With A Seat at the Table, Black Meteorologists Make Huge Impacts
All in the Family’s Archie Bunker once said, “Now, no prejudice intended, but, you know, I always check with the Bible on these here things. I think that, I mean if God had meant for us to be together, he’da put us together. ”
Bunker said this to guest Sammy Davis Jr., whom he invited over because he was a celebrity riding in the back of the cab he drove. However Davis’ status didn’t prevent Bunker from continuing to perpetuate racist ideas. Bunker continues to say, “But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries.”
All in the Family first aired in 1971 as a satire sitcom, aimed to point out how utterly ridiculous racism is in America. In 2018, Black Americans still live separate lives both personally and professionally, often not by choice.
Meteorologists Deanna Hence and Greg Jenkins are just two of 280 black members of the American Meteorological Society. Although communities of color tend to be hit first and worst by natural disasters, they have very few people to relate to within their field. Hence says this is sometimes a very lonely experience, “There are times it can be very interesting to have something happening in the weather world where the death that’s happening to the black community It’s not something that many of your colleagues can relate to.”
But the isolation is motivating. “It’s also sometimes broader than meteorology. When we’re thinking this through, it’s not just about forecasts,” explains Jenkins. “It’s about vulnerable communities and communicating clearly what they should do, especially if they’re outside of the mainstream.”
Hence and Jenkins are some of atmospheric science’s hidden figures. The same people who are treated like outsiders in their own homes, are the same people fighting to save our lives.
It’s also sometimes broader than meteorology. When we’re thinking this through, it’s not just about forecasts
In a political climate where it’s not uncommon to encounter climate deniers, Hence and Jenkins continue to not just make connections of how climate change drives weather extremes, but how it impacts our daily lives.
“A lot of my career choices have been striving to pull the study of humanity, public health, and the natural world,” says Jenkins. He tells me he’s currently studying the connection between biomass burning, or the burning of vegetation and forests, and its effect on respiratory health.
He wants to learn how can we keep people safe when health data says the impacts are very big. “This is going to be the same story for climate change over time, how do we keep communities safe?”
Hence aspires to have a rewarding career similar to Jenkin’s. “All of my research is moving now towards impact related things. For example, hail is one of the biggest causes of damage to agriculture and I have a very very very strong interest in food security and how do extreme weather events impact that.”
Although, as Dre from ABC’s Blackish says, “I love this country even though, at times, it doesn’t love me back,” our modern day hidden figures continue to change the game in a world that gives them every reason not to. Their research and activism reflects the communities they serve, making them our heroes. And as history has shown us, not all heroes wear capes.
Markeya Thomas is a contributor to the I Heart Climate Scientists blog.