Monday | 16 November 2020 | 1:00–2:30 p.m. ET
Session 1 | UNDERREPRESENTATION and INVISIBILITY
Every Black History Month, with a mix of inspiration, enthusiasm, frustration, and occasional inaccuracy, we revisit the same lists of “top ten Black inventors you should know about.” Why have Black inventors remained underrepresented in the innovation economy and in our historical narratives? Centuries of oppression and prejudice have obscured the contributions of countless enslaved and free Black inventors. Moreover, persistent barriers to technical training, financing, and employment have prevented many Black men and women from ever embarking on STEM careers. Speakers in this session will address the underlying historical and contemporary causes of a Black innovation gap; explore expanded definitions for who might be counted as a Black inventor; and discuss strategies for recovering and documenting their stories.
- Rayvon Fouché, Professor of American Studies, Purdue University
- Lisa D. Cook, Professor of Economics and International Relations, Michigan State University
- Moderator: Cathleen S. Lewis, Curator, Space History Department, National Air and Space Museum
Tuesday | 17 November 2020 | 1:00–2:30 p.m. ET
Session 2 | PIPELINES and PATHWAYS: INVENTION EDUCATION, TRAINING, and MENTORING
Black scientists, engineers, and inventors are underrepresented at every stage of the innovation economy, from STEM education to high-tech employment to patenting and commercialization rates. In response, Black technologists have built institutions—including HBCUs, the National Society of Black Engineers, and Black Girls Code, among others—to forge pathways to technology careers. Decades of efforts to diversify the STEM workforce, however, have had modest impact on overall participation rates. Speakers in this session will discuss why efforts to diversify the STEM pipeline have fallen short and examine what works—and doesn’t work—in invention education, training, and mentoring.
- Amy E. Slaton, Professor, Department of History, Drexel University
- James Holly, Jr., Assistant Professor of Urban Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics Education, Wayne State University
- Moderator: Yolanda L. Comedy, Science and Technology Policy Consultant
Wednesday | 18 November 2020 | 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET
Session 3 | BLACK INVENTORS and INNOVATORS at WORK
Black inventors and innovators have developed many valuable technologies, from Elijah McCoy’s automated lubrication system for locomotives (“the Real McCoy”) to Grandmaster Flash’s turntables and mixers. Along the way, Black inventors have navigated a host of challenges in the workplace and in the marketplace. Speakers in this session will discuss how aspects of Black identity inspire technological creativity; how Black inventors identify unmet social needs to develop new technologies; and the creative ways that end users remix technologies to serve the specific needs of their communities. The session will also consider strategies for diversifying the high-tech workforce and building workplace cultures that better support Black inventors.
- Tyrone Grandison, Chief Technology Officer, Pearl Long Term Care Solutions
- Tahira Reid Smith, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University
- Moderator: Monica M. Smith, Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History
Thursday | 19 November 2020 | 1:00–2:30 p.m. ET
Session 4 | COMMERCIALIZATION and INSTITUTIONS
During the 19th century, when disenfranchised women and Black Americans had limited civil rights, many could still take advantage of the US patent system. Yet, enslaved inventors were denied patents, while some free Black inventors purposefully concealed their identities to avoid prejudice at the Patent Office and in the marketplace. To commercialize their inventions, today’s Black inventors and entrepreneurs engage with the US Patent and Trademark Office, university tech-transfer offices, venture capitalists, digital and bricks-and-mortar sales channels, and sometimes defend their intellectual property in court. In this session, speakers will consider how equitably these institutions have treated Black inventors, Black entrepreneurs’ access to networks of capital and expertise, and reforms needed to improve commercialization rates among Black innovators.
- Kara W. Swanson, Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History, Northeastern University School of Law
- Shontavia Johnson, Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Clemson University
- Moderator: Crystal Marie Moten, Curator of African American History, Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History
Friday | 20 November 2020 | 1:00–2:30 p.m. ET
Session 5 | HOW HAVE BLACK INDIVIDUALS & COMMUNITIES EXPERIENCED TECHNOLOGY?
Historically, many Black people have experienced technology—including Atlantic slave ships, the cotton gin, and predictive policing algorithms—as the material expression of discrimination, oppression, incarceration, and violence. However, Black Americans have also deployed technologies to promote education, social justice, economic empowerment, and better health outcomes. Speakers in this session will discuss the impacts of the digital divide and other barriers to technological access, Black technological enthusiasm and agency, and the creative ways that Black users reshape existing technologies to express themselves and build community.
- Charlton McIlwain, Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement and Development, New York University
- André Brock, Associate Professor, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Tech
- Moderator: Eric S. Hintz, Historian, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History