Five African-American Women Making Black History Now
February marks Black History Month in the U.S.A. Yet, in the first weeks of February, we’ve already heard that Liam Neeson walked the streets looking for a black person to kill, Meghan Markle has been continuously criticised for simply existing and Gucci started selling a literal black-face jumper making it easier for white supremacists everywhere to caricaturize black people. Evidently racism doesn’t take a breather in a month that’s dedicated to putting us up on a pedestal. While America may have given us the shortest month to celebrate our achievements, we won’t stop shouting about the amazing contributions that Black people continue to make in society.
It’s important to look back at the movements, inventions and achievements of Black people in America. We must never forget the contributions of the likes of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height, yet we should also take the time to celebrate the Black History makers of today. So here’s a look at five African American women making Black History now!
“I believe that every engineer has a responsibility to make the world a better place. We are gifted with an amazing power to take people’s wishes and make them a reality”.
Dr Ayanna Howard is a roboticist, educator, and innovator. She has contributed significantly to research in AI, computer vision and robotics and has over 250 publications from her 20-year career. Not only is Dr Howard a literal genius, but she has made it her mission to make robotics more accessible to everyone and uses her expertise to help children with special needs. She co-founded Zybrobotics, a company that develops ‘AI-powered STEM tools and learning games for early childhood education’. She also launched ‘a math-and-science program for at-risk junior high school girls’. Howard is a true innovator in robotics and making STEM subjects more accessible to little girls who look like her.
“My goal is to change the way cancer is treated”
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is “one of the first African American women in the USA to earn a Ph.D in physics” and has over ten years of interdisciplinary research experience. She founded the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation after her aunt, Ora Lee Smith, had a negative experience with her cancer treatment. The foundation aims to develop a cancer treatment with no side effects to benefit millions of cancer patients. Her efforts in cancer research will go down in history, so make sure you know her name!
3. Shelly Bell
"Women are not getting access to capital for their business, well let’s get them access to capital for their businesses”
Shelly Bell is a prime example of a multi-hyphen woman. Forbes reports her experiences as a ‘computer scientist, a former high school teacher, a performance poet, a community organizer, a founder and a CEO’. She’s the founder of “Black Girl Ventures”, an organisation that “uses entrepreneurship support and training as a vehicle for poverty alleviation and wealth building”. She’s transforming the business world and making sure that no black woman gets left behind by removing the barriers that they face in entrepreneurship. She’s definitely one for the history books!
“While migrant children who simply came to this country, like our ancestors did, to seek happiness, freedom and liberation. Instead of welcoming them like Lady Liberty symbolizes, instead of treating them with kindness, what we showed them is cages. So if I go in a cage with them, I am on the right side of history.”
Therese Patricia Okoumou garnered attention in the media following her move to climb the statue of Liberty to protest Trump’s immigration policies. While this led to her arrest and being charged with three misdemeanors, her actions brought more attention to the inhumane separation of children and parents at the US border. Okoumou will definitely go down in history as a symbol of defiance in the face of hostility.
“Whoever codes the system, embeds her views. A call for inclusive code.”
Joy Adowaa Buolamwini is a computer scientist and digital activist who founded the Algorithmic Justice League that fights to end algorithmic bias which results in exclusionary experiences and discriminatory practices. She’s on ‘a mission to show compassion through computation’, and aims to make more inclusive coding the norm. For those of us non-techies, her movement aims to make facial recognition accurate for ‘all of us’ and not just ‘some of us’. This will not only ensure that black people are recognised in Instagram filters without having to shine a flashlight on our faces, but will also prevent criminal misidentification using AI as the police force relies more and more on computerised facial recognition.
These women have recognised the lack of movements, programmes and initiatives that cater to African Americans and immigrants in the US. They have grabbed opportunity by the horns and taken the first step towards a more equal society. Black History Month is not only a time of reflection, but an opportunity for forward looking. We need to understand the mistakes and victories of the past in order to move forward into a brighter future where everyone has equal access to success. So this Black History Month, make sure that you read up on the catalogue of achievements of African Americans in the past, but also educate yourself on African American led initiatives that are making a history now.
Article by VERVE Operative & Blogger Chanju Mwanza