Black girls and women are resisting the racism that tries to keep them out of certain industries and fields of study, especially when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Recently, three Black teens learned they were finalists in NASA’s acclaimed high school competition. India Skinner, Mikayla Sharrieff and Bria Snell, all 17-year-old 11th graders at Banneker High School in Washington, D.C., invented a water-purification system that separated lead from their school’s drinking fountains, The Washington Post reported. They were the latest proof that Black girls are indeed magic.
The three young ladies were the only all-Black female team to be named among the eight finalists — an incredibly significant accomplishment especially considering that Black students comprised 16 percent of high school enrollment in STEM courses for the 2015-16 academic year according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
When public voting was opened up for the NASA competition, the teens turned to social media to rally support. However, some racist trolls tried to hack the system and promote a smear campaign on the notorious White supremacist online breeding ground 4chan to keep the ladies from winning.
NASA had to shut down the public voting, with the girls set to find out whether they will be named winners this month. Winners will go to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for two days of workshops and get a $4,000 stipend to cover those expenses. The teens, in solidarity with the Black activists and organizations that helped support them, were focusing on the positive responses that their project has prompted from their classmates, community and more folks on social media.
“It’s important to be role models for a younger generation who want to be in the STEM field but don’t think they can,” Sharrieff, who inspired someone to set up a college fundraising page for her and the other teens, said.
Elsewhere, Democratic Calfornia Rep. Maxine Waters and the Congressional Black Caucus have addressed some of the discriminatory messages that try to dissuade Black folks from stepping into the STEM field. The CBC visited Silicon Valley on Tuesday to propose actions for better representation in tech, which falls at a measly 5 percent for Black people across Apple, Twitter and other companies, Axios reported.
The teens’ success and Waters’ campaign also come after Jeanette Epps, a Black women astronaut, was kicked off a ground-breaking mission to the International Space Station in January. Racism was named by Epps’ brother, Henry Epps as the reason why she was deterred from becoming the first African American to visit the ISS. He started a Move.org petition to help raise awareness and fight back.
It’s clear that this discrimination against people of color in STEM will be challenged in every way possible.