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Maia Chaka became the NFL's newest official on Friday, making her the first Black woman ever named to the league's officiating staff. Chaka joins CBSN's Elaine Quijano to talk about what led her to this historic achievement.
ELAINE QUIJANO: The National Football League announced last week, the first Black, female game official will be joining its roster for the upcoming season. Maia Shaka began her officiating career in 2006. The 38-year-old was then scouted by the NFL Officiating Development Program in 2014, alongside Sarah Thomas, the first female NFL official. Chaka has also been a teacher in Virginia Beach for more than 14 years. And joining me now is Maia Shaka. Maia, welcome. Thank you so much for being with us.
MAIA CHAKA: Thank you for having me. I'm very excited.
ELAINE QUIJANO: Yes, so congratulations! You have spent a lot of years training for this position. First of all, tell us, Maia, what was it like getting word that you had gotten this position? And tell us how you got to this point, and some of the challenges you had to overcome.
MAIA CHAKA: Well, getting the phone call was actually just a sigh of relief for me because I've been working at this for so long. And I was just happy to finally see that my hard work paid off. So I was just very excited and very happy, and I'm very grateful to be a part of the National Football League. Any obstacles that I have faced, I know that some things have been said about me behind my back. I know that some rules have been put into place to kind of keep me excluded from certain things. But I never let that hold me back or stop me. Like all I want to do is just continue to work. And I surrounded myself with people who were supportive of me. And I still wish well for anybody who has ever had anything negative to say about me behind my back. It's OK.
ELAINE QUIJANO: Well you have officiated college games and NFL preseason games, what are you looking forward to most when you officiate your first regular season NFL game in September?
MAIA CHAKA: I'm just looking forward to, first of all, trying to figure out who I'm working with, who I'm going to be on a crew with, because that's the most important to me is the camaraderie just with the guys. And learning from them, and being able to learn from the veteran officials. I'm pretty sure, right now, I'm just excited just to be around. And I don't know exactly what questions to ask. But as we come closer to that time, I know that whoever I'm paired with, whoever I'm working with, is going to walk me through it every step of the way to make sure I'm successful. So I'm just excited of getting on, just getting on, the field with my crew. And just experiencing what it's going to be like to be underneath the bright lights.
ELAINE QUIJANO: Well you've taught health and physical education to at-risk students, what message do you have for your students?
MAIA CHAKA: I'll tell my students to make sure that they always chase their dreams and not to let anything hold you back. Even if you think it may give you some type of limitation, obviously I've never played professional football. But that's not stopping me from working on the stage, on football's biggest stage. Just make sure that you apply yourself, and you understand all the fundamentals for whatever job it is or, you know, that you're trying to pursue. And just make right decisions. Make good decisions. Decisions that are going to get you respected by your peers and your colleagues. Not necessarily accepted. OK, there is the difference between that. Because when you make decisions for respect, then you become accepted by everyone else.
ELAINE QUIJANO: What do you think that your role is going to mean for Black and Brown women around the world?
MAIA CHAKA: Well hopefully-- I know I'm the first to make this position, but hopefully I'm not the last. And hopefully there are others coming up behind me that will get this opportunity also. But I just think it's important that we have representation, and that we are getting more representation of minority women in leadership roles and in bigger roles in corporate America. And all that does, that just inspires more young girls to say, hey, you know, I could do this. So it's up to us to make sure that we do a good job, and that we represent well so that we increase opportunities for women coming up behind us.
ELAINE QUIJANO: Before we let you go, Maia, I just have to ask, I mean, what was the reaction from your family and friends when you got the call? And then, I imagine your next call was to all the family members to tell them, I got it! I got it!
MAIA CHAKA: So my family and friends didn't find out until it was aired. Until it was officially released to public that Friday morning. I told no one. I kept it under lock and key, because if I told them, it would be all over social media. So as soon as they caught wind, I mean, my phone and everything, and email and everything, just went crazy. And they were mostly supportive, because everyone knew how hard I've been working for this. And they were just shocked that it happened
ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, you know what? There are a lot of women who are going to be cheering you come September. And some young girls, I imagine, as well. Maia Shaka. Maia, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We really appreciate it. And congratulations.
MAIA CHAKA: Thank you.