The beginnings of Black History month date back to 1920s America where Carter G Woodson recognised a gap in the education system when it came to African-American history. Woodson felt that it was necessary to include Black history so that the race could maintain physical and intellectual strength to thrive in mainstream society.
This notion was put into action and negro week (the predecessor of Black History Month) was created. Subsequently the enthusiasm met with Negro week led it to spreading across different states in America. In the 1970s Black history was formally acknowledged by members of the community and educators and negro week formally became Black History Month by then president Gerald Ford.
With the UK never being too far behind the US – it was only a matter of time before the consciousness of Black history spread across the Atlantic. In the 1980s residents who had travelled to the UK from Africa and the Caribbean were now settled residents . This had a widespread impact on culture, education, and society.
During this time riots took place in inner city areas such as Tottenham and Brixton. The marginalisation and discrimination amongst black people was evident and racism was at it’s peak. Because of this Black History month was promoted by Ghanaian born analyst and project developer Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. He wanted black British people to gain some sort of identity through positive representation.
In both instances the primary intention behind Black History Month was to provide positive narratives which helped highlight and promote black contributions. In turn this would give them a more positive perspective on their role in society.
Contributions in Tech
As being part of the geek squad it wouldn’t feel right celebrating Black History Month without recognising some of the contributions made in technology. Below highlights 3 figures from the past and present who have broken barriers in both gender and racially biased industries.
Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who used her love for numbers to build a 3-decade long career in NASA. In 1953 she began working for NASA and helped calculate and analyse the flight paths of aircrafts.
During this time, she was handpicked to work in the an all-male flight research team. It was here where her knowledge for analytic geometry proved to be an asset to the department. This enabled her to make allies out of mangers and peers. She became the first woman allowed to sit in editorial meetings, and the first woman to have her name printed on a report.
Through being assertive and going against racial and gender barriers, Katherine Johnson became a notable figure and positive representation of women in STEM.
“Take all the courses in your curriculum. Do the research. Ask questions. Find someone doing what you are interested in! Be curious!” – Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician
Frank S Greene
Frank S Greene is often referred to as the first black technologist. Among his long list of achievements, Greene became the first black cadet to successfully complete the 4 year US air force ROTC programme in 1961. During a time of segregation, he broke barriers within the tech industry demonstrating anything is possible. He became a teacher of computer science after developing high-speed semiconductor computer-memory systems at Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs in the 1960s.
Greene created 2 companies which included Technology Development Corporation which traded until 1975 when he sold it to the Federal Systems Division of Penn Central. Once sold he created the spin off company ZeroOne which sold large-scale scientific computer systems to the government market for engineering and research.
His other ventures also included New Vista Capitol – an organisation specifically focussed on minority and female headed firms; and The Go Positive Foundation which offered leadership programmes targeted at teens and college students.
“All successful leaders meet their challenges by starting with a clear vision that creates value for others” – Frank S. Greene, electrical and computer engineer
Dr Anne Marie Imafidon
Dr Anne Marie Imafidon was a unique brainbox by the time she had entered her final year of primary school gaining a A-level in computer science at the age of 11. When she was 20 she became the youngest woman to receive a masters in maths and computer science from Oxford University. She has worked with major brands which include Goldman Sachs, Hewlett-Packard and Deutsche Bank.
In 2013 Dr Anne put her vision for a more diverse and balanced science and tech community into practice by creating Stemettes. Stemettes is a social enterprise inspiring and supporting young women in STEM.
Dr Anne’s story is a contemporary but one which shares parallels with predecessors such as Katherine Jonson. Studying and working in tech – a very male dominated field countered the stereotypes often associated with women.
The Stemettes initiatives include mentorship programmes, industry experiences, and event organising. Dr Anne’s main aim is to promote diversity and more representation in tech.
“Technology is all about solving problems and there are a lot of problems to be solved” – Dr Anne Marie Imafidon MBE, founder and CEO @Stemettes
History impacts our furture, therefore seeing more diveristy in tech will enable everyone to feel represented and inclusive.