Sistas In Science

***The Champ’s latest at Ebony profiles four Black women who happen to be close friends…and all happen to have PhDs in STEM fields. (VSB vets should recognize at least one of them)***

Four Black women. All friends. And, all granted PhDs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields before reaching 30.

What sounds the premise for an urban fairy tale has been the reality for Jessica Porter, 29, Marguerite Matthews, 29, Dahlia Haynes, 31, and Racquel Jemison, 27—a reality made even more unlikely when reading statistics about Black people and STEM PhDs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black people are 12% of the U.S. population and 11% of all students beyond high school, yet they received just 7% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4% of master’s degrees, and 2% of PhDs. And, out of 5,048 PhDs awarded in the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, 89 went to Blacks—a number that gets even smaller when removing Black men.

Yet, Porter (a Boston native and current senior sensory scientist at Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati) met Matthews (who matriculated at Spelman and is currently doing a post-doc at the University of Portland) in 2006 while both enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh’s neuroscience PhD program. In 2010, they met Jemison, a Morgan State grad and doctoral student at nearby Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who will receive a PhD in chemistry this fall. A couple months later, Jemison introduced them to Haynes, a post-doctoral research associate at CMU who received her PhD in chemistry at Clemson University.

The ladies soon grew close, forming the nexus for a “crew” of grad students and young professionals who migrated to the Pittsburgh-area for work or school.

EBONY.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss Black women in science, the importance of early STEM education, and the value of having a strong network of friends.

EBONY: Cases such as the one with Kiera Wilmot reinforce the idea that, from a lack of administrative support to Black students not given the same allowances other students are to experiment, there may be substantial social and institutional barriers preventing Black women from entering and excelling in science-based fields. Do you agree with this assessment?

Dahlia Haynes: This question reads unclear. I am not aware of this case but what allowances are we as Black women not getting? I, for one, have received great institutional support to excel in science based fields. I do believe however that it is because of the (White) people I had around me who were heavily invested in diversity. Socially, unfortunately is that there remains very few of “my people” in the STEM fields. This starts from an early age however. Where I’m from in particular, the only successful careers that were popularly known were the “Huxtables” (medical doctor or lawyer). To overcome this, being scientists has to become socially more acceptable at younger ages.

Marguerite Matthews: I don’t think there are barriers preventing Black students from going into or excelling in the sciences, per se. But I do think there is a lack of support, encouragement, and proper education for many Black students – especially those coming from more disadvantaged economic backgrounds. Similar to Dahlia, I had teachers who pushed me into STEM opportunities, which inspired me to pursue science in higher education and as a career. Exposure to these opportunities, and feeling empowered to thrive in the sciences, has made a world of difference. Unfortunately in the case of Kiera Wilmot, the stereotype that Black kids are thought of as criminals first, not scientists, is being reinforced. This type of experience – being faced with criminal charges – may totally deter her from pursuing science in the future. And while this likely isn’t the case for all Black children, it highlights that society often does not value Black children, even those who are proven to be good students, as future innovators and intellectuals.

Jessica Porter: I do not think that there are barriers preventing Black women from entering or excelling in science based fields any more than there are barriers for White women. Science remains to be a male dominated field so the issues from my experience have had to do more with being a woman than being Black. In addition, as  a Black woman, we check two boxes, which tend to be very important for funding especially at a time when scientific funding is being cut. I don’t want to think that the reason I received funding was because I was Black, but being Black did help. In most science fields, the government or non-profit organizations pay for higher education through grant funding, thus eliminating the barrier and making a scientific education cheaper and easier to pursue.

Racquel Jemison: I think I’m more inclined to agree with Marge.  There isn’t enough support for our young Black students to pursue interests in the sciences.  It’s primarily those few heavily involved teachers or mentors that encourage early exposure to the sciences, and quite frankly, there aren’t enough of them.

Read more at EBONY

Why I’ll Never Vote For A Republican

"Sorry for missing your party, big guy. The invite must have gone to my spam folder or something"

I live approximately a mile away from Ava/Shadow Lounge — a popular local venue that hosts everything from hardcore hip-hop to “hipster music” shows, houses numerous parties and community events, and seems to have hidden forces determined to make it the area’s latest gentrification casualty. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been there at least 100 times (and possibly as many as 200) in the last five years.

