in so many ways,” said Molly Mobley ‘25, president of Pacific’s Black Student Union. “It is important for young Black students to listen to messages such as these so they can realize what is possible. They get the idea that ‘we can do it, too.’

“Opportunities come to us for a reason. I am a strong advocate, as someone from a family of educators, that the sciences and humanities should always be intertwined. This presentation has been a great example why that is the case.”

Dusty Baker: A legacy that transcends baseball

Baker was a standout outfielder for several Major League teams and managed the Houston Astros to the World Series title in 2022.

“I was a kid that dreamt of being something, and it wasn’t all my doing. I had some breaks along the way. I had some people that helped me,” Baker said. “I had an eighth-grade teacher that told me that I could do anything that I wanted to do if I put my mind to it. I never ever really forgot that.”

The Sacramento native joined the McGeorge School of Law on the Sacramento Campus for a celebration of his life and legacy Feb. 9. The event kicked off with an hour-long wine tasting for VIPs, where guests sampled Baker Family Wines, a West Sacramento winery owned by Baker.

He shared insights with a crowd of more than 150 people during a discussion moderated by McGeorge alumnus John Adams ’07.

Prior to his legal career, Adams was a sports reporter and sports editor for five years. The event was emceed by Khalil Ferguson ’25, a second-year law student and president of the Black Law Student Association.

“Hearing Dusty Baker offer nuggets of wisdom about leadership and determination helps us all see what is possible,” said Valerie D. James, McGeorge’s senior assistant dean of admissions, financial aid and diversity initiatives. “Baker is not only an icon but a wonderful man whose life story is one of family, service and leadership.

“His legacy transcends the lights of baseball and sports and includes business acumen, service to causes supporting the vulnerable and life strategies that encourage everyone to live authentically and boldly.”

See the calendar for other Black History Month events planned at Pacific.