Daily Archives: May 9, 2023

Mae Jemison: A Scientific Trailblazer – Tea Thompson

Confidence: the feeling needed to accomplish the impossible. Throughout her life, Dr. Mae Jemison trusted in the power of confidence in order to accomplish scientific greatness. On March 29, I had the opportunity to hear about her greatness and all the baby steps that came along with it during an interview hosted by the Black Student Union and The Society of Black Engineers here at the University of San Diego. Through the interview, Jemison shows what can happen when oppression both racially and gender-wise is challenged and the success that can be achieved when Black people but more specifically Black women are allowed to thrive in their chosen career paths.

Dr. Jemison accomplished many great things in her career. At the young age of 16, she attended Stanford University to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering. During her time there, Chemical Engineering was an extremely white male dominated profession and being the strong young black woman she was, no one had faith in her. Many professors encouraged her to switch her major to Biology so she could become a nurse but Jemison had bigger aspirations than that. When she went to school, the major we know today as Biomedical Engineering didn’t exist yet; so instead Jemison decided to make this major on her own. Upon graduation she made the decision to attend medical school at Cornell University so she could challenge herself and prove she was as strong as she knew she was.

During her time in New York, Jemison worked hard as a medical student but also continued to pursue her love for dance. She grew up doing professional dance and continued this passion during her college years and had the opportunity to become a professional dancer and join a company. At this point, Jemison had a decision to make and decided science was the path her life needed to continue on because dance will always be a hobby she can pursue but becoming a biomedical engineer and taking care of people was her calling during this time. Medical school taught her a great deal and she ended up finishing but didn’t go in the normal path most would. Jemison had a very strong urge to travel abroad so she joined the Peace Corp. She served in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1983-1985. There she was able to gain more knowledge by working in an impoverished country and learning to adapt with little to no supplies. Upon returning to the states, Jemison had one more thing that she wanted to accomplish. She wanted to go to space. Jemison applied to the NASA astronaut program and was one of 2 women accepted and the first ever African American woman accepted. She worked as a mission specialist on her mission in 1992. In the later parts of her career she found that the reason she was chosen over every other applicant was due to the diversity in her career and mainly the time in the peace corps showed the committee she had resilience and was built for space.

Dr. Jemison’s accomplishments are examples about why the freedom to pursue a career is necessary. During the time that she lived in, it was common for a woman to have to stay at home with the kids and not be given the chance to work. This idea of unequal treatment reminded me of a quote from Freedom On My Mind. “It looks like … a male-dominated world…. Somehow the male comes up and gets the attention. Others seem to just respect male leadership more. I think the men have always had the edge.(pg. 843)” Thelma Glass, one of the members of the Women’s Political Council during the Civil Rights Movement stated this powerful quote to describe the struggles that women were facing and how they will never truly gain the respect they deserve. Jemison had many instances where men achieved the upper edge simply because they were a man but it never stopped her from working. During the interview, she shared this anecdote from her times in college when a professor discouraged her multiple times from pursuing her dreams of both medical school and a degree with chemical engineering. He stated over and over again about how being a doctor was a “man’s work” and that she should work in an easier field such as a nurse. This conversation was a driving force for Jemison’s career choices and was the flame that guided her to scientific greatness.

Dr. Jemison pursuing her chosen career path has allowed for significant scientific advancements that are contributing to the economic state of our country. In 2011, Dr. Jemison earned a grant for a project called “100 year starship”. The mission of this project is to be able to figure out a way that we can travel outside of our galaxy and explore what is beyond. As stated directly in the mission statement, “The challenge of traveling to another star system could generate transformative activities, knowledge, and technologies that would dramatically benefit every nation on Earth in the near term and years to come.” As stated, this project is serving two purposes: advancements in space exploration for the future and a common ground for nations to come together. Space exploration has always been seen as a competition between countries instead of a solution for peace. Jemison’s project however is something that is embarking on untouched territory and can be a chance for a solution of peace between countries at war. Exploring what is beyond our galaxy could benefit the economy by opening up potential solutions to problems plaguing our world such as the damage to the environment. It is still unknown if there are other inhabitable planets for humans in other galaxies and this project is working to find out if there is a planet and if this solution is found then it opens up avenues for not just the United States but every country. With this incentive, the importance of countries working together to research solutions to help further this project is extremely important. This incentive also capitalizes on a solution for peace because countries at war can’t agree. This common ground could help ease tensions and flourish into a relationship that can develop trade and other economic incentives that benefit each country equally.

