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How the Black Diamonds pay it forward in New Mexico and the soccer community

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/28/24, 9:25AM EST


Having leant on others in creating their formation, supporters group is making an impact in the stands and away from the stadium

The Black Diamonds have quickly grown as part of New Mexico United's supporters community since their foundation, hosting events beyond gameday to bring fans together. | Photo courtesy New Mexico United

As Chris Walker tells it, if you’re going to take something on, the most important thing is to start.

A longtime soccer fan, Walker was among the early adopters of New Mexico United when the club launched in the 2019 USL Championship season. He was a member of The Curse, which has provided a raucous atmosphere at the club’s home games since its inaugural campaign.

But, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against systemic racism that occurred during the summer of 2020, Walker felt he must do something different that could become part of United’s fan ecosystem.

“I felt charged to create a group that had some representation to do with it,” said Walker. “I had gotten familiar with supporter groups. I was a member of The Curse at the time, and I know that The Curse obviously had particular stances that they stood behind. So, I understood that community aspect of a supporters’ group.

“At the time I was really looking for a group that represented in the stands – considering that there were black players on the team, and I knew there were very few black fans in the stands at the time – so the thought was to have a group that really kind of aligned with some of the things that were heightened causes, if you will, in the black community.”

New Mexico United’s roster has consistently been a melting pot of talent. In the club’s inaugural season, Jamaican forward Kevaughn Frater was its leading goalscorer with 14 goals, a mark that remains as United’s single-season high. Recently retired defender Austin Yearwood made more than 100 appearances for the club, while the likes of Saaliah Muhammed and Rashid Tetteh were fan favorites.

Muhammed, in fact, provided encouragement and inspiration for Walker’s idea, bringing his own background in civics and activism to the fore. 

“I knew that he understood the importance of a group like that,” said Walker. “Between he and I inspiring each other, a group like this could come about. When he left the team to join Oakland [in 2021], he pretty much told me like, ‘Hey, you don't really need anyone's permission to create this group, or anyone cosigning. Just create it because you believe it’s important.’

“That was basically the very beginnings of Black Diamonds.”

Former New Mexico United midfielder Saalih Muhammed encouraged the formation of the Black Diamonds during his time with the club. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United

Muhammed wasn’t the only key figure in Black Diamonds’ foundation. As he took his initial steps forward, insights from those that had paved the way proved fundamental to what the group would become.

Walker points toward the influence of Featherstone Flamingos at USL League One club Forward Madison FC and co-founders April Kigeya, Chris Fox and Kyle Carr in his pathway. Groups like Footie Mob at Atlanta United FC and Black Fires, which backs both Chicago Fire FC and the Chicago Red Stars, also proved influential.

There were also the lessons that Walker learned himself as the group began to grow. As its presence began to take shape in the stands, interest rose in what the Black Diamonds – at that point a free-to-join group – were doing. At its peak, Walker estimates there would be almost 150 fans in the club’s section, not as great a number as The Curse, but influential in its own way.

As the group found its footing, Walker’s aim for the group to give back to its community accelerated. In 2022 it began organizing community soccer clinics in the International District in southeast Albuquerque. Arguably the most underserved community in New Mexico, the Black Diamonds’ first clinic drew about 120 kids – about one-third of which were walk-ups on the day of the clinic. The group continues to work in the area, both hosting soccer clinics and in community activism.

SInce the group's formation, Black Diamonds has endeavored to give back to underserved communites in Albuquerque through soccer and other social initiatives. | Photo courtesy New Mexico United

“A lot of kids there got to touch a soccer ball for the first time,” said Walker. “We continue to bring clinics there. We’ve done back-to-school drives there. We really have taken those families on as families that we're looking to serve.”

New Mexico United and its players have been involved in the Black Diamonds’ initiatives, and as the group has moved to a suggested donation model for its membership, which currently stands at around 70 members, to help fund its programming. The club has also designated its July 20 game against Birmingham Legion FC as Celebrating Black Excellence Night – Walker says there’s a special-edition jersey the group is working on for the game with a Nigerian designer based in Lagos – while Walker and Black Diamonds have continued to find new ways to bring new people on board to their mission.

One of those was the group setting up Watch Parties over the past month for fans to enjoy the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. The events were promoted by New Mexico United and drew notable crowds within the United community and beyond. One of those was local women’s group Cultivating the Culture, which had members attend AFCON watch parties, which opened new doors for potential connections.

After the success of the watch parties, Black Diamonds has begun organizing Family Dinners that tap into African culture and food, allowing the group to remain connected beyond matchday.

Broadening Black Diamonds’ network has also seen it give back to other new groups that are starting to form in other cities, including a new LA Galaxy supporters group that reached out to Walker as it was planning its formation. For Walker, it’s a virtuous cycle that allows more people to connect, creating a network of support not just in the Albuquerque community but around the soccer community in North America.

“I think that what anyone needs to realize, who’s going to have a group like this, is just know if there’s a reason for it, if there’s something in your heart that’s calling you to it, that you should just go ahead and do it,” said Walker. “Seek out other people who've done groups like this. Obviously, I’m someone who’ll talk to other folks who are doing groups like this, whether it’s a black culture group or whether it’s a different ethnicity or nationality. I think that’s the thing, to seek out people who are doing it.

“I don't think there's any right or wrong way to do it, honestly. I think you just have to stick to it and be consistent.”

As the Black Diamonds have taken off and taken their place in New Mexico’s broader fanbase, Walker is proud of the impact the group has made and the message it can send throughout the club.

“Ultimately, it makes me feel great, because initially, in the idea of putting it out there, people were like, ‘I don't know if this is a good idea. This is going to be divisive,’” said Walker. “I said, ‘no, I think it’s OK to celebrate one’s heritage, and I think we should celebrate many heritages and many cultures.’ No, we don't look the same. So therefore, we should celebrate our differences while being united.

“That was one of the messages we had through one of our scarves last year, ‘United in Diversity.’”

At a club which at its heart is about uniting a state, the Black Diamonds continue to shine.

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