Rock and roll. Baseball. President Obama. These are very uniquely American things, made possible by the diverse cultures, backgrounds, and talents that have helped shape our country. American innovation is also a product of a diverse American culture. I’d like to celebrate the diversity that drives innovation by recognizing black makers throughout the month of February. Black History Month is devoted to celebrating part of our culture. Let’s not forget the history of black makers like Elijah McCoy. Why stop with the past though? Let’s also profile modern black makers who are changing lives. As we inspire more kids from more diverse backgrounds to become makers, we will strengthen innovation and increase success in arts and STEM fields.
While we are at it, we can strip down one barrier to making makers. We can eliminate the feeling that “makers don’t look like me, so making is not for me.” I know I felt that way when I was growing up. I remember being in middle school and going to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on a field trip. There was a presentation with a black science educator who insisted that black scientists were part of every major field of science although most were not well known. He even offered a $5 prize to anyone who could name a field of science that didn’t have a prominent black scientist associated with it. I easily won my $5 that day and was certain that I could have won $500. This educator had a thick book with obscure names and photos and stories and I didn’t believe any of it. The only black nerd that I ever knew about was George Washington Carver. And Erkel.
Fortunately, I have a supportive family that helped me follow my dreams of becoming an engineer. Unfortunately for a lot of kids, they don’t have the kind of support network and opportunities that got me to where I am today. So last March I decided to do something more to help inspire these kids. First, I gave a TEDx talk on the topic. Then I began to collect profiles of black makers wherever I travelled with the hopes of giving kids heroes and role models. I’ve posted these profiles to a website “Black Makers.”
This list is short, but rapidly growing. I hope you will join with me and MAKE Magazine in celebrating Black Makers month!