In President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech, he vowed “to restore science to its rightful place” in society. Wow, that fills me with an excitement and eagerness to do and share science more than before. However, what is science’s rightful place in society? And what place should science have in the African-American community?
In order to restore science to its rightful place, we must first acknowledge what science is. Science is a pursuit of knowledge. It drives us to question, to critique, to hypothesize, to measure, to evaluate, to interpret, and to propose solutions to our community’s most pressing needs. It is an exercise of intellect, discipline and curiosity that compels us to want to understand our world and to make it better. Restoring science to its rightful place requires a dedication for us all to become scientifically literate – to understand science and use it to enhance our lives.
Science is simply information about our world, our environment, and our health. People’s lives are impacted by information, and failing to comprehend information can be very detrimental. I have personally witnessed the heartbreaking consequences of scientific illiteracy in our community, such as individuals deciding to forgo life-saving medical procedures, not following to doctors’ health advice, moving into environmentally hazardous buildings, and sharing false information about health or medical issues with others. Many of us have confused superstition as fact, and have paid the price. Moreover, many of social circles do not include scientists or doctors so we have no one to call when questions arise. Image how much better our lives would if science were a part of the decisions we made about our health, our children, and our environment?
The rightful place of science is in our day-to-day dialogue with friends and family. The rightful place of science is at our dinner table, happy hour gatherings, within the banter of men in barber shops and among the chatter of ladies in hair salons. Science rightfully belongs to us, the people. It is not some mysterious activity done by ‘others’. No, many of the greatest scientists of all time came from our community - Drs. Charles H. Turner*, Edward Bouchet*, George Washington Carver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mae Jemison, Ian Smith, Shirley Jackson, James Gates, Maydianne Andrade, and Shirley Malcolm. Science is our most handy tool in our arsenal against discrimination, poverty, socio-economic disparity and environmental injustice. The rightful place of science in our society and the African-American community is within us.
*Both were teachers at Sumner High School of St. Louis, Missouri in the early 1900s.