Written by Marc Hardy, City Year AmeriCorps member at Anthony J. Dorsa Elementary School

Blogpost originally published on Microsoft Bay Area's blog.

In September of 1915, African American historian, author, and journalist, Carter Godwin Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH) alongside Minister Jesse E. Moorland. Thanks to ASALH, the first national Negro History Week took place in 1926. In 1976, 50 years after the first Negro History Week, the United States of America officially recognized Black History Month and dedicated the shortest month of the year to its purpose.

Fast forward to 2005, when I myself was attending an underserved high school in Indianapolis, Indiana where the main purpose of classes was to pass time. I recall my biology teacher always being low on supplies, which meant we had to get into very large groups to do experiments, if we did them at all. In the next period, I would transition through crowded and loud halls to arrive at my technology class, which consisted of the teacher putting a book assignment on the board while he read a newspaper during the entire class. Because of this, I’m still learning how to type without looking. I didn’t learn much about technology, but I did learn how to make people laugh in an effort to protect myself from falling into the trap of fighting.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, commonly known as STEM, are core to advancing human achievement. That said, STEM education should always include diverse representation. Last year, US News, reported that STEM professionals were no more diverse than they were in 2001. According to the same article, only 798 of the 16,542 recipients of science and engineering doctorate degrees in 2013 were awarded to black people. There are always minority scholarships, but the mission of raising students’ interest typically comes too late into a black student’s academic career.  If a child graduates without ever having dissected an animal, done any basic coding, or gained necessary tools to innovate, he/she will not have the necessary interest to pursue STEM fields in higher education.

If companies are truly striving to obtain a more diverse pool of hiring candidates, they must first invest in STEM education in schools that are typically underserved. Introduce coding programs, fun science experiments and math competitions in elementary schools with high numbers of black students. STEM subjects were not enjoyable to me as a child, and the possibilities that arise from a career in STEM were never introduced. Black people are innovative, smart and stylistic. The survival mentality that most accrue growing up in underserved communities would definitely benefit any company, STEM or otherwise, looking to grow and develop.

Perhaps even more important is the elimination of the preconceived notion that black students, especially black male students, cannot do the work. STEM is all about using your mind to create, and drawing on past experiences and addressing the needs of a population. Not many know the needs of underserved people better than black males. It has become too commonplace to hold black males to low expectations. Educators and company leaders have become so afraid of us that it has skewed their perceptions of our mental capabilities. Black students are expected to conform to white social norms the moment they step into their very first classroom until they retire from their last job. Instead of forcing black students to conform, learn from them and assist them with reaching their full potential. Don’t be afraid, because the minds of these children are just as imaginative and ambitious as those of white children. Examples of success are not shown to them, and the expectations to deliver the same results as white children who may have those examples of success at home are not met.

Now, as an AmeriCorps Member at City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, my goal is to expose minority kids to the possibilities of the world, one child at a time, through tutoring and mentorship. I challenge all people to take this initiative beyond the end of February and truly commit to equivalent access to technology. If STEM education and technology can someday become accessible to all races in every neighborhood, not only the children, but society as a whole, will benefit. The longer we ignore these issues and show young black people that we don’t care about their contributions to STEM career fields, the longer we are holding ourselves back from achieving the unthinkable: equality.

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