Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's long, but it's worth the read

Taking on Dr. James Watson: My Duty to Black People Everywhere
Feature Article - Wed, 31 Oct 2007

James Watson (Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
Dr. James Watson, the disgraced septuagenarian U.S. scientist and DNA pioneer, insulted black people everywhere when he said earlier this month that Black people were inferior to White people in all facets of human physiology and endeavor. While Dr. Watson’s blunt pillorying came as a surprise to many, I was not shocked at all: Black people deal with hundreds of Watsons on a daily basis, and whites, unquestionably because of the “advantage” of their skin color, especially in Europe, Australia and North America, have always had an easier life wherever they find themselves, purporting that such societal benefits translated to superior intelligence, capabilities and ingeniousness, as compared to black people.

I am constantly reminded by what the highly respected Tom Brokaw, the ex-anchor of NBC Nightly News, a nationally televised news broadcast in the U.S.A., said his last day as host of the show. His voice laden with emotion, Mr. Brokaw uttered some very somber words, iterating that for the 21 years that he served as anchor, not a day went by that he did not consider the fact that had the shade of his skin been a tad darker, he may not have gotten the job as anchor of NBC Nightly News!

A few years ago, a professor told my colleagues and me in an Ethics and Diversity class that he knew a white military officer who once asked a fellow white officer how the latter felt serving under Colin Powell, the celebrated black former military general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces. That Colin Powell was qualified to head all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces was not the point of contention between the two white officers, but the color of the general’s skin! This perverse and bigoted attitude by many white people is nothing new to blacks in the U.S.A. I shudder to even discuss the percentage of able-bodied black men regularly thrown into U.S. jails, some for whom justice was never served!

Now that Dr. Watson has shared with the rest of the world his spurious and scientifically bereft ideas about black people ― Dr. Watson must be lucky the “great burden” has not landed him in a sanitarium up to now ― I consider it my duty to remind/inform black people everywhere that the forays into the sciences and other disciplines by their progenitors, even amidst limited opportunities due to the color of their skin, resulted in some of the greatest technological breakthroughs known to man ― not only inventions chalked in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also the ones achieved in contemporary times. All black people everywhere thus owe it a duty to the next generation of black children to make sure black achievements in science, technology, medicine, among other fields of human endeavor, are espoused accurately, to counter the misinformation and stereotyping about blacks that have become pervasive in the white-controlled media outlets in the last several decades.

James Kessler, in his highly acclaimed book, “Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century,” in illuminating the achievements of many notable blacks, enjoins black parents and leaders to instill in young blacks the essence of achievement, not only in sports, music and movies, but also “in such diverse fields as anthropology and physics, mathematics and endocrinology.” Kessler continues: “Young children, both Black and White, should remember that many of the people mentioned in this book grew up under very difficult economic constraints, social injustices and racial prejudices, with very little encouragement from the outside. But they were individuals with enormous determination, sterling character, and sense of self-worth who struggled under intolerable conditions. These men and women devoted themselves to serious study and intellectual pursuits. They knew there was racism and prejudice in the society in which they lived, but they did not use this as an excuse for keeping away from books or building their own grammar and vocabulary.” I wish to discuss a few black men and women, who, through their relentless efforts in the midst of the worst prejudices of their time, jettisoned every horrific label and made it to the top of their professions.

George Washington Carver: Born in 1864 in Missouri toward the end of the U.S. Civil War, Carver and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate soldiers while he was just an infant. Although he was later found by his father, the young Carver would never see his mother again. Carver started formal education at 12, but since all schools were segregated at the time, he was forced to move to Newton County, Missouri, where he supported his education by working as a farm hand. At 30, Carver enrolled as the only black student at Simpson College in Iowa. Determined to study science, Carver transferred to Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in 1891, where he earned a B.S. in 1894 and an M.S. in Bacterial Botany and Agriculture in 1897. Carver later became the first black professor at Iowa Agricultural College. Carver moved to Alabama in 1897, becoming the Director of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial College. It was at Tuskegee that Carver discovered more than three hundred uses for peanuts, and several hundred more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes. Single-handedly, Carver’s ideas transformed southern United States from a region that depended on a single crop (cotton) to one that embraced many different crops, leading to the revival of the South’s economy after the Civil War. In 1939, Carver fittingly received the Roosevelt medal for transforming agriculture in the South. And in 1943, Carver was honored with a national monument, the first such designation for a black man in the U.S.A.

