The University of New Mexico Black Alumni Chapter announces the recipients of its 2023 Trailblazer Awards including Brandi Stone, Simone Vann and Gerald M. Byers. These three remarkable individuals will be celebrated amongst community members at the annual award reception on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in Hodgin Hall. 

The Trailblazer Award is given to a distinguished Black alumnus who is the first to achieve a milestone in their professional position or career. This individual's accomplishment helped prepare the way for other Black professionals to reap the benefits of their achievement. 

The award recipients have demonstrated their dedication to community, service and advancement in their line of work, and remind us of the continued growth, strength, and impact across our communities. 


Brandi Stone (’14, ‘17), Trailblazer Award

Brandi Stone works at The University of New Mexico as the director of African American Student Services and is the Special Advisor to the President on African American Affairs. Her passion is to assist Black students in their collegiate navigation. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of New Mexico and is currently working on her Ph.D. at New Mexico State in Educational Leadership. Additionally, Stone serves as a national board member for the Association of Black Culture Centers.” In the words of her nominator, “Brandi has created a campus presence where Black students can feel safe, loved, and encouraged. It is remarkable that someone her age has had such an impact on so many individuals - student, staff, and community! She is a true-servant leader and has always played an active role in our Black Alumni Chapter.


Simone Vann (’13, ’20), Trailblazer Award

Simone Vann earned her bachelor’s degree in Secondary Mathematics Education in 2013 from The University of New Mexico. She immediately started working at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, NM as an Algebra 2 teacher. At Cleveland, Vann designed an Algebra 2 modeling class for students who struggled with math, was a part of the NM Teacher Evaluation Task Force tasked with revamping the teacher evaluation system and participated in a group who designed a more equitable grading system for the Rio Rancho Public School District. In May 2020, Vann earned a master’s degree in Secondary Education with an MSET focus and a minor in Educational Leadership at the University of New Mexico. Vann joined NMPED in January 2022 as the Black Education Curriculum Coordinator where she was instrumental in setting up the curriculum requirements of the Black Education Act. She was promoted to Identity, Equity, and Transformation Division Director in May 2022 where she continues her desire to make education equitable and accessible to all students. Vann’s motto is that all kids are capable of being successful in education if educators ensure their teaching material is relevant and accessible to all students.


District Attorney Gerald Byers (’95), Trailblazer Award

Gerald M. Byers became New Mexico’s first elected Black District Attorney in 2020. He currently serves in the Third Judicial District –– Dona Ana County, the second largest District Attorney’s Office in the state. Prior to his legal career, Byers served in the U.S. Navy for 12 years after receiving his Naval Officer’s Commission and graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980. After his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1992, Byers entered The University of New Mexico School of Law and received his Juris Doctor degree in 1995. Through his prosecuting career, Byers accumulated years of experience in the toughest areas of litigation in New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas. He was awarded Sixth Judicial District’s Outstanding Prosecutor of the Year Award in 2011 and received the New Mexico Administrative Office of the District Attorneys Prosecutor of the Year award in 2019. Byers is a career prosecutor with more than 23 years of experience prosecuting cases ranging from DWI to capital murder. He has personally handled or directed the prosecution of some of the district’s most notorious criminal defendants.