Black + Math = Revolution

I like to think I started putting limitations on my dreams when I quit playing basketball before my senior year of high school. Truth be told, I built a ceiling for myself months earlier when I got Ds in both Physics and Pre-Calculus.

I wasn’t necessarily a superstar in math and science but I was a grade ahead in one and got mostly As in the other.

However, when junior year came around I faced an inspiration dilemma.

My Pre-Calculus teacher did everything he could to discourage me but that was no excuse to stop working hard. Likewise, my Physics teacher had a hard time keeping me engaged but that was no reason to think I was above putting effort into his class.

I coasted for the first part of the year and figured it would be a tough phase before I got back to my normal good grades.

After I got Ds, that all changed.

At the time I had no idea how many doors I was closing for myself.

Recently I talked with a professor from Portland Community College and I was surprised to find that specializing in math is one way to get on the fast track to becoming a dean and a six figure salary.

Compared to my prospects as a journalist (especially as one with a soul) that sounded very enticing.

Considering that test scores are going down across the board in the US, there are plenty of openings, especially for people of color who are underrepresented in these areas to begin with, in math and science related fields.

The term “revolution” often evokes thoughts of violence. However, what would be more revolutionary than blacks taking advantage of the gaping holes in math and science.

These fields power everything from health care to energy to war. Mastering them could yield both wealth and significant societal control.

For example, America’s infrastructure is in shambles. We need construction work but if you talk to people in the field, many young, aspiring construction workers aren’t qualified because they aren’t proficient enough in math.

My father always encouraged me to take an interest in construction but I figured my focus on writing was already way more than most expected of me as a black basketball player.

As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” If I had known back in high school what I know now, I would never have succumbed to the limitations I put on myself.

Instead of wallowing in what could’ve been, it’s important people like me ask ourselves what we can do to make sure we don’t lose the next generation as well.

My parents didn’t fail for lack of trying. I was just stubborn, like many young adults.

Part of the solution is connecting math and science to history and a sense of self. After all, this is what elevated my love of reading and writing.

The American education system does a poor job of teaching about the African kingdoms before slavery. This history holds the key to relating technical fields to the lives of our people.

Ancient Greeks used to go to Kemet (Africa) to study under men like the “Father of Medicine” Imhotep, a black man, to learn math and science.

These ancient kingdoms produced many new innovations like the step pyramid, which utilized the Pythagorean Theorem formula that Pythagoras would allegedly “discover” thousands of years later.

The knowledge of math and science gave these kingdoms control over civilization because other ancient kingdoms were dependent on their wisdom.

It is much easier to steer black children away from these subjects when they don’t know this history. However, they’re much more likely to take an interest if they can see the footsteps they’re following in.

Not to mention, having considerable influence and control over society is a much more enticing reason to take interest in a subject versus the prospect of simply getting a stable job.

When I was young I wanted to be an engineer. I never really knew why but the history of my people suggests it was something that was always in me.

We must take all measures to reawaken this spirit in our children as well as continue to encourage our aspiring black scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc. who don’t get nearly enough support from society.

As black people we can overcome all the odds as soon as we stop putting limitations on ourselves.

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4 Responses to “Black + Math = Revolution”

  1. Bruce, in my opinion, you are on a wide open path with the sunshine at your back! With the vision you have, you have seen what it takes to solve problems that people have been playing around with for years. Now is the time, your time, to be heard – and the time for young people to be led into the sunlight with you. Welcome them all, regardless of color and history – they deserve a guide that can unlock their mind and potential. You have that gift – the rarest one of all – leadership with wisdom for all things good. The world will be a better place.

    • Thank you. People can learn something from any and everyone. Honestly I think learning about people like Imhotep and other ancient great minds that we don’t hear about in the traditional school system should be essential for all students. Math and science get lost on so many students because they don’t see a practical usage for all the formulas. This knowledge is the key to everything from building roads to computer programs.

  2. I appreciate the information too. I’ve never studied this Pharoah – I will now! I love learning about the best minds this world has ever seen. Recently I saw a program that Egypt has identified multitudes of civilization hidden under the sands. I worry with the current unrest in their country, these treasures will not be protected for the legacy of the people, and the world. I want to be proud of what humans have accomplished, and have hope for the future of mankind. Maybe I can write a blog entry to highlight his contributions that helped to create the foundation of knowledge. I did an imaginary ‘face’ painting years ago that people said looked Egyptian. Maybe I’ll use that with the text. Thank you!

  3. Willie Poinsette Says:

    Bruce, thank you for sharing this important message. I have always maintained the performance of Black and Brown students does not reflect their ability but rather their motivation and lack of engagement. Rarely are they exposed to the rich history of their people as related to math and s ience, so it is difficult for many students to get excited about something that appears to represent people who don’t look like them. It is way past time to share the real stories about the contributions made by our people in math and science. Keep on sharing your story. As a student who was identified Talented and Gifted in a school district where Black students were invisible unless they were super athletes, it is no wonder you lost interest and allowed your grades to reflect how you felt. So, it is my hope, as your mother and an educator, young people will read or hear your story and make better choices about their educational opportunities. Unfortunately, we can’t always depend on the professionals to motivate students as was clearly seen in your pre-calculus teacher.

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