AT MY CORE MY PHILOSOPHIES RELY ON MY IDENTITY
BLACK-FATHER-FIRST GENERATION COLLEGE GRADUATE-MINORITY IN STEM-SEXUALITY-EQUALITY-INCLUSION-EQUITY-A DREAMER
Ludlow, Mississippi is a small, family-oriented community with approximately 250 people. It is so small even, that people who live 30 minutes away do not know of its existence. I grew up surrounded by comfortableness and sameness, and the consistency of comfortableness transcends money status and even the obvious segregation of blacks and whites. Growing up, my father was absent due to gang violence, and my mother had to work constantly to support us. I spent much of my childhood farming, tending to animals, and fishing/hunting. Yet, somehow I always felt like the persistence of continuing down the same path of working at a gas station or factory and raising a family there as the previous generations had done was not for me. Although I am a product of an environment where lives are stunted by the lack of opportunities in education, healthcare, and employment, the opportunity to explore nature and provide food for my family fostered a budding passion for science.
I chose my profession-- academia and research -- due to the mentorship of an amazing advisor and the idea that I could make a difference for those who come from similar backgrounds and look like me. For years, my advisor, Nicole Ashpole, instilled in me the importance of not only "looking" different in science but disseminating my thoughts and opinions since they come from a very different upbringing than the "majority." With over a dozen mentors that have helped me become a first-generation college graduate and doctoral candidate, they provided me the capacity to learn respect, teach, and cultivate success. For years, diversity has been a goal of institutions and industries whether true actions were put behind their statements or not. Yet, the pandemic served as a new development and highlighted the importance of diversity, equality, and the aspect of equity. And frankly, without equity, the others are meaningless.
I always title my journey "From First Gen. to First Doctor." I firmly believe that rising above societal conditions makes me a unique prospect for entering academia and science due to their rooted history of being for the privilege. For years, I honed my voice and my comfortableness to be able to speak against the importance of having more people that visibly "looked" like me. However, I realized that that was meaningless if the environments we are recruited to are not equitable and safe for us. Thus, my primary goal is to not only promote the advancement of minorities in STEM, but teach those in charge that I matter, we matter, and that we are more than tokens and checkboxes. Hence, I have been extremely involved in the Science Twitter space, where I have given numerous talks discussing my academic journey and the importance of making science more equitable. Unequivocally, I spend time assisting undergraduate students craft statements and applications for graduate school so that they too can have similar opportunities as myself. Moreover, I have truly delved into giving JEDI-related presentations combined with my research at institutions around the United States include (Temple, UC Davis, Stanford, and Alcorn HBCU).
As Maya Angelou said, "In diversity, there is beauty, and there is strength." When I envision diversity within our institutions and furthermore, within the future of our country's education, I equate it with tolerance, for tolerance is the meaning of being open to the differences that exist among us all. It means respecting and learning from others while simultaneously valuing our differences and discovering the various interests, motivations, and desires we share in common. As I have learned through the course of my academic journey, people who are open to differences will not only give birth to a more peaceful community one generation at a time but also serve themselves and others with better and equal opportunities in life, whether it is through education, career, or friendships. Possessing the virtue of tolerance enhances the ability to connect with those physically and economically different on a more profound level while all the while creating a village that will work endlessly together to achieve the same goal: unity and advance science