By Megan Sayles
Only about 2% of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers are held by Black women.
Philadelphia native Atiyah Harmon is on a mission to exponentially increase this number with her organization, Black Girls Love Math (BGLM), which helps Black girls build confidence in mathematics through cooperative competition, career mentoring, and deep mathematical inquiry.
“I wanted to create a space for those who identify as Black girls to feel comfortable in the duality of their identity, so both be a lover of math and still be a confident Black girl,” said Harmon.
BGLM was established in June 2020, but Harmon, who worked in education for 20 years, conceived the idea for the organization the year prior.
Harmon and a friend were discussing their frustrations with the poor representation of African-American young women in mathematics. They noticed that often the girls would have an interest in arithmetic until about 6th or 7th grade, and then, they would turn away from the subject.
The friend casually commented: “Black girls love math,” and it resonated with Harmon. That night, she drafted a blueprint for an organization that would embody the phrase.
Traditionally, according to Harmon, teachers assert to students that there is only one correct way to solve a math problem, discouraging them from using unique ways to achieve the solution.
“If I’m a Black girl, and I think about the math differently than what you’re teaching, then I’ll shut down,” said Harmon. “I want to get quiet, and I don’t want to participate anymore.”
In its first year, BGLM served 300 girls from charter schools, but Harmon wanted to extend her reach to more young women, so she initiated Saturday programming to serve the general community.
Each grade level has a complementary curriculum, and instructors use culturally-responsive teaching methods. Every session begins and ends with a self-affirming creed to help the girls embrace their identities as mathematicians.
Most activities are group-based so the girls can problem-solve with their friends, and during each meeting, instructors highlight different “sheroes,” often women of color, in STEM-based careers so the girls are exposed to the different professions they could obtain with their math knowledge.
Parents have reached out to Harmon and her team to let them know how grateful they are that their daughters have become more self-assured and adept in their math skills, and school leaders have shared the same sentiment.
Although BGLM currently only operates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Harmon is already looking to expand into New Jersey and New York. The end goal is to scale nationally, but right now, the organization is focused on the Northeast region.