Enter the STEM Generation; Rebooting Black American Culture for the 21st Centur

This is not a criticism, it is an observation.  Black folks toward the end of the 20th century, the post-WWII Baby Boomers who came of age in the Civil Rights era (and I’m one of them), had an extraordinary capacity to rise above any challenge.

We also had a brilliant and fearless cadre of local and national leaders.

In fact, we got so good at rising above adversity, that some of us forgot to look back and use our power to open wider those portals of socioeconomic evolution that would benefit our people.  I think we got blinded by a dream of post-racialism and fell asleep in that dream.  Archbishop DesmondTutu once said concerning the arrival of South Africa’s first European colonist: “When first they came, we had the land and they had the bible.  They told us: ‘close your eyes and pray.’  And when we finally opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the bible…”

I use the Archbishop’s classic analogy to suggest that in the years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we closed our eyes and slept in a beautiful dream called integration.  But when we opened our eyes, those of us with consciousness realized that we had become a psychically “non-monolithic” and dis-integrated people who’ve awakened inside a nightmare of chaos and distraction.  Nevertheless, we made all kinds of great strides and advances in the 20th century, so somebody was awake.

In truth, unless you emigrated to the US from somewhere in the African world after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, being born African American means you have the DNA of a people who rose up from the domestic terrorism of chattel enslavement and institutionalized racism, who defied all the odds and barriers to become doctors, lawyers, college professors, airline pilots, corporate leaders, astronauts, astrophysicists, great parents, and in 2008, collectively stood witness on behalf of our sainted ancestors during the election, then amazing re-election of the first Black President of the United States of America!  Yet, after all this sociocultural, economic and political evolution, we’re still asking questions about who we were, who we are, who we can be, and where we’ve come to?

In that regard, I believe Black Americans of the 21st century have reached a “fork in the road”…
Those of us born in the 20th century who are still in positions to promote positive change, are also still thinking with 20th century mentalities, doing things the same way we always did them, which conjures up an image in my mind of the puppy spinning round chasing its tail, then, catching it, bites down hard and yelps. The odd part is that instead of realizing its bitten its own tail, the puppy spins round, catches and bites it again!?!
That is not progress and I think it qualifies as a cosmic-level ‘Duh’!

Black Americans of the 21st century, especially parents of young children who are destined to be citizens of the world of tomorrow, have the unique opportunity today to reboot Black life in America by helping our kids make a transformational contribution to the future by promoting their exposure and interest in STEM, which is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

By nature, children are inherently smart and curious, but many African American children do not have equal opportunities to fully develop and realize their best qualities.  For example, if I can refer back to the puppy-bites-its-own-tail scenario, many American public schools continue to rely on test-driven, rote learning rather than explore project-based, interactive models.  And school system budget cutbacks too often target those very activities and programs that help children thrive intellectually and creatively.  As those school systems crash and burn, they take our children’s first formal exposures to intellectual development smashing right into the ground with them.

As a result, many of today’s kids – the leaders of tomorrow – are not being as fully engaged as they can be – or as 21st century America will need them to be!  Another important factor is the nation’s demographic shift to a youth population increasingly defined by multiplicity, as in: multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural.

Add to this the fact that the Digital Age revolves around Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-related skill sets and career opportunities, and we know there is a need for high-quality and engaging educational programs that address this multiplicity of needs, and in ways kids will find exciting, enjoyable and challenging.

The world is graduating from the Information Age into a High Technology Frontier that includes 3D printing, space vehicle launches by private contractors, new developments in medical science, and the re-formalization and re-configuration of our nation’s energy needs, and leaders in government, industry and academia must recognize and act on the need to invest dollars, time, energy and resources in bold and interesting ideas designed to channel Afro-descendant and Hispanic American children into the STEM economies of the future.

High-tech activities and social media of the Digital Age have already positioned millions of young African American in a mindset space that would allow them, and ultimately the nation, to benefit from STEM-related educational opportunities.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), uses a broader definition of STEM in education than Science-Technology-Engineering & Mathematics. NSF’s definition includes study in chemistry, computer science and information technology, geoscience, life sciences, physics, astronomy, social sciences (such as anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), and elementary and middle school STEM education and STEM-related learning research and media programs..

Why is this march toward a STEM-driven national economy that will include all American children so urgent?  Because the United States is in a negative pole position in terms of competing globally in STEM-related areas. The USA ranks an unbelievable 25th among industrialized nations for students studying mathematics—and in the 17th position for the sciences.

In an increasingly global and diverse environment, the numbers for STEM-centered professions in national minority groups is crying out for intervention.  Note the following:

  • While Black, Hispanic and American Indian youth account for 34% of the US population between the ages of 18-24, only 12% of that number are pursuing undergraduate degrees in engineering.
  • Just 7% of those students go on to earn master’s degrees, and a mere 3% pursue doctoral degrees in engineering, with all STEM-centered study among minorities coming in at just 5.4% on the doctoral level.

We can do better than that and we absolutely must!  We have the means and resources to promote STEM-driven education that will enhance and provoke a socioeconomic and sociocultural metamorphosis in Black youth.
The question is: How do we do that!?

We accomplish that by inviting young people of all backgrounds, especially those least represented, into the STEM domain and then, once invited, support unique efforts designed to attract and sustain young people’s attention and interest in STEM!  That effort begins, of course, in the home.

We Black Americans are extraordinarily talented, gifted, resilient and inventive.  If we are willing, as a people, to reboot and redefine our 21st century culture to embrace STEM, we will benefit from and harvest opportunities to expand our socioeconomic reach by way of science and technology; and we need to be as super-charged and focused about STEM as we were during the struggle for Civil Rights and our achievements in business, entertainment, athletics, and every other passionate aspect of our lives.  Ultimately, starting right now in 2015, Black American parents, elementary and middle school educators and local and national leaders from every domain must spark a reboot of Black intellectual culture by promoting a paradigm shift designed to restore academic excellence and make STEM massively dynamic and cool!


A former TV news producer in the Washington, DC media market, Tony Regusters is an Afrofuturist, a published science fiction author, the award-winning filmmaker of the documentary “Obama in Ghana: The Untold Story” – and the originating producer of BET’s “Teen Summit” program.  Mr. Regusters resides in Annapolis, Maryland.

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