Charles Drew: Because Drew was an exceptional athlete, most people assumed he would grow up to pursue a career in sports. Although Drew attended Amherst College on a sports scholarship, he was unable to raise enough money to go to medical school upon graduation in 1926. He therefore had to take up teaching at Morgan State University, Maryland, to raise enough money to enroll at the University Medical School in Canada. After medical school, Drew developed an interest in blood transfusions. While on a two-year Rockefeller Fellowship at Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital in New York, Drew made a remarkable discovery! At the time, blood could be stored for no more than 7 days, but Drew discovered that using plasma (blood from which cells have been removed) could prolong the viability of blood. Both revolutionary and timely, Drew’s innovation would help save the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers during the Second World War.

Lloyd Noel Ferguson: Born in 1918, Ferguson showed signs he was a gifted boy when, while in high school, he developed handy products such as moth repellent, silver polish and spot remover, products that he sold for cash. He later enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a B.S. in Chemistry in 1940 and a Ph.D. in 1943. While at Berkeley, he worked with a team to develop a hemoglobin type of compound that could both gain and lose oxygen. Ferguson’s research eventually led to the refining of this compound, which is now commonly used as a source of oxygen in submarines.

The Tuskegee Airmen: Because of prejudice and discrimination from their white counterparts, an all-Black aviation squadron was formed to fight the Germans during World War II. It was an all-volunteer group that thrived on discipline and dedication. The Tuskegee Airmen’s fighting force, named the 332nd Fighter Group, distinguished itself by not losing a single bomber during more than 200 combat missions and air raids over enemy territory, a record that still stands today! I hope you are reading this, Dr. Watson!! As a result of the bravery, dedication and adroitness of the Tuskegee Airmen, President Truman had no choice but to issue an executive order directing equal treatment for all in the U.S. military, which in time led to the end of racial bias in the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, there is a historic site dedicated to the valor of these black aviators.

George Carruthers: Born in Ohio in 1939, Carruthers grew up in Chicago, and by age 10 had built a telescope. Carruthers obtained a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1961, going on to earn an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering in 1962 and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 1964. Carruthers is recognized for his work on ultraviolet light: He led a team that invented the far ultraviolet camera spectrograph. Carruthers also developed the first moon-based space observatory, an ultraviolet camera flown to the moon in 1972 by the Apollo 16 crew. He has further served as a principal investigator for many NASA- and U.S. Dept. of Defense-sponsored space equipment, which includes a 1986 equipment that captured a special image of Comet Halley.

Patricia Bath: Born in New York in 1942, Bath excelled academically, winning several awards while still in high school. At the tender age of 16, Bath was chosen to participate in a summer program offered by the National Science Foundation at Yeshiva University. And while at Yeshiva, the young Bath developed a mathematical formula for predicting cancer cell growth! Bath finished medical school at Howard University, Washington, D.C., in 1968 and served as an Ophthalmology Fellow at Columbia University in 1969 and 1970. Finding that blacks had twice as many ophthalmic problems as whites due to lack of access to good eye care, Bath established a new discipline called Community Ophthalmology, a field now practiced worldwide. In 1976, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, an organization that focuses on protecting, preserving and restoring the eyesight of all Americans, irrespective of personal circumstances. In 1981, Bath invented the revolutionary Laserphaco Probe, a device that uses a laser to destroy cataracts, as compared to the traditional but riskier method that had existed before the advent of the Laserphaco Probe.

Mark Dean: A vice-president of IBM Systems, Mark Dean earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1992 from Stanford University. Dean holds about 30 patents in the field of computers. One of Dean’s recent accomplishments was the development of the 1-Gigahertz chip, which holds a million transistors, revolutionizing the field of computer processors as a result. Important technologies Dean and his team are developing at IBM “include cellular systems structures (Blue Gene), digital visualization, DA tools, Linus optimizations for Pervasive, SMPs & Clusters, Settop Box integration, MXT, S/390 & PowerPC processors, super dense servers, formal verification methods and high speed low power circuits” (IBM Web site, 2007). Mark Dean has been inducted as a member of the National Academy of Engineering; has received the Black Engineer of the year Award; and has been inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

Mae C. Jemison: Born in 1956 in Alabama, Jemison earned a doctorate in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. She has worked in several fields, including “computer programming, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, computer magnetic disc production, and reproductive biology” (NASA Web site, 2007). Dr. Jemison once volunteered with the Peace Corps, serving in places such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Selected for astronaut training by NASA in 1987, Dr. Jemison indeed became the first black woman to travel in a space shuttle to the International Space Station in 1992. “The eight-day mission was accomplished in 127 orbits of the Earth, and included 44 Japanese and U.S. life science and materials processing experiments. Dr. Jemison was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment flown on the mission. In completing her first space flight, Dr. Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space” (NASA Web site, 2007).

