Black History Month has rolled back around. Gotta love it! It’s the time of year when we learn, or relearn, about great Black luminaries such as Carter G. Woodson, Madame C.J. Walker, Bayard Rustin or Fannie Lou Hamer. Children get to dress up as Malcolm X or Harriet Tubman for school presentations. For a full 28 days we are free to celebrate our greatness and can use hashtags like #BlackExcellence without receiving virtual side-eyes or comments like “but what about white excellence?” from all but the most blatantly racist folks. For the most part, folks can freely celebrate Black people and their contributions to society with minimal disruption. Icing on the cake – we got a Lena Horne postage stamp!
As I thought about writing a post for Black History month I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go in. Do I write about my sheroes, like Shirley Chisholm or Eartha Kitt? Do I write about how we can celebrate Black History Month in the workplace? Both good ideas. But for some reason my mind kept going back to my Dad. My Dad and Black history and workplace shenanigans. So here goes.
Deep in a Maryland forest, George Rasberry sits on an upturned pail and peers through a camera with a calibrated lens at the trees above him. He is measuring the leaf coverage present at each level of the forest. Here and there in the wilderness, buckets are placed to catch samples of the leaves. These reveal what species are in the canopy and how much it grows annually.
So begins the article, “Uncovering the Secrets of Forest Canopies” in the July 1999 issue of Smithsonian Magazine. The article goes on to discuss some more science and forest canopy* stuff that, to be honest, isn’t that interesting to me despite its importance. Scroll, scroll, scroll down to the part that discusses the difficulty of studying a forest canopy because of the difficulty in getting to it. They could use a crane (expensive,) build a tower (can only access one place and skews observations,) OR they could use the balloons. The balloons that were invented by my Dad!
These refrigerator-size helium bags were invented by George Rasberry. They can take light sensors and measuring devices up into the trees and reach all sorts of odd places. They also can be raised gradually to take measurements from the ground up to the top of the canopy. And they are cheap.
You may be wondering what this has to do with Black history. He didn’t cure cancer. He didn’t win a celebrated award. But Black history (history in general) is made every day in big, medium and small ways. To my mind, inventing a tool you and other scientists can use to do necessary research is pretty darn historical. I’m grateful to Smithsonian Magazine for acknowledging my Dad’s invention. Especially because he was only credited as a “contributor” in all the scientific journal articles I found about it, while his “colleague” got top billing. Which leads me to the topic of Black folks doing work that white folks later get credit for. But that’s fodder for another post.
Happy Black History Month! Read. Learn. Share. Celebrate!
Don’t forget to acknowledge the everyday Black history makers and moments. There are so many folks who have contributed to society and some how made the world better whose names we don’t hear, whose faces we don’t see and whose sacrifices we don’t know.
*The forest canopy is home to a majority of earth’s species. It combs pollutants out of the air, takes energy from the sun and in general controls the exchanges of energy or heat, and material, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor.