Hiking the Grand Canyon - The Perfect Birthday Experience
Last month, I celebrated my 30th birthday with my closest family and friends in Arizona. I knew I wanted to take a trip, and the southwest offered the perfect blend of novelty, mild climates, scenic views, and free activities. We stayed in Sedona, which was an absolutely beautiful place. We knew we were in for a wonderful stay when people in the Phoenix airport were as excited for our Sedona stay as we were. We drove up on the evening of the first night, as the sun was setting on the red rocks. This twilight introduction set the scene for our trip, and the views only got better from there. On the second day, we made the drive to the Grand Canyon and did what few do **according to google** - hiked below the rim. The South Kaibab trail was steep and narrow, and I loved every step of it. We hiked one mile into the Canyon, stopping at Ooh Ahh point to take in the views. While we were parked there, a caravan of donkeys came up the path. They were linked together by a rope, 6-7 donkeys in a line. It was at that moment that I realized how thankful I was that I didn't book those Grand Canyon donkey tours! Just watching those animals walk slowly up the Canyon made me anxious, not because they aren't sure-footed but of how little control I would have over my life if I was on their back. We opted to hike back up the canyon on the legs we got there with. Between the views and the camaraderie, it was an absolutely successful bucket-list experience.
We spent the rest of the weekend in Sedona, eating good and lounging in the hot tub. It was so good to make new memories with my loved ones. I can't wait for my next trip to the SW!
Brief thoughts on Allyship, Solidarity and Wokeness
International Womens Day 2017
Allyship, solidarity or wokeness are about more than pink knit hats, safety pins or even marches. If they can exist at all, they exist in the acts we all take to sacrifice some of our privilege on behalf of others. More than labels, if it is possible for one to be an ally, that possibility lies in our actions.
Not Intent, but Impact
Early in 2017, I had the privilege of seeing the documentary I Am Not Your Negro with my classmates from MIT. This event was hosted by the Black Graduate Student Association, the Office of Multicultural Programming and the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education. There were many striking aspects of this film, and of Baldwin himself. Born in the tail end of the 80's, I was familiar with Baldwin as a part of Black Americana, but was not intimately familiar with the complex role he played as witness to the implementation of Jim Crow and the resistance during the Civil Rights movement. In the film, he called himself a witness, documenting and reflecting on the times in which he lived. Juxtapose those times with that of our own, and it is every bit frustrating and not the least bit shocking that we are not further along on the path toward equality and justice.
One of the clips that stuck with me as I left the theater, and still reverberates in my head even now, was when Baldwin explained the subtle, but important, difference between intent and impact. Often in conversations around equity and justice, intent is used as a defense tactic- to focus on where one's heart was in an effort to deflect against accepting responsibility, or to otherwise absolve the individual (or system) of any guilt for the 'unintended' negative effects of their actions. As he states in the above clip, it is impossible to measure one's intentions, therefore making their role in the discussion of equity and justice of lesser importance. Rather, Baldwin offers that he can only measure the state of one's heart by the state of their institutions, behaviors and actions. Again, a subtle but necessary distinction in any conversation regarding equity and justice.
It is also impossible to watch Baldwin and not to be struck by the way he presents himself, his movements, his masterful use of silence and cadence. It is almost as if he is performing his thoughts, not in a disingenuous way, but in a way that heightens his points, with an elegance that makes even the simplest concepts profound. As I expect the maturation of my black consciousness to be a lifelong process, I am glad I saw the film when I did, in the political and social context of this time. It provided me with further clarity on our current circumstance, and reminded me that impact, not intent, is more important in the conversations we have today around systematic injustice.
Portrait Session by Minesh Bacrania
During the Disruptive Nuclear Futures Summit in Santa Fe, I had the honor of being photographed by Minesh Bacrania, a former LANL nuclear physicist turned professional photographer. These are some of my favorite shots; thank you Minesh for the great experience!
