Earlier this month, The Root.com, published its annual list of the 100 Most Influential African-Americans in the United States. Now in its third year, the editorial staff of the The Root – a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives – highlights 100 influencers and icons of the modern Black community. Each year I look forward to it and I'm proud to say I know a few of the honorees each time (either from online activities or from real life). The 2011 Root Top 100 lists most influential African Americans in Business, Politics and Entertainment; but where are the leaders in innovation, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?
The Root Top 100 includes the people – both known and unknown to the general public – who shape our lives – everyone's lives, not just Black people: mayors of major cities, heads of major companies and industries, commentators of major news programs. These aren't people who shape the African-American experience in America, they shape the American experiences for all Americans. Of the list of highly influential and key young professionals (all younger than 45) the list includes nary a scientist or an engineer. What does that say about how the African-American community values science and engineering? What does that say about the African-American community's ability to significantly influence these sectors of society? Are there no influential scientists or engineers or technologists who shape our nation and inspire our children?
Of course, there are influential and achieving young adult Black STEM professionals among us, but like so many similarly assembled lists people representing those fields never make the cut. And this hurts us – all of us! The United States economy is struggling. The President’s Educate to Innovate initiative strives to encourage more young people to study math and science and pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (often shorted to STEM). Communities are suffering and the opportunity to access the middle-class is shrinking. However, STEM offers promising well-paying career options. Yet, not-so-surprising but still heartbreaking news keeps coming that there is a decline in numbers of blacks in math and science. As the article notes, lack of role models is cited as one of many reasons why it is so hard to recruit and retain students of color to study math and science.
I see an easy fix to this role model problem. Increase the visibility Scientists (as well as Engineers, Technologists, and Mathematicians) of color. I want to create a list of the Top STEM Professionals of Color. I think compiling such a list (or lists) is a great place to start to help raise the profile of STEM professionals within in their fields and to the general public. Then it becomes easier to see more diversity in these Trendsetter lists. Finally, lists like these also identify new and perhaps unknown career tracks for young people to pursue.
In my upcoming post - Identifying the TOP STEM Professionals of Color - I’ll outline how we can begin to create such lists. And I’ll ask your help in gathering the data and helping spread the word far and wide!