In President Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Speech, he vowed “to restore science to its rightful place” in society. Hearing those words from him filled me with an excitement and eagerness to do and share science more than before. It excited me then and now into his second term he has announced the STEM Master Teacher Corps and the White House Initiative to Improve Educational Outcomes for African-Americans. There is amazing opportunity in the air for STEM diversity (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). In fact, US House Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson has (re) Introduced STEM Opportunities Act to identify solutions to including more women in the STEM career force. This pending bill presents a perfect opportunity to engage folks in a conversation about Science.
What is Science? Why does Science matter, especially to minority communities that are presently under-represented in STEM? Furthermore, how can the Science community effectively engage minority communities in STEM? How does present news coverage directed at minority communities communicate science? Can we improve and increase science news to these audiences in order to raise awareness of opportunities in STEM?
What is science’s rightful place in society? And what place should science have in the African-American community?
There has been a long and understandably uneasy relationship between the Black Community and Science. Being regarded as less-than-human by other groups has put many of our fore-parents in harm’s way. I could speak volumes on the unethical medical research and heartless medical providers, but “this is a new day”, as Obama declared. It is time to restore Science - the offspring Education and Intellectualism - to its rightful place in our community.
In order to restore science to its rightful place, we must first acknowledge what science is. Science is a pursuit of knowledge. It drives us to question, to critique, to hypothesize, to measure, to evaluate, to interpret, and to propose solutions to our community’s most pressing needs. It is an exercise of intellect, discipline and curiosity that compels us to want to understand our world and to make it better. Restoring science to its rightful place requires a dedication for us all to become scientifically literate – to understand science and use it to enhance our lives.
Science is simply information about our world, our environment, and our health. People’s lives are impacted by information, and failing to comprehend information can be very detrimental. I have personally witnessed the heartbreaking consequences of scientific illiteracy in our community, such as individuals deciding to forgo life-saving medical procedures, not following to doctors’ health advice, moving into environmentally hazardous buildings, and sharing false information about health or medical issues with others. Many of us have confused superstition as fact, and have paid the price. Moreover, many of social circles do not include scientists or doctors so we have no one to call when questions arise. Image how much better our lives would if science were a part of the decisions we made about our health, our children, and our environment?
The rightful place of science is in our day-to-day dialogue with friends and family. The rightful place of science is at our dinner table, happy hour gatherings, within the banter of men in barber shops and among the chatter of ladies in hair salons. Science rightfully belongs to us, the people. It is not some mysterious activity done by ‘others’. No, many of the greatest scientists of all time came from our community - Drs. Charles H. Turner, Edward Bouchet, George Washington Carver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mae Jemison, Ian Smith, Shirley Jackson, James Gates, Maydianne Andrade, and Shirley Malcolm. Science is our most handy tool in our arsenal against discrimination, poverty, socio-economic disparity and environmental injustice. The rightful place of science in our society and the African-American community is within us.