Black girls are a storm… #AWITChallenge

by Sherronda J Brown

Black girls are a storm. Roaring tempests from the moment they come into being. Thunderous and bold. Full of dancing, whirling winds and remarkable energy. Sometimes, they are too much for the world and it will ask them to shrink, to quiet their spirits, and put out their light, but Black girls shine anyway. They amaze me.

Ava DuVernay’s newest film centers an amazing Black girl named Meg Murry, a precocious, but awkward little thing who embarks on a journey to find her missing father. Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s novel of the same name, A Wrinkle In Time follows Meg’s interplanetary adventure in which she encounters ancient celestial beings and arcane dangers.

It was a dark and stormy night…” So begins L’Engle’s novel, in which a darkness spreads across untold worlds. It is Meg who must stand and face it, and she drives out the darkness with her light. With a girl at the helm of this fantastical odyssey, publishers rejected L’Engle’s work — twenty six of them, to be exact. But once published, the book went on to become a favorite in countless households because it did something significant for its readers, allowing them to see a girl at the forefront of a genre that had long been dominated by boys and men. Now, DuVernay is being intentional with her endeavor to do the same for Black girls.

I’ve watched DuVernay celebrating Black girls reading A Wrinkle In Time with her #RealMeg tweets and they’ve warmed my heart. Highlighting, amplifying, and reaffirming them is not only refreshing, but so necessary. DuVernay told audiences at the New Yorker festival last year:

“I feel something very deep in my gut when Oprah’s voice says, ‘There’s a darkness in the world and the only one who can stop it is…’ smash cut to a Black girl.”

I feel it, too. Because I know Black girls can do anything, and I know how often they are told otherwise.

In late January, a Black girl named Stormiyah Denson-Jackson passed away in an apparent suicide at the public boarding school she attended. She was twelve years old and already madly in love with math and science — a #RealMeg. But this love she had made her the target of bullying and verbal abuse from her classmates. Devastated by their taunts, she chose to end her life rather than live with the shame they tried to make her feel for being a “nerd” who enjoyed engaging with sciences and mathematics.

There is a narrow image of Blackness in the social imagination, mired with stereotypes and white ascendant ideals about Black intellect, capability, and mobility. For Black women and girls, beliefs, about our Blackness — how it is allowed to look, what it is allowed to achieve — can never be divorced from beliefs about our gender. There is a social stigma about challenging these expectations and permissions, and it constantly impacts our experiences in the world, but never more significantly than when we are growing up, learning who we are, and deciding who we want to become.

We can actively combat this stigma and the systems that keep it alive, and we can do so by being intentional with uplifting every #RealMeg, both in and out of the classroom. Not simply by normalizing the image of Black women and girls in STEM, but also and especially in helping to cultivate pride in their Blackness. Encouraging a strong racial identity significantly and positively impacts not only the academic performance, but also the self-esteem of Black girls. With this encouragement, they are “more likely to be academically engaged, curious and persistent.”

Part of strengthening pride in their Blackness and encouraging Black girl engagement in STEM subjects lies in teaching them about Black women like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson — the subjects of Hidden Figures (2016) who were integral to the work that put John Glenn on the moon.

Yes, little Black girls (and others, too) need to learn about Dr. Mae C. Jemison, who became the first Black woman in space with the Endeavour mission in 1992. They should know Gladys West’s name, and the fact that her work as a mathematician who helped to develop the GPS is absolutely indispensable to the modern world.

Black women are underrepresented in STEM fields. With a history of both anti-Blackness and sexism in academic and professional spaces, Black women exist at an intersection that has rendered us disproportionately bearing the brunt of these unequal and inequitable legacies.

Meanwhile, visibility of the Black women who have succeeded in these spaces is very limited, and in many cases, nonexistent. It took more than half a century for Johnson, Vaughan, Jackson, and West to be publicly and widely recognized for their invaluable contributions to science (that white men gladly took credit for). This imbalance leaves Black girls who might have passive or active interest in STEM careers without icons to see themselves represented in, and can even discourage them from pursuing education and careers in these fields. And when it comes to engaging more Black girls in these subjects, schools have failed them on multiple levels.

I want a world in which girls like Stormiyah can live unencumbered by the racist and sexist standards that misogynoir has historically set for them. A world where they can feel safe and confident in their love for STEM subjects.

I want a reality where Black women receive all due credit and adoration for their invaluable contributions to the STEM fields so that Black girls are able to see themselves represented with visible, accessible, larger-than-life icons and role models in positions to which they can aspire. A world where figures like Katherine Johnson and Gladys West do not remain intentionally hidden for decades after their accomplishments helped to catapult white men around the world and into the stratosphere.

In DuVernay’s long-awaited sci-fi epic, Meg Murry is embodied on film by none other than a Black girl called Storm. I wish that Stormiyah was still here to witness her bring to life a Black girl nerd who not only has an interest in math and science, but also uses her knowledge and Black Girl Magic to save the whole damn universe.

“It means everything to be a girl of color and play Meg Murry,” says Storm Reid. “It’s just surreal because I get to empower other little African-American girls… and say that you can be a superhero and you rock and you can conquer the world and you are beautiful just the way you are and your flaws are nothing and you’re awesome.”

