Black scientists are finding a community – and planning the way forward


Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” launches a virtual mixer while people excitedly connect in Zoom chat. “You love the vibe right now,” says Brionna Davis-Reyes in gratitude to both the DJ and the sign language interpreter, who is also a double dancer. Davis-Reyes introduces herself as a neuroscientist from Yale who studies addiction and impulsivity. She is quickly followed by Tyrone Grandison, chief technology officer and co-organizer of the event: “Does the DJ take the requirements?”

Alissa Armstrong announces in a chat that she is a biologist who uses fruit flies to study how adipose tissue communicates with other organs in the body. Host Dani K says that, attendees can request songs and then slowly shout to Armstrong. “It’s pretty annoying what you’re doing, Dr. Alissa!”

It is the end of the opening day of the conference he is hosting Black in X, a network of over 80 organizations dedicated to celebrating the work of blacks in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM, and several dozen attendees gathered in the network during the final session of the day. By the end of this week, black scientists will meet online to discuss their successes and devise a strategy for the road ahead. The conference is the culmination of a year-long effort to tackle systemic racism in the sciences, catalyzed by racial profiling of Christian Cooper and murders Ahmaud Arbery,, Breonna Taylor, i George Floyd. Since then, the Black in X groups have built a community in virtual spaces and advocated for greater representation and recognition by amplifying the voices of black scientists.

Speaking before 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 would be able to appreciate everything achieved. since last June. “I hope the conference is a moment to really sit down and think about what we’ve done – how powerful it is, how important it is,” she said. After “a year of social justice and trying to influence the world,” Berry stressed the value of finding time to rest “so we can get up and do it again,” she said. “Either do more or move on.”

The theme of the conference is “Get Up As We Climb,” a summary of how Black in X members support their work and experiences. “There are people who have raised me, and I know it is my responsibility, in turn, to raise others,” conference organizer Quincy Brown said last week. (Brown founded Black in robotics i Black in computing.) Earlier versions of communities like this helped her learn to manage unwritten rules and expectations of being a black person in computing.

The conference opened on Monday with a welcome speech by Samantha Mensah, a doctoral student in chemistry at UCLA, and Paige Greenwood, a freshman doctor of neuroscience from the University of Cincinnati. As co-organizers, they reminded those present of the unity that has been fostered over the past year during racial clashes across the country. The welcome session was followed by a panel moderated by Grandison on software projects developed to combat racial inequality in housing, voting, legislation and the police.

The rest of the week will include a virtual session #BlackInXPoster where conference attendees will share their research on Twitter, plus forums on navigating STEM’s academic and industrial careers, and talking about being black and disabled. On Friday afternoon, the sessions end with an introductory speech by Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist newly appointed at Harvard University, who was a leader in the development of the Modern Covid-19 vaccine. The conference concludes on Saturday with an all-day advocacy event for STEM education.

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