Black scientists find community, plan the road ahead
Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” launches the virtual mixer as people enthusiastically connect in Zoom chat. “I love the vibe right now,” says Brionna Davis-Reyes, enjoying both the DJ and the sign language performer, who also doubles as the background dancer. Davis-Reyes describes herself as a Yale neuroscientist who studies drug addiction and impulsivity. She is quickly followed by Tyrone Grandison, technology manager and co-organizer of the event: “Does the DJ take requests?
Alissa Armstrong posts in the chat that she is a biologist who uses fruit flies to study how fatty tissue communicates with other organs in the body. Hostess Dani K says yes, participants can ask for songs, then yells at Armstrong. “It’s pretty crazy what you are doing, Dr Alissa!” “
It’s the end of the opening day of a conference organized by Black in X, a network of more than 80 organizations dedicated to celebrating the work of black people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and a few. dozens of participants gathered to network during the last session of the day. For the remainder of this week, black scientists will meet online to discuss their successes and strategize for the way forward. The conference is the culmination of a year-long campaign to tackle systemic racism in science, catalyzed by the racial profiling of Christian Cooper and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Since then, Black in X groups have built community through virtual spaces and have advocated for increased representation and recognition by amplifying the voices of black academics.
Speaking ahead of the conference, co-organizer Carlotta Berry, an electrical engineer at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, said she wanted to create a place where attendees could appreciate all that has been accomplished since last June. “I hope the conference is a time to really sit down and reflect on what we’ve been doing – how powerful it is, how important this work is,” she said. After “a year of social justice and trying to make an impact on the world,” Berry stressed the importance of finding time to rest “so that we can get up and start over,” she said. declared. “Or do more, or go further.”
The theme of the conference is “Lift As We Climb”, a summary of how members of the Black in X organization support each other in their work and experiences. “There are people who have lifted me up, and I know it is my responsibility, in turn, to lift others,” conference organizer Quincy Brown said last week. (Brown co-founded Black in Robotics and Black in Computing.) Earlier versions of communities like these helped her learn to navigate the unwritten rules and expectations of being a black person in IT.
On Monday, the conference opened with welcoming remarks from Samantha Mensah, a PhD student in chemistry at UCLA, and Paige Greenwood, a new PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. As co-organizers, they reminded attendees of the unity that had been fostered over the past year in a nationwide racial calculation. The welcome session was followed by a panel moderated by Grandison on software projects being developed to address racial inequalities in housing, voting, legislation and policing.
The rest of the week will feature a #BlackInXPoster virtual session where conference attendees share their research on Twitter, as well as forums on navigating academic and industry careers in STEM, and a conversation about ‘be black and disabled. On Friday afternoon, the sessions ended with an opening speech by Kizzmekia Corbett, a newly appointed immunologist at Harvard University who was a leading figure in the development of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. The conference concludes on Saturday with a one-day advocacy event for STEM education.