By: Michelle L. Taylor-Frazier, Founder and Executive Director of Multicultural Educational Programs, Inc.
My name is Michelle Taylor-Frazier. I am the founder of Multicultural Educational Programs, Inc. (MEP). We are celebrating 20 years of inspiring, encouraging, and empowering children in science, technology, engineering and math-STEM. I am honored to write about the Black history in my family in Iowa. I am also honored to have March 16, named by Governor Reynolds as Multicultural Educational Programs Day across the state of Iowa.
MEP has partnered with the Drake University STEM Hub to donate our traveling “From Dreams to Reality” kit with 15 posters of African American Inventors and fun hands activities for the classroom. Please check with the them as place to start to learn more about African American inventors, and then students can continue their studies by utilizing the internet to expand their current knowledge base of African American inventors.
Our history is an important part of American history as the inventions have impacted the everyday lives of so many people across America and around the world in the different areas of medicine, transportation, technology and engineering. However, African Americans inventors were not included in history books so many of the inventions remain unknown to the majority of America. In Iowa specifically, it is still a great challenge to bring diversity into the classroom across the state.
Along this 20-year journey, many frustrating and sometimes outright disrespectful things that have happened to me and our team. I remember once explaining the exhibit and having a high school principal turn beet red and just stand up and leave our presentation while my aunt Sandra Bell, a retired Des Moines school principle and the director of education, was midsentence. It was an experience that could have defined our team and marginalized the exhibit to stay in the Des Moines area.
The exhibit spent most of the time outside the state of Iowa, where the team experienced so much positivity. About two years later, in 2015, we were contacted by a team at Marshalltown Community College, where the contact person that took us to the previous meeting had been. She said this experience had bothered her to. Their team now had a grant and wanted to develop a Multicultural two-day central tour. The MEP team was thrilled! It took 20 people including the workshop presenters to prepare but as my aunt Sande Bell always says, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”
I have experienced an amazing outreach experience with the Marshalltown Community College and the ISU Extension teams from Hardin County. They wanted to design a two-day multicultural tour of two central Iowa cities. The first day, the tour served 250 high school students. The students were open, however quite shocked to meet Dr. Paula Mahone, who delivered the first living Septuplets right here in Des Moines. They also met my older cousin Donald Pipkins, a retired NASA engineer from Houston, TX. He has won many awards for his work and was one of the leads for the space shuttle team that designed the star tracking system.
The hardest part was that the students were so shocked that African American people invented things or led 60 people on a medical team to deliver seven babies successfully. Our team further enhanced the multicultural experience by inviting two amazing professors who are also Hispanic as quest speakers. Dr. Laura Redon, a professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio and Dr. Richard Salas the Director of Multicultural Affairs at Des Moines University-DMU. Each spoke about their challenges growing up in Texas. Laura shared about her current research and book showing how Hispanic students, despite their challenges, were performing well in college with the correct team of support. Dr. Salas shared about working in the agricultural fields with his family.
On the final day, word had traveled around about the wonderful experiences the youth had. 800 high school youth were signed up, however more than 1100 showed up!
Where did I get my explosive and positive inspiration and creativity? Being the daughter of an engineer and inventor who worked for the US Army as an officer lent me an extraordinary life as an African American child in the 1960-1970’s. I grew up around the world. I lived daily in a family where the statement “why not?” was the norm or “nothing beats a failure but a try!” However, the story of my Father LTC. Grady E. Taylor is a fascinating story for another day, when the book that I have written comes out.
As the second part of my two-part blog series, I will share about my uncle who was an inventor right here in Des Moines, Iowa. Read more about Celebrating Black History Month with Iowa Innovators and Inventors