Inspiring Kids With Black Panther and STEAM

by on February 18, 2018

“This is one of the most intelligent people in the world,” says Rafe Chisolm about the character Black Panther in Marvel’s recently released Afrofuturistic superhero epic. “You don’t see that narrative as a young black person, essentially.”

Chisolm, in partnership with organizations like Hidden Genius Project, Black Girls Code and Level Playing Field Institute, has helped raise funds for two free youth matinee screenings of Black Panther in both Oakland, California, and Atlanta, Georgia. The screenings will take place this week and will include packets with materials to help 200 students pursue careers in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) fields.

After the screening, students can ask a panel of their peers about their experiences with some of the organizations involved—like Hidden Genius Project, which “trains and mentors black male youth in technology creation,” and Black Girls Code, which is “devoted to showing the world that black girls can code, and do so much more.”

This screening is one of many of its kind following the highly-anticipated premiere. Octavia Spencer and Kendrick Lamar have sponsored showings for kids and Frederick Joseph, creator of the #BlackPantherChallenge, raised more than $40,000 for screenings in Harlem. The screenings in Oakland and Atlanta additionally allow kids to connect with their peers who are creating and engaging in the technology fields.

“The goal first of all was to have youth see someone that they can identify with,” says Chisolm, referring both to the characters in Black Panther as well as the youth panelists. “It’s cool to have adults talking and explaining things but I think that doesn’t really remove the barrier of accessibility or self confidence or just imagining oneself in a certain role.”

“It’s great for youth to see their peers and understand ‘you can actually do this’ and it’s not because a bunch of adults are telling you ‘you should do this,’” continues Chisolm.

Marvel’s Black Panther dives deep into the world of Wakanda, a fictional African nation with incredibly advanced technology, following T’Challa as takes his place as King of Wakanda while battling enemies and saving the world. It’s already received a long list of positive reviews and thought pieces on the power of representation, as well as a soundtrack produced by Lamar. It stands in stark contrast to the last 10 years of Marvel movies as it prominently features an all black cast moving through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Being able to see any black person I could find in sci-fi meant something to me,” says Chisolm, noting that, when he was growing up, he had to “dig up” black characters.

Chisolm is an accomplished user experience designer with major brands like Delta Airlines and Pandora, but his path was not exactly straight forward—a fact he says he’s acutely aware of when talking to young people in the Bay Area now.

“The path to them is a bit more linear now,” says Chisolm. “The barriers to entry to actually producing something is a lot lower.”

Chisolm says part of the goal of the matinee event is make students aware of this fact, pointing out that the characters and the technology they create and then utilize in the film can be inspiring for young kids.

“There’s some things they could be building and working on and tinkering with now that are achievable by that sort of inspiration,” says Chisolm.

And yes, sure, adults should definitely see Black Panther, but that’s not the point.

“Adults—you already have your life cemented,” says Chisolm. “And [the movie] can still inspire you, but the people who should really see it are kids.”


Image courtesy Marvel Studios.

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