You founded the group Black in Marine Science in 2020 while working as a postdoctoral researcher for The Nature Conservancy and the University of Washington in part because, you’ve said, you often found yourself to be “the only Black person in the room.” How is BIMS working to change that? The mission is to celebrate Black marine scientists, spread environmental awareness and inspire the next generation of scientific thought leaders. It is a nonprofit in itself; we do our own fundraising. We have several grants, and we have a lot of donors as well. We are largely member- and crowd-supported.
What is BIMS doing to inspire the wider Black community to become involved in marine science? Our largest program is BIMS TV—our YouTube channel. We have about 150 videos of Black marine scientists all over the globe talking about different ocean topics. The goal is to change the faces of who people see as scientists.
For so long, seeing Black people in marine science was foreign. And for some people it really still is. When I talk to my Black friends about being a marine scientist it’s like, “Girl, what are you doing? Is that a real job?”
It can be seen as something that’s not cool. And I think, especially for young Black kids, that is really important. So how do we change the face of marine science in general so that it’s “this is cool, this is lit. ... I can chill at the ocean, but I’m also saving the world.” How do we tell these kids this and get them excited?
Who is BIMS’ audience? Working scientists are the largest number of our members. But we also have videographers, underwater photographers, dive masters, dive instructors, all of those folks who can contribute to protecting the ocean. Those folks are really helping us to inspire that younger generation and showing, hey, you don’t have to go to school for a thousand years like I did. You can be a diver, you can work in an aquarium.
We recently started a scuba dive program, and we’ve been able to get about 15 students dive certified, completely free of charge to them. We don’t want there to be any barriers to this program. This is a pure opportunity.
How do you think changing the face of marine science can benefit conservation overall? Black folks are largely the most impacted by environmental injustices: ocean impacts, climate change, sea-level rise, pollution. The list goes on. Why are we not in the room doing the scientific research? So a large goal is to start with this outreach and healing and say, “Hey, we belong in the room.” But then also how can [we] do the research that’s needed in these communities that are always left out of the research?
I also think BIMS provides a blueprint for other organizations. People know now that when they’re working with BIMS, we are thinking about the community and what’s best for people at large. So how can we use our power, our research, the passion that we have, our access to various communities to spread that environmental awareness and inspire that next generation of scientific thought leaders?
You’ve continued working for TNC as you’ve gotten the group off the ground, but you’ll leave in April to lead BIMS full time. How do you think BIMS and TNC have benefited each other? I think we both see it as an opportunity. How can this huge organization support this grassroots organization that has basically the same mission but reaches different audiences? BIMS has been really impactful in engaging those communities, bringing them into science, bringing them into our programming and saying, “Hey, this is for you.”
TNC has really helped me with the strategic planning and visioning for BIMS, and [connecting me to] relationships and partnerships that I may not have known about has been very helpful. The real goal is for me to use the support that I’ve gained from TNC to transition to the first full-time employee of BIMS. I think the partnership that we have built will continue to hold.