Herrera, Wilson and Cortor: our visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
This weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They had some wonderful things on display, of note to us were the two African American exhibits by John Wilson and Eldzier Cortor (images shown above). They also had a painting by Carmen Herrera which I was thrilled about (shown above on the bottom right). I recently watched The 100 Years Show on NetFlix about Herrera and her long path to recognition and notoriety; her 'commercial success' didn't come until the early 2000s, after seven decades as an artist. To see one of her paintings in person, at the Boston MFA, was very exciting as it represents tangible evidence that if you are true to yourself, and focus on always improving your craft, the world (and culture) will catch up to your brilliance at some point.
I also got my copy of Hidden Figures, so my latest goal is to get this read before the movie is released on Christmas day!
2016 MIT Summer Research Closing Banquet
At the end of summer 2016, I had the privilege of attending the closing banquet for the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). I say privilege because I am an alum of MSRP Summer 2008 and 2010. It was in those summers that I developed the ambition to attend MIT for graduate school and made life long friendships with fellow scientists that continue to enrich my graduate experience, even now. If you know an undergrad who is interested in STEM but maybe on the fence about graduate school, encourage them to apply to MSRP (link here). It is an opportunity for underrepresented students to come to MIT and participate in a scientific immersion program that prepares you for the challenges for applying to, and getting through, graduate school. MSRP was where I started to develop my identity as a scientist, and gave me actionable strategies that have helped me leverage my skills during my PhD career. Such a quality program, I highly recommend it!
Hidden Figures, a very necessary film about the role of black women computers in the NASA space race
[Update] Film will be released on December 25, 2016!
I am so incredibly excited about the upcoming film, Hidden Figures. Based on the entitled book by Margot Lee Shetterly, this movie tells the untold story of three African American female computers who made significant contributions to the space race of the 1960's and 70's. I first heard about the lead character, Katherine Johnson, when she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November of 2015. This is the highest civilian honor awarded, and Mrs. Johnson was chosen based on her calculations and verification work that were critical to landing the first man on the moon.
All female computer pools at NASA were the lifeblood of the institution in those days, handling complex calculations that today's computers allow us to take for granted. Highlighting the contributions of Mrs. Johnson and others like her resonates loudly with me. As an African American woman in nuclear engineering, knowing of Katherine Johnson gives me a reference point. I can only imagine the level of perseverance, self-control and resilience needed to excel during the Jim Crow era, let alone in a male-dominated technical field. Knowing her story gives me a context for my own, and further proof that black women have a long, distinguished and under-appreciated history in STEM. It is a shame that I did not learn about Katherine Johnson and female computers until 2015. It is a shame because examples like this help to shape possibilities for children. Thankfully, despite this lack of visible and acknowledged role models for black women entering STEM, we decide to persist. This book/movie increases the visibility of a historically unacknowledged group in STEM, the black woman, and bright minds who see it will never be the same.
I cannot wait until January 13th. I might be the first in line :)
Learning from the Central Park Five: Visions of American Criminal Justice Reform
On April 20, 2016, the Black Graduate Association hosted an event to discuss the current American criminal justice system and how race and media portrayals helped to shaped its evolution. The discussion also featured visions and strategies for reform, in hopes that the criminal justice system of the future will more equitably serve the American public. As a vehicle for this discussion, we chose to focus on the Central Park 5 jogger case of the 1990’s, a case the polarized our nation across race and class lines.
A documentary was released in 2012 that reviewed the details of the case and exoneration of the 5 black and Hispanic teenagers who were wrongly convicted. We were fortunate to bring one of the five men, Yusef Salaam, who was 16 at the time of his arrest. We heard about his specific experiences, and also his opinions on the broader topic of criminal justice reform.
The event was moderated by Prof Malick Ghachem from the MIT History Department. Prof Ghachem is a historian and lawyer, whose research specializes is slavery and abolition, criminal law and constitutional history.
