Throughout the late 19th and mid 20th century, African American scientists were at the pinnacle of their craft. By 1876, Physicist Edward Bouchet became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from an American Institution at Yale. George Washington Carver was born a slave and died as one of the most innovative scientists of his generation, making over 300 products from Peanut Crops. Marie Maynard Daly earned her Doctorate in Chemistry as the First African American woman to do so and Alice Ball was almost certain she found the standard treatment for Leprosy.
Unfortunately, many of these accomplished scientists go unheard of in many public schools here in the United States, especially those who have students in which the majority are African American. Washington Carver is noted in many school events during Black History Month, including a presentation of him I did in Davison Avenue Intermediate School over a decade ago.
However, a majority of the notable African American figures mentioned during that presentation within the moss-covered brick walls of our gym were civil rights leaders, understandably and respectively. As a 7-year-old blooming biologist, however, I needed another famous mentor that looked just like me. Someone who can change the world of science and bring more African American boys like me into the sciences.
Cue Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The current director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center, Tyson has seeped his way into pop culture with books such as "Origins," "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry" and hosted shows "StarTalk" and "Cosmos." He even featured in rapper Logic's "AfricAryaN" track as "God." Tyson is reaching audiences a majority of scientists can't seem to reach: the average nonscientist and young black boys who want to better themselves with opportunities they were never given before.
He allowed me to believe in myself and pursue biology.
He makes astrophysics.... actually enjoyable.
Many of the world's most famous scientists and their respective mentors in history weren't African American at all. Charles Darwin, Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, and James Watson were (and are) absolutely brilliant in their respective fields and I look up to all of them with high regard.
However, no man has as much a chance on influencing the black youth into pursuing the sciences as Tyson does. He made me believe that being an African American male scientist in this generation is still possible, and could possibly influence more boys like me to just "shoot for the stars."