It nests on the corner of Baum Boulevard and Highland Avenue. If you stand on Baum and Highland and look a block down the street, you can see Capri Bar, another venue that houses numerous parties and events. And, this block distance isn’t one of those New York City-esque two mile long blocks, either. I won’t lie and say that it’s so close that I can throw a football from Ava/Shadow to Capri, but Cam Newton probably could.

Yet, despite the fact that Capri usually has decent DJs, always has available parking, draws decent-sized crowds, and has a couple distinct advantages over Shadow/Ava (they serve food, and their bar has TVs), I’ve been to Capri maybe five times in the last three years.

Now, I know the owner of Ava/Shadow pretty well, and I’m also pretty cool with many of the bartenders and bouncers, but that alone doesn’t explain why I’m 50 times more likely to attend an event there than one at Capri. It — my less than positive feelings about Capri — all comes down to the fact that I just don’t like the crowd Capri usually draws. Like I mentioned before, the venues and the weekend events held at each venue aren’t really all that dissimilar. And, they’re only 70 yards away from each other. But, something about Capri attracts a crowd that’s just a little sketchier than the typical Ava/Shadow crowd, and I don’t feel as comfortable there.

Now, if you read today’s title and also at least managed to graduate from middle school, you probably surmised that this Ava/Capri conundrum is a long-winded analogy for my feelings about the Democratic and Republican parties. You’re correct. It is. You’re probably also assuming that I’m going to preface the rest of this piece by saying something like “Even though that analogy is far from perfect, I still think that….” If you made this assumption, you’re incorrect. The Ava/Capri conundrum is in fact a perfect representation of my feelings about both parties, and perfectly encapsulates why I’d never vote for a f*cking republican.

Becoming moderate usually means that you’re either moving from right to left or from left to right. Basically, most people don’t really become moderate, that’s just where they happen to currently be as they make their move from one side of the political spectrum to another. For as long as I’ve been politically aware, though, I can’t remember ever leaning liberal or conservative. I was born sitting on a fence, and I’ve neither seen nor heard no good reason to jump off any time soon. No wonder why I’m so bowlegged.

Perhaps the main reason why I’ve been able to entertain arguments and theories (well, intelligent and reasonable arguments and theories) from both sides is because, well, I just don’t think (intelligent and reasonable) democrats and (intelligent and reasonable) republicans are all that different. It’s popular to make it seem like choosing between the two is a life or death proposition, but, from a sheer policy perspective, it’s really no different than deciding between Red Lobster and The Olive Garden.

I don’t think Republican/conservative policy is inherently racist or sexist or stupid or wrong, and I also don’t believe that “a person with Republican/conservative beliefs” = “a stupid or sexist or racist person.” It’s just a difference in beliefs, and I can think of numerous occasions when I listened to someone like David Frum or George Will or even Andrew Sullivan and thought “Damn. That was a great point.”

I realize my opinion isn’t exactly universal. I’m sure there will be many staunch democrats reading this who think I’m absolutely, categorically wrong, and that voting for republicans is like voting for syphilis. But, despite the difference in perception, our actions are the same. The staunch liberal thinks “Republican” = “burning urination,” and they never vote for republicans. I think “Republican” = “unlimited salad and breadsticks,” and I also never vote for republicans.

Our actions align because of one simple point: My issues with republicans are all about people.

Whether it’s the message or the policies or the platform, something about the modern Republican party just continues to attract people like Todd Akin and the type of people who’d still vote for Todd Akin and the type of people who think so little of Black people that they’ll brazenly throw peanuts at Black camerawomen at densely populated events. And, I will never willingly align myself with people like that.

I realize “never” is pretty extreme. And, as I mentioned before, I know their parties probably aren’t all that different than the parties I usually attend. Still, republicans could be passing out free pancakes and p*ssy at the door, but until they do something about the type of people their parties attract, I’ll keep my ass across the street.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Six Biggest Assholes You’ll Ever Meet

As I’m typing this, my cat is laying in my kitchen, staring at the refrigerator, thinking dumb-ass cat thoughts. He’s been doing this for 20 minutes now, and it’s taking everything in me not to sneak behind him, run the faucet in my sink, splash water on him, and watch him jump up and run underneath one of my couches.

