Director's Blog

Director's Blog

Happy Pi Day!

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I love Pi Day—mostly because it’s a great excuse to eat pie, but also because I remember fondly getting to conduct fun math puzzles in school using the never ending number. Oh, and the winner usually got pie.

While I never quite picked up the skills to be really successful at math, I was grateful that I got to be taught by women who showed me that girls can be great at whatever they put their mind to.

As you might imagine, Black History Month is one of the busier months that we have at the museum in terms of visitors, tours, programs, and outreach. I’m encouraged that when people in Arkansas think of Black History, the museum is usually at the top of that list. That’s awesome! But…’s also challenging.

At the museum, we celebrate and talk about Black History every day of the year. When we’re putting together a program, one of the first questions someone usually asks is, “Does someone know a Black person who does that?”

As strange as it might seem to ask a question like that, I wonder how often most people think about diversifying the faces in the room when they’re putting together an exhibition, program, or teaching in their classroom.

While it was great to learn about Dr. King, Rosa Parks, or Harriet Tubman in school, I wish that I would have gotten the opportunity to learn about a diverse group of scientists, mathematicians, and explorers who have shaped our thinking and knowledge of the universe. I can’t wait until my son is old enough to show him Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos or tell him about Euphemia Lofton Haynes or Evelyn Boyd Granville.

So I encourage you—when you’re thinking about science or poetry or math or really any topic, let your exploration begin with searching for the diverse voices which have shaped our world. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said, “It's the inspired student that continues to learn on their own. That's what separates the real achievers in the world from those who pedal along, finishing assignments.”

Because I wouldn’t be a cool librarian without it, here’s a short list of books to encourage your math and science exploration on pi day (a short summary of the book from the publisher is included as well):

We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program by Richard Paul and Steven Moss

  • The Space Age began just as the struggle for civil rights forced Americans to confront the long and bitter legacy of slavery, discrimination, and violence against African Americans. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson utilized the space program as an agent for social change, using federal equal employment opportunity laws to open workplaces at NASA and NASA contractors to African Americans while creating thousands of research and technology jobs in the Deep South to ameliorate poverty. We Could Not Fail tells the inspiring, largely unknown story of how shooting for the stars helped to overcome segregation on earth. Richard Paul and Steven Moss profile ten pioneer African American space workers whose stories illustrate the role NASA and the space program played in promoting civil rights. They recount how these technicians, mathematicians, engineers, and an astronaut candidate surmounted barriers to move, in some cases literally, from the cotton fields to the launching pad. The authors vividly describe what it was like to be the sole African American in a NASA work group and how these brave and determined men also helped to transform Southern society by integrating colleges, patenting new inventions, holding elective office, and reviving and governing defunct towns. Adding new names to the roster of civil rights heroes and a new chapter to the story of space exploration, We Could Not Fail demonstrates how African Americans broke the color barrier by competing successfully at the highest level of American intellectual and technological achievement.

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J Naden

  • One summer day in 1959, nine-year-old Ron McNair, who dreams of becoming a pilot, walks into the Lake City, South Carolina, public library and insists on checking out some books, despite the rule that only white people can have library cards. Includes facts about McNair, who grew up to be an astronaut.

Mae Jemison: The First African American Woman in Space by Magdalena Alagna

  • Provides insights into the life of Mae Jemison, the first female African American astronaut, including some of the steps she took to reach her goals.

Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

  • Genius has no race. Strength has no gender. Coruage has no limit. The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America's greatest achievements in space. Before John Glenn orbited the earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, some of the brightest minds of their generation, known as 'human computers', used pencils and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the space race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA's greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country's future. It is a powerful and revelatory tale of race, discrimination and achievement in the modern world. (*Christina’s note: for those who see the movie version, make sure you watch through the credits where you can see archival photos of the Black Computers)

African American Women Chemists by Jeannette E. Brown

  • Beginning with Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, the first African American woman to receive a PhD in chemistry in the United States--in 1947, from Columbia University--this well researched and fascinating book celebrate the lives and history of African American women chemists. Written by Jeannette Brown, an African American chemist herself, the book profiles the lives of numerous women, ranging from the earliest pioneers up until the late 1960's when the Civil Rights Acts sparked greater career opportunities. Brown examines each woman's motivation to pursue chemistry, describes their struggles to obtain an education and their efforts to succeed in a field in which there were few African American men, much less African American women, and details their often quite significant accomplishments. The book looks at chemists in academia, industry, and government, as well as chemical engineers, whose career path is very different from that of the tradition chemist, and it concludes with a chapter on the future of African American women chemists, which will be of interest to all women interested in a career in science

What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Raymond Obstfield

  • Did you know that James West invented the microphone in your cell phone? That Fred Jones invented the refrigerated truck that makes supermarkets possible? Or that Dr. Percy Julian synthesized cortisone from soy, easing untold people’s pain? These are just some of the black inventors and innovators scoring big points in this dynamic look at several unsung heroes who shared a desire to improve people’s lives. Offering profiles with fast facts on flaps and framed by a funny contemporary story featuring two feisty twins, here is a nod to the minds behind the gamma electric cell and the ice-cream scoop, improvements to traffic lights, open-heart surgery, and more — inventors whose ingenuity and perseverance against great odds made our world safer, better, and brighter.

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