Philip Emeagwali: Called the “Bill Gates of Africa,” Emeagwali was born in Nigeria in 1957. By age 14, he was capable of performing 100 math exercises in 1 hour. He enrolled at Oregon State University at age 17, going on to earn a B.S. in Mathematics, two M.S. degrees from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in Scientific Computing from the University of Michigan. Learning from the smartness exhibited by bees, Emeagwali would go on to design the world’s fastest computer, using 65,000 processors. This supercomputer has the capacity to perform computations at an astonishing 3.1 billion calculations per second! Additionally, Emeagwali discovered a process that makes oil fields more efficient, an innovation that has saved the U.S. millions of dollars each year. As a result of his inventions, Emeagwali was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize ― the Nobel Prize for computation! His computers are now being used to predict the fallouts from future global warming.

Francis Ampenyin Allotey: Born in Saltpond, Ghana, in 1932, Francis Allotey would later establish the Computer Science Dept. at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He also served as the head of the Mathematics Dept. of the same university, after completing master’s and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton University in 1966. Dr. Allotey later achieved worldwide fame for his work on Soft X-Ray Spectroscopy, a process that became known as “Allotey Formalism,” earning him the Prince Phillip Gold Medal in 1973.

While this list of eminent black scientists and inventors is by no means exhaustive, considering the fact that there are many distinguished African and African-American scientists serving in important positions worldwide, I have chosen these few deceased and living scientists to accentuate the accomplishments of black people over time. It is now our duty as black people to instill the tenets of hard work, perseverance, dedication and fortitude in the next generation, which will go a long way to debunk the notion that blacks can only be successful in music, movie and sports careers. Dr. Watson has thrown down the gauntlet, and blacks everywhere need to pick it up and show Dr. Watson and his ilk that their pseudo-scientific observations about black people have no merit and therefore belong in the dustbin of history. On a lighter note, please join me in wishing Dr. Watson a happy retirement!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What happens when you open the door...

Wall St.'s Expanding Universe

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; A15

The real story on Wall Street isn't that E. Stanley O'Neal, whose grandfather was born a slave, is being shoved out of the top job at Merrill Lynch, the gargantuan investment bank. More important is the fact that . . . well, Tom Wolfe said it best in "The Bonfire of the Vanities," his romp through the world of hubris and high finance, with this description of the novel's protagonist:

"On Wall Street he and a few others -- how many? -- three hundred, four hundred, five hundred? -- had become precisely that . . . Masters of the Universe."

Actually, O'Neal rose to such heights that the number of his professional peers was nowhere near 300 -- more like three or four. That a black man who picked cotton as a child in Alabama could have spent the past five years as an Uber-Master of the Universe, running one of the world's leading financial institutions, is more significant than his downfall.

Granted, the downfall has been pretty spectacular. Merrill Lynch had to disclose last week that the company took a loss of $8.4 billion in the subprime mortgage meltdown -- much greater than the damage suffered by other huge investment firms such as Goldman Sachs.

Merrill's board of directors -- most of whose members were chosen by O'Neal -- has to share responsibility for that debacle; it's not as if the board was unaware of how O'Neal was investing the firm's money. Apparently, though, there was one thing that O'Neal failed to tell the board: that he had approached the chief executive of Wachovia Corp. about a possible merger of the two companies.

That's not the sort of thing you want your board to hear through the grapevine.

Yesterday, O'Neal was reportedly negotiating the terms of his departure. If you're worried he'll be destitute, dry your eyes. O'Neal has been one of the best-paid executives on Wall Street -- he took home around $48 million last year -- and the New York Times reports that he may get a severance package of at least $159 million.

That's crazy money, and most people don't get crazy money unless they're worth it. What I find striking about O'Neal's story is that it so thoroughly demolishes the racist assumption that some people will make: that the job was somehow handed to him because of some feel-good commitment to diversity.

Puh-leeze. Diversity is about leveling the playing field, opening doors and giving people a chance. By all accounts, O'Neal rose to the top the old-fashioned way -- fighting, scraping, biting, scratching.

He was hired as chief executive in 2002 to shake up what was seen as a complacent, slow-moving corporate culture. He did just that, cutting nearly 24,000 jobs, eliminating corporate perks and taking the company -- once known as "Mother Merrill" for its comfortable ambiance and its settled predictability -- into riskier and more lucrative arenas. Such as the subprime mortgage market.