Following the conversation with Yusef, a broader panel tackled the issue of how race and bias influence the criminal justics system. This panel included Prof Natalie Byfield, a journalist and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at St. Johns University in New York. Prof Byfield covered the Central Park 5 case as a journalist in New York in the 90’s. Joining her was Andrea James, is a community organizer and former criminal attorney. In 2010, Ms. James founded Families for Justice as Healing, an organization focused on the reducing the incarceration of women and mothers. Our last panelist was Prof. Ron Sullivan of the Harvard Law School. Prof Sullivan is a leading theorist in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, trial practices and techniques, legal ethics and race theory. In 2014, Prof Sullivan was tasked to design and implement a Conviction Review Unit for the newly elected Brooklyn District Attorney. The unit, designed to identify and exonerate wrongfully convicted persons, quickly became regarded as the model conviction integrity program in the nation.
A lasting sentiment from the event is how common wrongful convictions are, and how the public must hold accountable the prosecutor and police departments to avoid known practices that lead to this unfortunate outcomes. Thank you to my homies Tsehai Grell, Chris Smith, Genea Foster and Candace Ross for helping me bring this conversation to MIT!
Jilly from Philly comes to the Bean!
On Dec 1st, I got to see one of the most impactful soul singers of my generation in concert in Boston, the powerhouse Jill Scott.
She was everything I expected and more. I always say concerts make me a fan of new albums and the trend continued with Miss Jilly from Philly. Her show was a perfect mix of old and new, featuring songs from previous albums like Crown Royal (my jam!), Golden and A Long Walk, to songs like Prepared, Can't Wait, and Closure on her latest album entitled Woman. One thing I didn't expect was how entertaining her backup singer were. Calling themselves "The Pipes", these three young brothas sang their behinds off and took me back to Motown with the dancing and passion. Definitely a huge part of the show. Overall, it was an awesome performance and made me a solid fan of Jill's latest album, Woman.
"My Sister's Keeper", a new mechanism for supporting black women at MIT
On November 3rd, I had the pleasure of attending the kickoff of the My Sister's Keeper initiative at MIT. My Sister's Keeper is a collaborative initiative that is designed to help support the continued success of MIT's Black women students. The aim of My Sister's Keeper is to engage MIT black women undergraduate and graduate students in social, professional, and mentoring relationships with faculty and staff that will positively shape their MIT experience and inspire them along the way.
As a 5th year African American female Ph.D. student at MIT, having access to networks like this, that focus on our unique experiences both professionally and personally, is encouraging. During this 2 hour mixer, I met women through all ranks and departments at MIT, bonded to each by our unique cultural and gender heritage. It was a very refreshing experience, and I have to thank Dean Eboney Hearn, Dean Ayida Mthembu, Professor Helen Elaine Lee, La-Tarri Canti and Dean Dionetta Jones Crayton for organizing this initaitve, and consistently advocating for underrepresented students in STEM.
Never say never: my first half marathon!
On Columbus Day weekend, I ran my first half marathon in Brooklyn, NY! After 3 years of running consistently with one of my dear friends Joy for general fitness, I decided to get out of my own way and train for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. We trained for 3 months using the ASICS running app, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed the experience. The training runs were hard, because I am not a natural distance runner, but I stuck with the program. Joy and I got out there four times a week and ran with a purpose. On October 10th, I got out there and made it happen. Distance running is as much about the strength of your will as it is the strength of your body, and I am really proud of myself for running the entire course, and beating my training pace!
I'm actually shocked to say it, but this might become an annual thing for me. Only time will tell :)
She found herself in a second-hand guitar: Lianne comes to the Bean!
On September 28, a few friends and I went to see the amazing Lianne La Havas in concert at the Royale Boston! If you've never heard of Lianne, now is the time to check her out. She has two heavy hitting albums under her belt, the latest entitled 'Blood'. Lianne's sound, to me, is best described as a fusion of jazz, folk and neo-soul, but it is her vocal range and transition from full-throated singing to falsetto that I love so much. Not only is she a vocalist, but she also plays the guitar and writes all her lyrics.
