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Chris Walker thought he had failed.
One of the first major fundraising projects for his supporters group, Black Diamonds, was falling well short of its goal. So he did what any good SG founder would do, he got creative and turned to the wider American supporter landscape for help. Thanks to a groundswell of support from across the country, Walker and Black Diamonds not only met, but exceeded their goal.
“It’s been highly emotional,” Walker said.
Walker is the co-founder Black Diamonds, a New Mexico United supporters group launched earlier this year, dedicated to promoting Black culture and diversifying NMU’s stands.
As one of the group’s first major activations, they came up with a ‘90s NBA caricature-style shirt, designed by Albuquerque-based artist Warren Pemberton, honoring all of the Black players and coaches who have represented New Mexico United in its three seasons.
“We felt like, ‘Hey, this is the third year, let’s do this project where we can essentially honor all of the contributions of the Black players and coaches that were on the team,” Walker said.
Once the club and the players being portrayed signed off on the idea, Walker got to work bringing it to life, and scheming on how to connect it to a larger community endeavor.
“We don’t have everything figured out or mapped out the way a lot of these groups now have it,” Walker said. “I was like, ‘Well we don’t have any budget for any merch, or to do anything charitable.’ It’s all coming out of our pockets. So I was like, ‘Let’s still make this shirt, because it’s still great art, and we don’t want the purpose to be lost.’ Through a lot of side conversations with other Black SGs around the country, especially Footie Mob in Atlanta, I started to realize that we could fund our goals a lot sooner with this project in mind. So we said we’ll take the funds from the shirt to create this free kids soccer program.”
“The purpose of the shirt is to honor our players, but it’s also to create local heroes for these youths that we’re trying to reach,” he said. “They can actually see that, not only do we want to expose you to this game, but there are actually guys that are in your backyard, local pros, that are playing this sport. So it became an ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ kind of message with the shirt. We were able to tie it all together.”
Walker set a goal of 150 shirt pre-orders, which would be enough to fund the entire soccer program, and was confident the local community would be up for the challenge. However, after a few weeks, whether it was due to burnout from several other fundraisers in the community or constant financial strain from the current economy, local orders fell well short of the goal.
The lack of turnout hit Walker hard.
“I definitely do remember a couple really heavy cries about this,” he said. “I knew it was an important cause, but we just weren’t seeing the support, it just wasn’t turning into anyone pre-ordering. I was just like, ‘Man, this project is going to fail. It’s just going to fail.’ I was trying everything I could creatively.”
But rather than sulk, Walker pivoted. Instead of going local, he went national.
“I was like, ‘I need to call an audible here. I need to reach out to all supporters groups, because there has to be people across the nation that want to support it,’” he said.
Walker sent out a tweet from the Black Diamonds Twitter account asking for help from the wider SG community. People would have the option of receiving a shirt, or donating one to a participant in the program. The tweet was shared by several supporters groups around the country, and after a few days, orders and donations started rolling in.
“All of a sudden, it all just really started coming in,” he said. “I'm hearing from people who are like, ‘This shirt was in my subreddit, this shirt was on my Seattle Sounders board.’ It's traveled so much and people are seeing it. It really showed me how supporters really lean in on things that are cause-worthy, and that everyone can see past the club crest to help out another supporter group. That’s been huge.”
The shirt hit 150 pre-orders last Monday, with more still coming in. In total, supporters from 26 states and D.C. contributed to the cause.
We spoke before the group officially met its goal, but Walker was anticipating the moment.
“It’s going to feel so amazing to have looked adversity in the face, and to have really seen that, outside of the rivalries that we have in place, that we’re all allies,” he said.
“Seeing so many supporters groups lean in was just something super beautiful because it was like, ‘Wow, I know my heart is right.’ I know we want Black Diamonds to align with folks, but for folks to align with us, it was a beautiful story.”
Black Diamonds was founded in June of this year, after Walker saw the success of several other Black-focused supporter groups including Forward Madison’s Featherstone Flamingos and Atlanta United’s Footie Mob.
“I thought, we need something like this here,” he said. “The Black population in New Mexico is something like 3%, and I thought, ‘I would really love to figure out how to create a group like this to really promote and celebrate the culture. Because, we have the players, but the crowd doesn’t really represent that or match up with them. So I was just really interested in pursuing what it would mean to start a group.”
The group was named after the floating diamond found in New Mexico United’s shield, taking on the symbolism of a diamond in the rough, a metaphor for Black Diamond members, who often felt underrepresented among supporters. The group works to promote diversity and inclusion, with a particular emphasis on representation.
“We were really focused on equity, like from the get-go,” Walker said. “I found the game when I was 18, then I found it again when I was 39. I just couldn’t imagine any folks in the Black community waiting that long to find a love for soccer, and then not being able to actually play it or pursue it. So we want to remove the financial barriers that keep soccer from being accessible to the community.”
Walker is now focused on how to keep the momentum from the pre-sale going for as long as possible and creating buzz for the shirts when they actually roll out. He’ll also move on to organizing the soccer program, where several former pros and coaches who live in the area have already committed their time. In all of these endeavors, Walker hopes the group will continue to connect and inspire the local community.
“For me, it’s not only how do you rise up, but now you need to shine,” he said. “Now you need to do something with what you’ve got. To have this group, which is a Black culture movement, we can have have some visibility in the soccer community, so that the fans that are there, that are also part of the Black community, don’t have to feel like they’re unaccounted for, like they’re diamonds in the rough, if you will. There is something for them here.”