On our first day at Humphries Elementary School, we asked the students, “How many of you know a Black app developer?” No one raised their hand. When we asked how many of them thought they could be an app developer, again, no one raised their hand.
But when we asked if anyone liked using apps, every child raised their hand.
My company, Brown Toy Box, aims to help these students see themselves as more than consumers of technology, but as the designers and developers of it.
Despite STEM/STEAM careers being a clear pathway to economic mobility, without intervention the children at Humphries will remain part of ninety-six percent of Atlanta-area Black children who are born into poverty and projected to never leave it.
This is not an isolated problem. According to the National Science Foundation, Black men and women only make of three and two percent of all scientists respectively, and are only seven percent of STEM-related degree holders with jobs paying $84,000 or more.
NSF notes that the STEM workforce is no more diverse than it was 14 years ago.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education reports that less than half of fourth graders at “high-poverty” schools do a hands-on experiment once a week, compared to more than 60 percent of students in “low-poverty” schools.
“Access to STEM education is access to power,” says Kamau Bobb, Senior Director of the Constellation Center for Equity in Computing at Georgia Tech and Google’s Chief Diversity Officer. We’re reminded of that more than ever tomorrow, May 3, on Georgia STEM Day.
Though the odds are stacked against them, the raw talent, tenaciousness and brilliance of the students at Humphries gives me every confidence that the projected future for these young scholars can be changed.
In fact, the ingenuity the city needs may very well reside in the children on the southside.
Over the course of the last six weeks, we have engaged a development shop to facilitate a technical training program at Humphries. With the partnership of local tech company MailChimp, we gave them opportunities to get hands-on experience with developing.
Together, we curated an experience where they could see themselves represented in the work.
Today, twenty second-grade students will present app concepts to an audience of their peers, parents and community.
In another education pilot, global architecture behemoth Perkins + Will partnered with us to give fourth and fifth grade students at Cleveland Elementary school an immersive, culturally-representative experience in architecture.
We hope to do more. We are working to add aviation, engineering, studio arts, chemistry, robotics and finance to our existing programs.
At our core, we believe that early, culturally-representative, and recurring exposure to STEAM careers is the key to changing life outcomes for young people in economically challenged communities.
We’re committed to shining a light on a light on these amazing young scholars because we know we just might be creating the next generation of tech executives, architects, pilots, astronomers, artists, and engineers.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley has two decades of experience in multicultural marketing, mostly catered towards mothers and families of color. She is the founder of STEAM education startup Brown Toy Box.