Her show was pure and without gimmick. She switched from guitar to guitar as each song progressed and was so appreciative of all the love in the room. We jammed to "Grow" like we were in a rock concert, then stood attentively still as she sang "Lost and Found". Her show is definitely worth the money and I'm so glad I went, even though I had a thesis committee meeting the next day (**insert deer-in-headlights emoticon here**).
Concert of my life!
On Aug 28th, I got to see one of my absolute favorite artists, Alice Smith! If you don't know about here, please take a second and watch some of her live performances. Her voice is so unapologetic, full and overwhelming in the best ways! She has two albums under her belt, both of which she did independently. My favorites include "Do I", "Fool for you", "I put a spell on you" (her soundtrack contribution to the "What Happened Miss Simone?" documentary about the incomparable Nina Simone), "Oceans", "Not the One", my list of favorites goes on and on!
She did an hour long set with songs from both albums and some awesome covers! Her band was simple and uncluttered, just a lead guitarist, bass and those drums (the drummer was insane!). If you have a chance to see Alice live, please do! She is a real performer and sings with her full self.
Much love Alice Smith!!!
Snaps from Nagasaki, Japan
Recently visited Nagasaki, Japan for the 27th Annual Summer Symposium for Science and World Affairs, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Research Center for Nuclear Weapon Abolition. Above are some memories from my time in this historically significant city.
Hirshhorn, homie :)
Spent some time with the family in my husband's hometown of D.C.
Rapping about entrepreneurship and branding
Doug E. Fresh and other entrepreneurs discuss building a personal brand with grad students at MIT.
Joe Johnson | Division of Student Life
March 6, 2015
So you’ve made a new technology. It's something you think will revolutionize a market in a truly radical way. But how do you describe it? Sure it can do a lot of great things, but what can it do for someone beyond just its function? And even more importantly, how do you set yourself apart in a field where there are so many technological entrepreneurs?
The Personal Branding Workshop on Feb. 28 — co-sponsored by the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and the Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers (ACME) with support from the Division of Student Life — dug into the complex topic of helping entrepreneurs develop a brand strategy for themselves that will leave a lasting impression on their audience, be they venture capitalists, hiring managers, or customers.
During interactive discussions with established entrepreneurs, participants garnered tools and ideas for shaping a personal brand. “Last year, we didn’t have any kind of interactivity,” said Kelvin Frazier G, a founding member of the BGSA Personal Branding Workshop. “By having these strategy and development sessions, we can really help attendees recognize some of the weaknesses in their ideas and workshop them.”
Another big draw for the event was the keynote talk by rapper and entrepreneur Doug E. Fresh, who discussed how personal branding was key to his career.
“I started getting into the hip-hop game when I was 13. There wasn’t any kind of blueprint for what it meant to be a rapper back then,” Fresh said during his panel. “When I was starting out, I wanted to be just like some of the bigger acts at the time. I didn’t know what personal branding meant or anything like that. But it evolved as I went along”
Other speakers came from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from non-profits, to tech startups, to military, who offered insights to help attendees recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their ideas and products.
“A lot of the people here know how to make something great, or how to develop new technology,” Frazier said, “but we want to make sure people can leave the workshop with actionable items.”
Source: MIT News
Workshop Planning Committee: Mareena Robinson Snowden (Co-Chair), A. Andrew Jones (Co-Chair), Kelvin Frazier, Leilani Battle
Love & Marriage & Costa Rica
Spent New Years 2015 on my honeymoon with my lovely husband. We spent 8 days in Costa Rica, and learned to embody the philosophy of 'Pura Vida'. Our first 4 days were spent up in the clouds at the Villa Blanca Hotel and Cloud Forest, a perfectly private and serene location. Our next 4 were spent at Villa Caleta, a hotel 1000 feet above Jaco Beach with the most stunning views I've ever seen. We ate, we drank, we hiked. I wore lipstick, he wore a hat, and we were happy and in love. -MRS
MIT community engages in dialogue on race
President Reif: Winterfest protestors “are asking us to listen, to collaborate, and to act.”