I’m not going to do this because, well, it would be cruel. Funny, but cruel. But, I’m consistently tempted to do things like this to get his ass back for all the shady shit he pulls on a regular basis. For instance, he woke me up this morning by jumping from the floor to maybe an inch away from my face, and the first thing I saw when opening my eyes was his creepy ass staring at me. He kept meowing, so I rubbed his stomach, and he purred until realizing that he didn’t want his stomach rubbed anymore. How do I know he changed his mind? He bit me. (Well, he attempted to bite me and I moved out the way)

At this point, I figure going back to sleep was a lost cause, so I got up and walked to the bathroom. When I get back to my bedroom, this n*gga is laying across my sheets, knocked the f*ck out. He basically punked me out of my own bed.

Also, he took a shit two inches away from his litter box a couple days ago, and I’m pretty certain that if he was a little bigger and a little smarter, he would have killed me in my sleep already. I don’t know how I know this, but he just always has a look in his eyes that says “If I was a little bigger and a little smarter, I’d probably kill you in your sleep.”

Thing is, compared to other cats, he’s actually a nice cat. He doesn’t hiss at people, he rarely bites and, although he does scratch random shit, he doesnt seem to scratch shit I actually care about. (Like, you know, my eyeballs or something) He’s definitely making progress, too. He doesn’t even jump on the keyboard when I’m trying to type anymore.

But, as Teddy the Cat helps prove…

…cats are just natural assholes, and there’s really nothing they can do about it.

Now, while cats are definitely the biggest assholes we’ll probably ever encounter, there are a few more populations who can be just as consistently douchey, including…

13 to 15 year old little girls

I have to admit. When I first heard about R. Kelly’s obsession with girls who were just a bit too old to be Just For Me models, I didn’t believe it. Not because I held the R-uh in any type of esteem, but I just couldn’t imagine anyone willingly choosing to spend any free time with them. Why? Well, it’s probably because there is no other human demographic that produces more evil assholes per capita, and no one likes 13 to 15 year old girls. Teachers don’t (trust me). Mother nature doesn’t. 13 to 15 year old boys don’t. (They’re attracted to them and scared of them, but they don’t actually like them) Shit, 13 to 15 year old girls don’t even like other 13 to 15 year old girls.

Now, I know it’s not really their fault. Mother Nature does a number on them at that age, and while 13 to 15 year old boys just end up being witless, germ-ridden, half-human collections of drool, their female counterparts get the short end of nature’s stick, and they take it out on all of us.

I’m sure some women reading this are going to think to themselves “What the hell is Champ talking about? I wasn’t that bad when I was that age. What type of ratchet teenage girls do they grow in Pittsburgh?” If you are one of these women, I want you to call your mom after reading this and ask her if she actually liked you — not “loved,” but “liked” — when you were 13.

I bet the conversation goes something like this.

Woman: “Hey mom. I just read this blog where this guy said that all 13 to 15 year old girls are assholes, and that nobody likes them. You always liked me, right?”

Mom: “Baby, you know I’ve always loved you. You’re my sweetheart, my baby. I’d do anything for you.”

Woman: “You didn’t answer my question.”

Mom: “……….”

Woman:“Mom!”

Mom: “Well, baby. Ok, so there might have been a couple years in your early teens when I kind of, sort of, wanted you to get kidnapped for a couple months or so. You eventually grew out of it, though, and became a tolerable person, so I stopped fantasizing about you getting kidnapped. Plus, I knew they were dumb fantasizes anyway. The kidnappers would have given you back after like four hours. Shit, they might have even given us a ransom to take you back. You’re still my baby, though.”

Atheists, Vegans, and Liberals

Put in the same group because they’re assholes for the same reason: They assume their politics and “informed” reasons for their lifestyles gives them carte blanche to be douchy (and surprisingly intolerant) sacks of patchouli-scented shit.

Asian men who spent most of there lives in Asian countries and happen to be in Pittsburgh for grad school and also happen to frequent coffee shops on the eastern side of Pittsburgh

I know this is a very, very, very, very, very specific demographic. I also know that saying this is kinda, sorta racist. But, one of the few Black male privileges we have is that we get to be a little racist sometimes, and I’m going to use this privilege to talk about the space issues consistently exhibited by Asian men who spent most of there lives in Asian countries and happen to be in Pittsburgh for grad school and also happen to frequent coffee shops on the eastern side of Pittsburgh.

To be quite honest, I don’t even really mind when I’m sitting at a table and I get hit in the head with a backpack by one who’s walking far too close to my damn table. I don’t even mind it when he doesn’t say excuse me or even bother to look back. I do mind it, though, when I’m in the parking lot, walking back to my car, and I see that it’s been sandwiched and the only way I can get in my whip is to jump in through the driver’s side window like I’m of one the Dukes of f*cking Hazzard.

