Black scientist network celebrates successes ' but calls for more support

One year ago, the Black in X campaign was launched. Now, organizers reflect upon their struggle against racism in academia and the challenges ahead.The Black In X movement was founded in the last year to combat systemic racism within academia. Credit: Steffi Loos/GettyA movement was created to recognize Black scientists and combat systemic oppression within academia in the wake of last year's global protests against anti Black racism. Researchers in science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM), rallied around social media hashtags and attended online events. They are now celebrating the achievements of the Black in X movement, but they also point out the obstacles they face in fighting racism in science.2020 was a tough year for us all, says Carlotta Berry, co-founder of Black In Engineering, and Black In Robotics. Let's all look at each other and say "Look what we did!"Berry and other leaders in the movement will be doing that at this weeks virtual Black in X Conference, which is being organized by a network made up of over 80 groups including Black In Geosciences and Black In Neuro. The organizers of the event hope that it will help increase Black scientists' representation and give participants opportunities to network. They want to bring attention to the importance of anti-racist policies in research institutions.Tyrone Grandison, an information-technology specialist who founded the non-profit Data-Driven Institute, Seattle, Washington. She is also a leader in both Black In Computing (and Black In Engineering) and is proud to be here organizing these events. People have ignored it for far too long.We've been here since the beginningThe #BlackBirdersWeek hashtag was the first to be connected to the Black In X movement. It was created last May by a white woman who called police on Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher, in a racial profiling incident at New York City's Central Park. In the aftermath of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there were more hashtags. #BlackInTheIvory was a Twitter hashtag that Black academics used for sharing their experiences with discrimination in academia. Many of these campaigns evolved into organizations that organize events like networking and professional-development workshops.Nature tells us that it wasn't a novel idea. Quincy Brown, a Washington DC computer scientist and senior director for innovation research at (a non-profit organization that supports women working in the technology field), says, "Weve always been there." Black scientists have been fighting to be recognized for decades. Brown points out that #BLACKandSTEM was founded in 2014 and #VanguardSTEM was founded in 2015. Both campaigns are still active today. The deluge that erupted in mid-2020 galvanized efforts as never before.Leaders are still struck by the popularity of Black In X organizations a year later. Berry, an electrical and computer engineer at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Indiana, said that we were almost blindsided by how many people wanted to connect with them when we launched them. Berry claims that Black researchers who were interested in organizing Black In X events started coming to Berry and her colleagues shortly after #BlackInEngineering was launched in June 2020.Berry and other leaders realized there was an opportunity for a larger network to confront anti-Black racism at their workplaces.Grandison says that Black In X today helps Black scientists feel connected to others in a similar way to other groups. Organisers say virtual events offer participants the opportunity to share their research with others scientists. Brown, who is the leader of Black In Computing, and Black In Robotics, said that we were creating space for us show off and highlight our technical discipline. People often want to see us as specialists, engineers and scientists.The next levelNature hears from Black In X leaders that they are proud to have contributed to the amplify of Black scientists' voices. However, there is still much to do to end oppression in science work that demands direct action by institutions. Samantha Theresa Mensah is a materials chemist at UCLA and co-founder of #BlackInChem.Worldwide, thousands of researchers shut down their labs on 10 June to plan actions against systemic racism. They did this under the banners #ShutDownSTEM & #Strike4BlackLives. Universities, professional societies and academic journals, including Nature, condemned racism within their institutions and promised to implement anti-racist policies.Grandison says that even though organizers still feel supported by their colleagues a year later, this support has not gone beyond institutional statements. Nature published an Editorial in May that reported on the initial steps taken by Nature in the year following its #ShutDownSTEM commitment. However, it acknowledged that there are still many things to do.Shirley Malcom is the director of STEM Equity Achievement at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (WAAS) in Washington DC. She agrees with Black In X leaders about institutions dragging their feet. Malcom works to improve institutional support for historically marginalized scientists at colleges and universities. Ive spent four decades advocating DEI in STEM. I'm still impatient but I am also aware that change can take time. Malcom is encouraged by the successes of these movements and must celebrate each win and every milestone.Black In X leaders stated to Nature that they require financial support in order to continue making progress. We can increase the impact of Black STEM by normalizing, amplifying, and promoting it more. Berry says that we need more eyes and resources to achieve this goal. Berry is currently working to establish non-profit status to support Black In Engineering.Leaders could also use funding to pay organizers who give their time to keep the movement alive. Brown says that this culture of volunteering takes people away form their studies or their areas of expertise.The organizers also stressed that non-Black allies, particularly those in power, must step up to ease the burden on Black scientists who are often the victims of systemic racism. Many Black In X Network member organizations list actions that their allies can take on their websites. Grandison says that racism is a problem that affects Black people and is not a white-people issue. To have any chance of fixing the current system, we must work with those who [control] the levers. These people are not Black.These issues will be discussed by participants and leaders at the conference, which includes virtual networking spaces, poster sessions, keynote addresses, and a poster session. Zemen Berhe, a photochemist from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and founder of Black In Swimming, tweeted about the need for a homecoming to celebrate Black In X's identity. Berhe hopes the success of the movement and the conference will inspire a new generation Black scientists by showing that we are still here and that we are here to stay.