The entire significance of A Wrinkle In Time cannot be easily summed up, and its impact certainly amounts to far more than I have explored here, but I simply cannot emphasize enough how much representation means when it comes to cultivating pride of Blackness in our children. It is a pride that will absolutely be strengthened through the visibility of A Wrinkle In Time’s leading Black girl and can be further strengthened with more characters like her across popular sci-fi and fantasy narratives.

Oprah Winfrey told Time Magazine,

“When you don’t see yourself, there is a subconscious psychological manifestation. It’s diminishing.”

Seeing ourselves represented as heroes has undeniable power, and feeling our absence in these roles also influences the way that we see ourselves and our Blackness.

I want Black girls to see their Blackness as something to be admired, celebrated, and valued, and I want Black girls interested in STEM not to feel that their Blackness is a barrier to their dreams. I want them to know that they should never have to quiet their storm for the comfort of others. They are not too much for the world and the light they carry has the power to lead many out of darkness.

For Stormiyah and every #RealMeg in our anti-Black world, we want to give the gift of A Wrinkle in Time to as many Black children as we can, and we will center Black girls and other non-boys in this work. Please join us in the A Wrinkle In Time Challenge as we raise funds to purchase full theaters in eight U.S. cities so that we can fill the seats with Black girls and non-boys to experience this important film together. #AWITChallenge

DONATE TO THE #AWITChallenge: https://www.gofundme.com/awitchallenge


Resources:

Girls Pursuing Science and STEM Rules have detailed information on the disparities of Black and brown girls in STEM and how this gap can be bridged. Forbes also provides some ideas on how to get Black girls involved in the tech industry.

Black Girls Code works to increase the number of girls of color in digital spaces through the empowerment of girls ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields by introducing and training them in computer science and technology.

On the list with Black Girls Code are several more programs that help get Black girls interested and excited about STEM subjects.

Levers In Heels is on a mission to amplify and respect the voices of African women in STEM and curates a list of these women in order to create visibility for them.

You can engage your young ones with these twelve inspiring books about girls in STEM and this list of scholarships for Black Americans studying STEM subjects.


Sisters in the Storm is a collective of Black Women focused on community engagement and Sisterhood among Black Women & non-men. Learn more about the Sisters below:

Asia Renée she/her

  • Nurturer, caregiver, storykeeper, healer.
  • I care about Black motherhood. I want to hold space for our choices and abilities to raise families. I want Black kids to be free. I want heauxs to be free. And I want reparations.
  • Fierce, compassionate, a quiet storm.

Dani Sanchez she/her

  • Artist, uplifter, community educator.
  • Bridging the distances between the Caribbean and American children of the African Diaspora, and documenting the Black femme experience in its raw totality.
  • Weird, vibrant, resilient.

Jasmine Whittaker she/her

  • I am a Nonprofit Director, equity in education advocate, and failed lifestyle blogger, whose goal is to raise radical and free Black kids who fuck shit up.
  • My heart is tied to empowering Black youth and creating spaces for them to thrive while living authenticity in themselves. Oh, and glitter, I can’t forget glitter.
  • Loyal, Raw, and a little bit bougie. “I may not be everyone’s cup of tea — but I’m someone’s henny straight.” — Millennial Negro Proverb

Kirsten she/her

  • Artist, humorist, gif storyteller.
  • Loving and celebrating Blackness. Black women are my joy and my light. #TeamBlackSisterhood — Humor/art and the value of Black expression. My 83 year old dad tells stories and I like share them with the world.
  • Hilarious, petty, and Idris Elba seent my snapchat once.

Leslie Mac she/her — MEDIA CONTACT FOR THIS PROJECT

  • Organizer, Movement Auntie, world class baker and Co-Founder Safety Pin Box.
  • I care about discovering new ways to build a more just world, empowering Black people to liberate ourselves from the weight of white supremacy & finding the perfect highlighter..
  • Funny, Honest, and Jamaican AF.

Roni Dean-Burren she/her

  • Educator and Agitator.
  • I care about educating Black children well, making space for Black women/femmes and non-men to be free and I care about raising free Black children.
  • Petty, strong, grounded.

Sherronda J. Brown she/her

  • Essayist and Editor. Full-time astrophile and part-time existential nihilist. Demisexual, demiromantic, demigoddess.
  • My passions lie in combating misogynoir, affirming Black women and other non-men, demystifying asexuality, destigmatizing mental illness, promoting queerplatonic love and intimacies, and going hard for Black millennials. I write pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context, and i’m obsessed with exploring Blackness in the horror genre.
  • Nerdy, irreverent, and unapologetically Millennial.

Stephanie Beal she/her

  • I am a mother, lover of the Black collective, child advocate, and a #BaeHive Bae.
  • I care about Hulk-smashing white supremacy, misogynoir/misogyny, and gender disparities. I’m most passionate about Black liberation, raising free and fearless Black children, and trying to get this contour and highlight on fleek!
  • Bold, passionate, and MAGICAL.
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