When this happens, how do I know who did it? Well, the cars are always four door f*cking Suzukis, and the only people who drive gotdamn f*cking four door Suzukis are Asian men who spent most of there lives in Asian countries and happen to be in Pittsburgh for grad school and also happen to frequent coffee shops on the eastern side of Pittsburgh.

Anyway, people of VSB. Did I forget anyone? Can you think of any other demographic — Black men from Seattle, club bouncers, chicks who went to HBCUs that start with the letter “H,” whatever — that consistently produces assholes?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***Check out our Very Smart Single of the Week, “Double A”***

That Awkward Moment When “I Have Principles” Means “Dammit, No More Chick-fil-A”

If you’ve ever checked out my VSB bio, you’re likely aware of my fondness for soups. More specifically (quoting myself) “soups that happen to be especially creamy.” And, although this was written over four years ago, my adoration for soup remains just as intense. I love soup more than fat crackheads love Home Depot. Seriously, if I ever got married, instead of having the guests choose between steak and chicken or some shit, I’ll have a station with soups from all over the world. (I also plan to have an omelet bar, all you can eat pancakes, and a selection of bacons made from dozens of different animals, including alligator, tiger, and shark. You’re probably laughing now, but tell me that wouldn’t be the awesomest wedding reception you’ve ever attended)

Want proof of this love? Try this. A few weeks ago, the high temperature in the Burgh reached 99 degrees. You know what I had for lunch that day? A bowl of soup. Dinner? Two bowls of soup.

Yet, despite this love affair, my infatuation with soup caused (and is still causing) a serious crisis of conscience. You see, although the Pittsburgh-area contains many different diners and obscure restaurants where you can get a good bowl of soup, sometimes it’s not really worth the search, and sometimes you just don’t feel like going to the ATM because some Yinzer greasy spoon still only accepts cash. When this happens, there’s always Panera Bread — a chain where the soups (and the bread bowls they come in) are consistently good — and this is a problem.

Why? Well…

From “Lawsuit: Bias against ‘fat, black or ugly’ at Panera franchise”

A Panera Bread franchisee had a policy of keeping “fat, black or ugly” people off of the cash registers and out of management positions, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court today that seeks class action status.

The lawsuit by Guy M. Vines, 21, of Castle Shannon, claims that Panera franchisee Covelli Enterprises discouraged managers from hiring African Americans, and then relegated them to menial, back-of-the-shop roles.

It follows a lawsuit filed in November by a former Panera Bread manager who said he was fired under pretenses after he objected to such policies. Both Mr. Vines and the former manager are represented by attorney Sam Cordes.

This was a pretty big story in the Pittsburgh-area last winter. So big that the Black community (Yes. All five of us) staged an unofficial protest of Panera Bread that, to my knowledge, is still going on today. I haven’t stepped foot in one since January.

I also never had a Panera franchise open a block away from where I live…something that is going to happen next week. Drats! Since learning this, I’ve begun crafting elaborate excuses for why I should give this protest thing a “break.” (My favorite? “So what if they didn’t allow Black people to work the register. At least they weren’t slaves. And, stop being a hypocrite, man. Slaves picked cotton, but that didn’t stop your Black ass from wearing shirts.”)

Anyway, I’m bringing this all up because of how interesting it is to me to see the mental machinations we put ourselves through when our principles aren’t necessarily convenient.

And, I said “we” because I know I’m not alone. For instance, I’m sure if I took a poll today asking people to name their favorite fast food restaurant, Chick-fil-A — the same Chick-fil-A whose president recently stated that he was a strong opponent of same-sex marriage — would win in a landslide. I’m also sure there would be quite a bit of overlap if I made a Venn diagram of “people who have eaten at Chick-fil-A in the past month” and “people who have marched in support of gay marriage.”

Yesterday’s post dealt with a man who had his “come to Jesus” moment, and ran the other way. He (obviously) failed on a pretty large scale, but I don’t think that allowing ourselves to defer our principles for a moment or two of pleasure is really all that different.

I have no doubt that, sometime within the next couple of days months, I will be craving some creamy chicken soup, and this craving will cause me to “delay” my Panera protest for a day. I will enjoy this soup, and it’s likely that I’ll enjoy this soup so much that I’ll delay the protest another couple of days. Soon, that delay will just turn into “Eh…it was a good effort,” and I will not feel bad about this at all.

