Celebrating Black History Month: 8 STEM Innovators

February is Black History Month. The month marks an opportunity to celebrate and recognize all the amazing work done by Black leaders and innovators. As a company, Covergalls is celebrating by highlighting some of the important contributions Black Canadians have made in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

Representation is critical to inspire young Black Canadians today: innovation comes from the hard work and ingenuity of talented individuals working together. And representation does not just mean historical figures, but present-day leaders too. 

While there are numerous Black Canadians who have made contributions to the STEM field, today we honours these eight men and women: 

Elijah McCoy

Canadian-American inventor and engineer

McCoy was a mechanical engineer and inventor best known for his groundbreaking innovations in industrial lubrication. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, McCoy left Canada for Edinburgh, Scotland, at the age of 15. He apprenticed abroad for five years as a mechanical engineer. By the end of his career, registered over 50 patents.

Dr. Onyenyechukwu (Onye) Nnorom 

Family Physician and Public Health and Preventative Medicine Specialist

Dr. Nnorom is the associate director of the residency program in public health and preventive medicine at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She also leads the Black health curriculum at the university’s medical school. Her work has drawn attention to racism in the health field and the disparities it creates in treatment. She spoke with CBC last year about how systemic racism predisposes people to COVID-19

Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, PhD 

Fourth James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies and the first queer person to hold the Chair. 

Dr. Dryden is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Dalhousie. She runs a health promotion initiative called Don’t Count Us Out, which aims to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the African Nova Scotian community as well as advance the collection of race-based health data in the province. Dryden recently spoke at an event held as part of the University of Dalhousie’s commemoration of African Heritage Month on the impact of racism on health. 

Tamar Huggins

Award winning entrepreneur, digital literacy advocate, speaker, and author

In 2015, Tamar Huggins launched Tech Spark, Canada’s first technology and design school committed to empowering girls and children of colour through innovative tech education. For her work, Huggins was nominated as one of 100 Black Women to Watch in 2015. According to her website, she has educated over 1500 youth in under two years and is on track to educate 70,000 youth by 2022.

Clotilda Yakimchuk C.M.

Nurse and Activist 

Dr. Clotilda Douglas-Yakimchuk was the first black graduate of the Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing. She also became the first ever elected, and only, black president of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Nova Scotia. In the 1970s she produced a successful radio show that highlighted black culture and was a strong advocate for the clean-up of the Sydney Tar Ponds.

Eugenia Duodu

Scientist, STEM advocate and CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning

Eugenia Duodu is the Chief Executive Officer of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a charitable organization that runs educational programs focused on STEM for youth from low-income and marginalized communities. Duodu holds both an HB.Sc. in Chemistry and Biology and a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Toronto. 

Anderson Ruffin Abbott, 

Doctor, surgeon

Anderson Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black person to graduate from medical school. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, his family gained their wealth and status by purchasing nearly 50 properties in the Toronto area.  During his studies Abbott had a supervised placement with Dr. Alexander Augusta, the first Black doctor in North America and the head of Toronto City Hospital (now Toronto General Hospital). Abbott got his license to practice medicine in 1861. Among his experiences as a surgeon, Abbott cared for a dying President Abraham Lincoln.

Alan Emtage

Computer scientist and Internet innovator 

Alan Emtage is a Canadian computer scientist who created and implemented one of the first internet search engines in 1989 called Archie. His work pioneered many of the techniques used by public search engines today.

These are just a few examples of individuals who have contributed to innovation in the field of STEM. Many other visionaries remain “hidden figures,” such as Katherine Johnson. Her (true!) story, first written about by Margot Lee Shetterly, ended up being shown on the big screen in 2016. The movie is inspiring because it captures the story of resilience and strength in the face of harsh racism, and celebrates the amazing work Johnson did. It was a story that showed that NASA is possible for anyone. 

We hope everyone will take some time this month to reflect on what they are doing to help improve diversity in their field, as well as celebrate, promote and share some of the amazing work being done by Black engineers and scientists. And not just for February, but throughout the year!


SOME EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES YOU CAN ATTEND:

An Evening with Edem Awumey and Blaise Ndala, moderated by author Kalula Kalambay. The two award-winning local authors will discuss what it means to be Black in Canada today
An Evening with Desmond Cole: Award-winning author and activist Desmond Cole and broadcaster Adrian Harewoodwill will chat about what it means to be Black in Canada today.

  • The Smithsonian is hosting a bunch of events this month, including the upcoming African Americans In STEM Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on Feb. 21–Feb. 27. The event is done in collaboration with blackcomputeHER. Participants will create and edit Wikipedia pages for African American STEM professionals highlighting the impacts on their communities, nation and the world. Admission is free but registration is required!