In conclusion, Jemison’s trailblazing actions and being able to challenge racial and gender standards made history in not only women’s history but primarily African American women’s history. The future she paved for African American women is something that wouldn’t have happened without faith in a dream. During an interview with MUSAU, Jemison stated “The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up.” This quote I feel sums up her interview perfectly and is something I plan on implementing especially in my college journey. So many young students such as myself enter college without a single clue on what they want to do. We all have passions and aspirations but they are often shut down and turned away by the expectation of the real world that in order to be successful you need to have a good-paying job that will support a family. This stigma needs to be broken and instead confidence in dreams should be encouraged and supported. As the old saying goes, if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life and this is an important lesson I learned. Jemison did what she loved everyday and had the confidence that her love would be enough to not only accomplish greatness but make history and redefine standards. Mae Jemison should forever be remembered for her contributions to space exploration and is an inspiration to every woman with a dream.

Reimagining Black Memorials and “Black Land” in America – Tiffany Oh

Tiffany Lethabo King, a PhD associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Virginia, spoke of reimagining Black memorials and “Black land” in America. In the beginning of her speech, King recounts an important event that unlocked her curiosity and concern about Black people’s relationship with the land. In 1997, King and a friend discovered an imprint of two fingers in the brick of a University of Virginia building. These prints belonged to an enslaved Black person. At this moment, King truly realized that she was standing on plantation ground. Current studies rely heavily on viewing labor as a visual image of a bent down body with strained muscles to determine the Black Body’s relationship to the New World. King hopes to change the reimagining of the Black Body as forms of space in process rather than human producers. This ‘space’ allows us to reflect on the relationships Black people have to not only the land but also plants, objects, and non-human life forms. 


Freedom on My Mind explains this viewing of enslaved Black people as “human producers” during the time of forced labor as chattel slavery. African slaves were seen as movable personal property that were legally equivalent to domestic animals and furniture. They had no legal authority over their own children. Thus, it is easy to say that White slave owners viewed enslaved Black people as a business rather than human beings. To White slave owners, Black labor poured into our land wasn’t done by humans but by machines. To White slave owners, Black labor was not appreciated now connected to the Black people. That land was White land. Tiffany King heavily stressed the importance of the valorization of Black labor. This was a big motivation as to why so many Black people resisted colonization in the 1800s. The American Colonization Society (ACS) was a movement that contained White clergymen and politicians. Both White anti- and pro-slavery supporters were in favor of Black colonization. They supported the migration of freeborn Black people and emancipated enslaved Blacks outside of the USA. However, many Black people resisted colonization because they had no immediate ties to the lands outside of America. They felt tied to American land through their ancestors’ work. They believed that if America was anyone’s nation, it was theirs. They deserve the right to access and benefit from the fruits of their labor. And it’s true – Black people built this country. King desires to bring liberation of Black people as well as all those oppressed, such as the Indigenous peoples and return the land to the decolonized commons. One way King suggests we combat this is by having Black and Indigenous people work together in harmony. Black people were forced to work on stolen land of the Indigenous and, although they are different groups, they have a shared history. Both being victims of colonization, Blacks and all oppressed groups deserve justice. 


