On February 1, 2022, the United States kicked off its 52nd observance of Black History Month. Typically, the historical and present-day achievements of Black folks in America are celebrated during this month to counteract the impact of anti-Black racism in our society. Indeed, the enslavement of African Americans for over two centuries has resulted in the near erasure of the triumphs of Black folk, particularly Black women, whose intersecting racial and gender identities, have often left their stories untold.
As Chief of Staff of Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE), I am working to uncover some of these narratives through our 2022 Black HERstory Video Series. BWISE is a non-profit organization that helps Black women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine expand their leadership across various sectors and become economically empowered.
Working as BWISE’s Chief of Staff has allowed me to reflect on my personal journey as someone who began research at the age of 13, and pursued bioengineering in college. Now, I strive to become a physician-scientist, and have been encouraged to seek out individuals who share in my multidimensionality. However, Black women who occupy these roles and spaces are alarmingly few, accounting for less than 3% of American medical doctors and less than 1% of leaders in biotechnology.
The need for these institutions to better recruit, retain, and cultivate talent in Black women is unarguably clear. But we must recognize the present accomplishments of Black women who are carving out space for themselves in healthcare, biotechnology, and the life sciences, motivating this year’s Black HERstory campaign.
Beginning in the 1600s, Black women and their bodies have been exploited as birthers, caretakers, workers, and subjects for medical procedures and science experiments in America. However, Black women have fought misogynoir to become leaders, advocates, and healers within their communities and the entire American society. They defied a system that told them they were less than to become medical doctors, chemists, professors, researchers, community health leaders, and entrepreneurs–occupations fundamental to our country’s progression in medicine and research.
During the first half of this series, the accomplishments of Black women from the 19th and 20th centuries, like Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African American woman to become a medical doctor in the United States, and Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, the mother of chemotherapy, will be covered. Their stories are particularly powerful, as they embody not only professional success, but also showcase the resilience that is often required of Black women when navigating institutions catered to white, cisgender men. In the second half of this series, women who are still with us like Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a physician-scientist focused on obesity medicine, and Dr. Tia Lyles-Williams, a leader in biotechnology in Philadelphia, will be featured. Their journeys are only a snippet of the excellence that Black women present bring to these spaces and remind me that I am following the footsteps of giants.
I urge viewers to walk away from this campaign with the knowledge that Black women have made and continue to make history every single day. It is imperative that Black women, now more than ever, are seen, are heard, and are supported in their efforts to promote the health and wellbeing of American society.
Chief of Staff, Black Women in Science and Technology (BWISE)
Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna is a Black woman, 2020 graduate in Bioengineering from Harvard College who aims to become a physician-scientist to develop more equitable diagnostic tools for underserved communities in medicine. She has done this by building point-of-care research tools and diagnostic platforms at Caltech and Harvard and has been a science and academic mentor for students across the social spectrum. Now at BWISE, Augusta is particularly focused on uplifting Black women in STEM, with a focus on Black women in medicine and research at the early part of their careers. Stay connected with Augusta’s by following her on Twitter and LinkedIn.