Nationwide — Meet Captain Zeita Merchant, who is leading The Port of New York and has recently been promoted to rear admiral, making history as the highest-ranking Black woman in the 233-year history of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Merchant, with nearly 27 years in the Coast Guard, said she could never have imagined where she is now. Joining initially just for college debt assistance, she now stands as one of the top emergency managers in the USCG, specializing in large-scale, multi-jurisdictional incident responses.
Merchant, who is from Mississippi, graduated from Tougaloo College, an HBCU. While pursuing her career in the Coast Guard, she continued her education and earned advanced degrees from George Washington University and the National Graduate School at New England Institute of Business. She’s also a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a fellow at MIT.
Her impactful career includes commanding maritime operations in Chicago and serving in Texas City, Miami, and New Orleans. Merchant has been recognized with various military honors, including medals and commendations.
Throughout her career, Merchant quickly climbed the ranks, shattering color and gender barriers. She is often the first minority and woman in her leadership roles. In fact, her role as the captain of the Port of New York is historic as she is the first-ever minority to hold this position.
Merchant hopes that her story will inspire young African American women to consider the Coast Guard as a fulfilling career path.
“People on the outside then get to consider the Coast Guard because they see someone that looks like them… and are, in turn, inspired by it,” she told SI Live. “That is what I see. I’m giving them something that I didn’t have.”
After a rigorous confirmation process, Merchant gained Congress approval in December 2023 to be promoted to rear admiral. Merchant will officially assume her new rank at USCG Headquarters in Washington, D.C. during the Coast Guard’s Change of Command exercises in April.