I am not a Scientist. I am an advocate and an activist and this was my first Citizen Science Conference. (That's me in the lower right corner of the picture.) Along with other advocates and activists from around the country, I was awarded an Environmental Justice Scholarship to participate. I was selected to participate to share with the science community the environmental hazards that plague the beauty and barber industry. In my industry, we are misting, spraying, blow-drying, flat-ironing and exposing ourselves and clients to toxic chemicals and combination of chemicals. I shared with the science community the threat of communicable diseases that we are possibly spreading with hair weaving services. Hair weaving, a widely popular service, requires a needle to bind the hair. The needle can scrape, poke, stick and puncture the scalp breaking the skin and causing the client to bleed.
I was excited to participate in the Citizen Science Conference but honestly, didn't know what to expect. (I made a commitment to myself to not make any assumptions.) I arrived in Raleigh on Tuesday evening and without going through every detail of the conference, I left Raleigh on Sunday morning feeling very hopeful. On my drive back to Atlanta, I thought a lot about my participation and my place in the Citizen Science Association as an advocate, an activist, and a black woman. This, I was told, was the first conference hosted by the Citizen Science Association that had an environmental justice component. Those of us who were recipients of scholarships were predominantly people of color from all walks of life who were there to find allies on a myriad of issues. The Citizen Science Association, from my observation, is a predominantly white organization and respectfully, has been disconnected from issues that plague the environmental justice community. I got the impression from those of us in the Environmental Justice group and those who weren't new to the Citizen Science Association or the conference, we were asking the same questions about each other: Who are these people? How do we fit together and how does the Citizen Science Association bridge this new demographic of participants?
I must say, in no way did I not feel welcomed. Everyone I met was friendly, warm and inviting and I am happy that I had no expectations or made no assumptions prior to participating. My openness gave me room to receive the warm smiles and many were interested in my efforts.
So, to answer the question about who we are, how do we all fit together and how does the Citizen Science Association bridge this new demographic of participants, that remains to be seen. However, I do believe that we are off to a great start. We all just have to be mindful to stay open to each other, embrace the learning curve ahead and remain committed despite the obstacles. I am not a scientist but science brought us together and I believe with our new found relationships, we are embarking upon some great work! I look forward to the next conference.