The moral of this story? The judgements made by men have myriad effects, none greater than…actually, you know what? F*ck a moral. Why the hell did it have to be Chick-fil-A? I mean, why couldn’t the president of Hardee’s or Lady Foot Locker or wack-ass motherf*ckin Chipotle have said this instead???

Anyway, people of VSB.com, have you ever had a moment where you were forced to, um, “reconsider” your principles because they weren’t convenient? If so, what did you do?

Also, am I the only one willing to shank a kitten for a spicy chicken sandwich right now?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***If you’re in the DC area this Thursday, make sure to come out to “Myth or Maybe” — a relationship-related discussion hosted by Panama and the homie Rahiel from Urban Cusp***

Let’s Talk About Trayvon Martin Today

As the title suggests, I want to talk about Trayvon Martin today. I want to talk about his murder. I want to talk about the release of the 911 tapes. I want to talk about how I haven’t mustered the courage(?) to listen to them yet. I want to talk about how I begin to break down whenever I see his picture. I want to talk about the picture attached to this post, and how that baby-faced kid — a baby-faced kid who could have very easily been my little brother, my nephew, my cousin, my neighbor’s kid, my son, or, well, me — had no idea that he was going to be stalked, pursued, assaulted, and murdered before his 18th birthday just because he happened to be black at the wrong place in the wrong time. I want to talk about the fact that his murderer hasn’t been (and may never be) arrested. I want to talk about how, despite the fact that I know hate is wrong, I haven’t been able to think of a word strong enough to convey my hate for George Zimmerman. I want to talk about the effect this murder has had on his family, and how this unbelievably sad story has galvanized the nation.

When we’re done talking about Trayvon Martin, I want to talk about 19-year-old Anthony Scott and 6-year-old Aliyah Shell — the two youngest of the 10 people murdered in Chicago last weekend. Aliyah was killed in a drive-by shooting in broad daylight (3:30pm) as she sat on the porch with her mom. Anthony was called to a vehicle, and shot in the head as he approached it.

I’d also like to talk about 2-year-old Taizon Arin and 11-year-old Donovan McKee, two kids recently murdered by their mother’s boyfriends. Taizon died of blunt force trauma to the head. Donovan was ordered to get the sticks he was beat to death with, forced to clean up the bloody mess he made while his murderer took breaks from beating him to death, and eventually died after being beat over a nine hour span. 

If we have some time, I’d definitely like to say a few words about Kenneth Alford Jr, one of the dozen or so people I’ve personally known who’ve been murdered. It’s been almost six years since he was shot to death, and Kenneth — who was known as “Stubbo” by, well, everyone — was a friend of mine and a basketball rival I’d known since I was maybe 11 or 12.

It’s funny. I was a much better player than him — bigger, stronger, better shooter, better handle, just better — but he always got the better of me when we played against each other. As anyone who’s ever played ball will tell you, some guys just always have your number. Stubbo had mine, and it frustrated the hell out of me.

If he was still around he’d definitely be playing in one of the over-30 YMCA leagues I currently play in. He’s long gone, though — murdered because of mistaken identity — so I’m left to wonder if he’d still have my number.

Actually, I misspoke a couple paragraphs ago. When counting the dozen or so people I’ve known who have been murdered, I didn’t count former students — kids who sat in my classroom when I was an English teacher. If you add them to the list, that “dozen” number doubles.

I feel awful saying this, but I don’t remember each of their names. But, I do remember that I said a prayer for Chandler Thompson, Richiena Porter, Isaiah Talbott, and Stephen Tibbs every night for maybe three years straight.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that though, so maybe we can talk about them for (at least) a couple minutes today, for no other reasons then it’ll make me feel better about neglecting to pray for them and forgetting the names of the rest of their gunned down classmates.

Lastly, while I may be tempted to spark this discussion, we don’t have to talk about my 16-year-old and 19-year-old nieces. They were both shot at a Sweet 16 house party a few months ago, but they were both lucky enough to only suffer non-fatal wounds.

I don’t know where I’m going with any of this. I don’t know why I stopped praying for Chandler, Richiena, Isaiah, and Stephen. I don’t know what to do with all of this emotion, all of this feeling the murder of Trayvon Martin has left me with. I don’t know what do to. I do know, though, that any glance at the “Local News” section of any one of the 100(?) or so major American newspapers will sadly remind us that Trayvon Martin’s murder isn’t the only one we need to talk about today.

 —Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)