Philadelphia educator on mission to cultivate young leaders in STEM

A Philadelphia native and educator is on a mission to cultivate young leaders in STEM who look like her.

"One of my board members said this organization is a letter to my younger self," said Atiyah Harmon. "I was a math student, pretty strong, but I didn’t see a trajectory for what you would do if you loved math outside of being an accountant. So, I kind of stayed away. In 12th grade I had the option to opt out of Honors Math. Never give a 17-year-old that option."

Harmon is the founder and executive director of Black Girls Love Math, a nonprofit providing after school and Saturday programming for students with the goal of exponentially increasing the number of black women in STEM careers.

Right now, she said black women only make up 2 percent of STEM careers. Her nonprofit aims to exponentially increase that number to 8 percent in 10 to 15 years.

"It was a gap in the space for girls to feel welcome and whole in themselves. I don’t think we do anything revolutionary, except give them a safe space to explore and be themselves and comfortable to know that they are math people too," said Harmon.

At St. James School in the West Allegheny section of North Philly, students enrolled in Black Girls Love Math meet for the program twice a week.

At the start of each class, the students stand in a circle and read the Black Girls Love Math creed which focuses on self-confidence, self-love and sisterhood.

"Black Girls Love Math is actually pretty fun. We do like certain activities like this one time we all had games on the table," said student Aubrey Stacy Johnson.

"You battle each other out, but they’re math games and it’s actually really fun," said student Kahliya Murphy. "Math was my bad grade in 4th grade, but now I really stepped up because I got an ‘A’ in math."

Every week, students also learn about a "Shero", from astronauts to biochemical engineers who are successful black women in STEM.

"Just remind your girls, they are math people too," said Harmon.

Black Girls Love Math is serving 300 students in the Greater Philadelphia region. The nonprofit is looking to partner with supporters and schools that are interested in implementing this programming for their students.