Working in harmony is not only seen as a possible solution to these injustices but also something that was done all throughout African American history. Even seen from the very beginning on the slave ships, the film ‘Roots’ showed how Africans being shipped to America had no one but each other. Many spoke different languages, so it was difficult to communicate. But, through each other’s presence and will to fight, they remained strong. In a way, they were almost forced to work together. Black people were also in harmony as a form of resistance. They created their own culture mixed with customs from Africa and customs from the New World. They created a world within a world by working together as a team. They created Gullah Geechee which was a language developed in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and the Sea Islands where they labored in the rice plantations. They created new rituals and embraced Christianity in a different way from the colonials. King suggests we do a similar thing to bring liberation and return land to the oppressed. We must work together despite our differences to truly make a change for the better. Like discussed in class, Black nationalism can be used as a leading practice and strategy such as having Black pride and therefore unity. 


During her speech, King showed a video of a timeline of events that happened over the years in or around the University of Virginia. One event that stood out to me was an attack on a twelve-year-old enslaved girl by three students in a field next to the school. This theme of violence was always present and continues to be present today. In 1800, Virginia plotted a rebellion and White Virginians responded with violence and harm to ensure that enslaved Blacks were scared. They had hoped to suppress their freedom and force Black people to abide by their policies. If not, they would be punished. The Black Reconstruction, in the mid-1800s, started to fall as White redemption arose. Much of this defeat was due to the rise of mob violence such as the Ku Klux Klan in 1865 as well as lynching and terrorism. In an attempt to stay alive, Black people had no other choice but to be violent. Even cops who weren’t to be trusted. They often even joined in on White violence. Martin Luther King Jr. argued against using violence with violence in his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but after a bomb exploded in Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed 4 Black girls, Black people wanted justice and many desired to fight back. It is quite interesting to see how Black people have this reputation of being violent, when White people were the ones to start the violence from the beginning. 


It is one thing to know that the land we live on has a history filled with violence, discrimination, and hatred. But it is another to do something about it. Tiffany King speaks of Black Fungibility in her paper, The Labor of (Re)reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(ly). She mentions the term “plantation futures” with a hopeful approach to Black fungibility to “recognize the violence of plantation and its afterlife while simultaneously acknowledging the ongoing capacity for the making and remaking of Black life in the midst of plantation violence … [while also having the] capacity to transform conditions of subjection” (King, Tiffany 2016). Tiffany King gives us great advice on how we can work together to bring liberation to the oppressed, recognize the past violence on our land, and bring the land back to the decolonized commons. In order to do so, King believes that the capitalist state apparatus and its systems of control must be dismantled; this means dismantling the police forces and prison-industrial complex, state surveillance and repressive apparatus, and the US military. 


King ends her presentation on the forces at work today that are striving to accomplish these changes mentioned in the previous paragraph. Examples of corporations set up are the Native American Student Association, the Black Student Union, and the Indigenous Feminist Futures Institute to Reimagine Black and Indigenous Space, Peoples, and Relations. In North Carolina, there is the Medicine Bowl, which is a hub for healing that aims to help mend Black and Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the land and help liberate these people and the history behind them. 


All in all, attending this event has brought me greater knowledge about the history of our land and the things we must do to bring justice and liberation to those greatly affected by the violence and discrimination, namely the Black and indigenous peoples. Together, we have moved towards a better world but nonetheless have a far way to go. With these associations and their movement towards reconciliation, love, equality, liberty, and justice, we may just be able to get to where we both want and need to be.


Medicine Bowl’s Mission

A Black and Indigenous led land-based plan for liberation located in the Green Mountains of Western North Carolina. The corporation is made up of organizers, farmers, medicine people, and land stewards hoping to flourish, feed, and build houses for the community. 




White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021. 


“Roots.” Films, Inc., 1977. 


The Labor of (Re)Reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(Ly). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/anti.12227. 


“Who We Are.” Medicine Bowl, https://www.medicinebowl.org/who-we-are. 


“Medicine Bowl.” Medicine Bowl, https://www.medicinebowl.org/.