O'Neal produced huge profits for the firm; last year, net income was a record $7.5 billion. On the job, at least, he made no attempt to be a nice guy. The Wall Street Journal reports that O'Neal would rake his executives over the coals if quarterly earnings reports showed that Goldman Sachs was outperforming Merrill in some area.

Now that O'Neal is on his way out, of course, people who worked for him are saying things to reporters -- he was aloof, he was brusque, he didn't tolerate strong-willed subordinates -- that they wouldn't have said to his face.

It's the classic high-flying modern Wall Street story -- you claw your way to the top, make a lot of money for your stockholders, make a lot of money for yourself, hold on as long as you can. O'Neal lasted five years in the top job at Merrill, which is about the average tenure of an American chief executive.

What's really significant is that there is a Stan O'Neal. And a Dick Parsons, the African American chief executive of Time Warner, rumored to be on his way out, too, after a long and profitable run. And a Ken Chenault, the African American CEO of American Express, who is staying put, far as I know. And a Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, widely acknowledged as the first African American billionaire.

Just two or three generations removed from slavery, they rose to control big chunks of the American economy. They attained Master of the Universe status by being smarter and tougher than their peers -- and now a much bigger cohort of black corporate executives is coming up behind them.

It just goes to show what happens when you open a door.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Brief Update

My apologies for not being able to put more time and thought into this site. The manuscript is fast approaching its deadline and I'm busy on that. However, I want to leave you with a question to ponder, it's a two-parter: 1) Do you think having real role models in the black community is more important today than past generations? If so, why? And if not, do you think the term 'role model' is losing its standing in the black community?

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Modest Effort to Find Role Models

Nearly every time the discussion of African American role models comes up, the people who are mentioned are athletes, entertainers, hip hop and rap artist or they are dead. It is important for all children to see that African Americans are present, and hold leadership positions in, every profession. It is absolutely necessary that African American children see people who look like them being successful in something other than sports and entertainment.

A new website ( ) site was started by Trish Millines Dziko to help solve the issue of the dearth of visible African American role models. There are many schools and community organizations that struggle to find African Americans to talk to student groups, mentor students, or just volunteer.This site is one woman's effort to do something about it.

Are you a Role Model? We’re looking for college students, professionals, people in leadership positions, and entrepreneurs to step up and show African American children that they can be somebody. It will take 10 minutes of your time. Only 10 minutes to take the first step towards having an impact on a child’s future. Only 10 minutes. Don’t miss the opportunity to change a life!

About Trish Millines Dziko:
Trish Millines Dziko is the co-founding Executive Director of the Technology Access Foundation ( TAF ) and the CEO of a small startup Nonprofit Information Systems ( NPIS ).

About the Technology Access Foundation:
The Technology Access Foundation ( ) has a mission to prepare underserved children of color for higher education and professional success by providing a rigorous and relevant K-12 curriculum.

About Nonprofit Information Systems:
Nonprofit Information Systems ( ) is a mission driven organization with a desire to provide affordable information technology tools and services that enable small and medium nonprofits to maximize their potential and build capacity. Started in 2006, Nonprofit Information Systems will release its first set of tools in January 2008.

Monday, October 1, 2007

No Price for Passion

I'm sure you've heard stories of NBA or NFL stars refusing to play until they were offered a more lucrative contract. In 2004, former NBA All-Star Latrell Sprewell refused a three-year, $21-million contract offer because he "had a family to feed."

I'm sure Sprewell could have ever imagined making $7 million per year playing the game he loved as a child, but once he made it to the NBA he, like others before and after him, became a different person altogether. A money-driven person.

Real Role Models isn't about becoming rich and famous. We're not profiling the 40 wealthiest African-American professionals and we're not interviewing anyone who has made it to the executive suite or limelight. Instead, we're reaching out to passion-driven people. It is my full belief that one's passion for what he or she does, not how much money is made doing it, makes that person more of a real role model.

In saying that, it has been a great pleasure to meet and speak with people like Lynn Tyson, who turned her passion for information into a career as one of the nation's top investor relations executives, and Leonard Pitts, who has written professionally for close to 30 years and still dreams of writing a fiction novel, and Je'Caryous Johnson, who turned his own zest for theatre into one of the top black-owned theatre production companies in the country.

From our conversations with these passionate individuals, we have learned that real role models can often reach the upper-echelons of wages in the business world, both corporate and entrepreneurial, but more importantly they have reached the upper-echelons of their respective professions, often times putting them in dream-like jobs.

There are likely millions of young children, black and non-black alike, who dream of being professional athletes. I can only hope they grow to become real role models, unlike Sprewell and a few other pro athletes who lost their childhood passion.