True Story: Who Are Today’s “Hidden Figures”? (Episode 1)

Introducing “True Story with Natasha Alford” a new original series on theGrio.

In our first episode, we look at the #1 movie in America “Hidden Figures” and ask— who are today’s generation of “hidden figures”?  Meet three exceptional young women from Brooklyn who taking the lead in STEM.

Hidden Figures is the true story of three African-American mathematicians and the key role they played at NASA. The film, starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer, tells the story of three black women who helped launch a man into space, all during the era of segregation.

Decades after these women’s monumental achievement, diversity in STEM is still an issue.

So who are today’s “Hidden Figures” and who’s pulling them from out of the shadows so they’re not hidden anymore?

P-TECH, Pathways in Technology Early College High School, is public-private partnership between IBM, New York City’s Department of Education and two local colleges.

Here, school lasts six years and students graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, at no additional cost to families. This puts them first in line, for jobs at places like IBM.

theGrio went to IBM’s New York City office to meet three recent grads from P-TECH, and like the mathematicians in Hidden Figures, these young women are exceptional.

Bryann is a math whiz who ran her first track meet at P-TECH and graduated the school in just three and a half years.

Imani just graduated in December and didn’t always love technology, but thanks to classes at P-TECH she now knows how to design web pages and plans on a career in cyber security.

Janiel graduated P-TECH and went straight to IBM to work as a Digital Commerce Design Developer and is also pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Baruch College. P-TECH has made her more aware of the rising need for technology literacy. She says, “you know when you go to school and everyone’s like “you have to learn English and math”? You have to learn technology. It’s like—it’s not optional at this point.”

Stanley Litow, architect of the P-TECH model tells theGrio, “Since 2008, 10 million jobs, new jobs, were created in the United States. 10 million. Many of them required the skills that young people of color, if they get the support, will have and they will be successful.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2014, no African-American students took the AP computer science exam in 9 states.  The same report notes that less than one third of public high schools serving African-American students offer calculus.

Litow addressed these statistics, saying: “I think part of it is that we don’t have confidence that children of color can succeed. And if we want to fill the need in the workforce, we really have to stop thinking about this, where opportunity can only be provided for some students. It has to be provided for all students.”

That idea of opportunity for all and being exceptions to the rule, isn’t lost on the girls. The story of Hidden Figures tells a tale of sisterhood that resonates.

“You can see kind of the rarity of someone who kind of looks like you,” says Janiel, recounting her experience in STEM so far.

When asked what it was like to see such an unusual story on the big screen, the girls were excited to witness something that was left in the shadows for so long.

“I think it’s amazing,” Imani says. “Everything that was undercover or what people did not pay attention to can be brought into the light.”

The need for and benefit of attracting diverse talent, are why many tech companies say they’re striving to do better going forward- which is why STEM education is more important than ever, especially for women and people of color.

“There’s not many of us,” says Bryann. “So people really think they’re not supposed to do this or they can’t do it. But I feel like if you have the right support and the right mindset

you can do anything that you put your mind to.”

Want to be featured on an episode of ‘True Story?’ Watch and share episode 1- and then tell us your #GrioTrueStory!

Video Credits:
Amara Omeokwe, Executive Producer (@TheAmaraReport)
Daniel Woolsey, Videographer
Lolia Briggs, Production Assistant
Nayo Campbell, Production Assistant
Natasha Alford, Creator & Host (@NatashaSAlford)