Chuck Leddy | MIT News correspondent
December 11, 2014
“At MIT, every semester is a hard semester,” MIT President Rafael Reif said at Wednesday afternoon’s Winterfest, in remarks to the MIT community. “For many members of our community, this semester, and especially the events of the last few weeks, in Missouri and Staten Island, have been hard in a completely different way.”
Ten minutes earlier, Reif — like all Winterfest attendees arriving at the Stata Center — had walked past a silent protest: Dozens of members of the MIT community stood outside each of the building’s entrances in silence as a cold drizzle fell, many of them clad in black T-shirts displaying the words “#Black Lives Matter.”
Many of those protesters then came inside to listen to Reif’s remarks. For many at MIT, Reif said, the recent events have been “hurtful, deeply disturbing, and heartbreaking.” Referring to the protesters he’d seen outside, Reif added, “Today, some members of our community organized a demonstration to say, through their silence, that black lives matter. … That the injustices of our society make this statement necessary is incredibly sad.”
Reif said the ongoing pursuit of racial equality and social justice “is one of the world’s great challenges. … Recent events have shown us, again, that terrible fault lines of race are still a major issue in our society. It would be naïve to think that we at MIT are somehow immune to these problems: MIT is a microcosm of our broader society. It shares many of its flaws, as well as its virtues.”
Reif noted that the protesters “are asking us to listen, to collaborate, and to act.”
“Black Lives Matter”
Less than two hours later, inside Building E51, some 400 members of the MIT community — including about 100 who overflowed Wong Auditorium — participated in a dialogue on race at MIT that featured a panel discussion, as well as smaller group sessions. The event, called “Black Lives Matter,” was sponsored by MIT’s Institute Equity and Community Office, along with the Black Students Union, Black Women’s Alliance, and Black Graduate Student Association.
Moderator Mareena Robinson-Snowden, a fourth-year PhD student in nuclear science and engineering, began by expressing the special responsibility MIT students have: “We are leaders in the solutions-building business,” she said.
Panelist Andrew Jones ’10, SM ’14 added a further positive note, saying he was energized by the demonstrations and the more open dialogue he’d observed around issues of racism. “I’m excited by what will happen next,” Jones said. “These protests will keep going forward as people realize racism didn’t end with the election of Barack Obama as president.”
In her remarks, Ayida Mthembu, associate dean for Student Support Services, cited the nation’s long history of racism.
“We, as a nation, have a covenant that we have to keep,” Mthembu said. “We’re in a long struggle of over 400 years. In the 1960s, when I was in college, we had the same things happening. It’s amazing how memory closes off the past. I’ve been visited by many students filled with rage, frustration, and anger. I try to tell them, ‘You’re part of a process, you’re not alone.’ We’re in trouble if we can’t get the rage down and the dialogue up.”
Senior Ikenna Enwere, a chemical engineering major, echoed Mthembu: “It’s a very stressful time on campus. We want a climate here where the institution reaches out to us before we need to act.”
Melissa Nobles, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor in the Department of Political Science, urged students not to assume that their academic work is somehow separate from issues of social justice. “Yes, you’re scientists and engineers,” she said, “but you’re also citizens who need to understand the society you inhabit, and race is a big part of that.”
Panelist Tammy Stevens ’96, ’97, associate dean of academic and professional programs, said her MIT education taught her how to solve problems, and not just technical ones. “I’m a doer,” Stevens said. “We can’t just keep repeating history. We need to put an infrastructure in place here at MIT” to promote social justice — such as a required class in social justice, Stevens said.
Mthembu highlighted the need to engage in open dialogue about race, despite the potential discomfort. She described a dialogue with a white person who wanted to know, “How should I refer to you?” When Mthembu suggested the person simply call her “Ayida,” she got a head-shaking response: “No, I mean what do I call your people?”
As the audience chuckled, Mthembu recalled explaining, with much patience, “Well, that’s a difficult question. My grandfather was colored. My father was a Negro. I am black. And my children are African-American.”
In order to have these vital conversations, Mthembu explained, “We have to allow for mistakes and forgive each other.”
Source: MIT News