Enslaved Black Americans were freed more than 150 years ago. American colleges have been integrated for more than a half century – nearly 70 years in Virginia Tech’s case. Yet as of last year, fewer than one in 10 jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the United States was occupied by a Black person, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Juneteenth Celebration of Black Scientists and Engineers, hosted by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday at the Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Roanoke, will showcase the stories and achievements of eight Black leaders among those succeeding in STEM fields, who will describe their journeys – including barriers, challenges, and opportunities.

In-person attendance is encouraged. People may register to attend on the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute website.

“It’s a celebration to show where we have come from and how far we still have to go,” said Audra Barnes, a member of the events organizing committee and a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics program.

“This event is going to allow people to delve a little bit deeper into unpacking the differences between privileges that people have and in a different way,” said Kenneth Young, and M.D./Ph.D. student in the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Virginia Tech’s translational biology, medicine, and health graduate program.

The event will feature eight accomplished speakers and panelists, including three from Virginia Tech:

  • Vernal Branch, independent research patient advocate.
  • Lance Collins, inaugural vice president and executive director, Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.
  • Sylvester Johnson, assistant vice provost for the humanities, Virginia Tech.
  • Margie Lee, professor and department head, biomedical sciences and pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech.
  • Aziza Platt, licensed psychologist and health disparities researcher.
  • Manu Platt, Wallace H. Coulter Distinguished Professor, associate chair for graduate studies, and diversity director, Georgia Tech.
  • Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO, The Balm In Gilead Inc.
  • Kaela Singleton, postdoctoral fellow and president-elect, Black in Neuro, Emory University.

Juneteenth – or Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day — recognizes the day when enslaved Black Americans were emancipated in 1865.

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“We are very fortunate to be able to host such an accomplished and fascinating group of speakers at this Juneteenth event,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for Health Sciences and Technology. “In addition to hearing about these individuals’ contributions and their personal stories, the program will give us all an opportunity to reflect on the significance of this day and re-commit our efforts on behalf of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.”

“Black history is American history,” said Monet Roberts, an organizing committee member and postdoctoral associate at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “For those who are outside of my community who may feel uncomfortable about coming, this is a safe space for us to be able to engage with one another, have open conversation, and come together and be a service to one another.”

Roberts noted Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

“For us to actually serve others, we need to see those who are coming into the lab and different communties who may be impacted by the research, see what their identity is, and actually acknowledge that and celebrate that,” she said.

Other members of the event’s organizing committee include Leanna BlevinsShannon FarrisCarla FinkielsteinJasmine JohnsonRoberta Freitas Lemos, Steve Poelzing, Carissa South, and Karthi Sreedevi.

The 2022 Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Juneteenth Celebration will be an in-person event at 2 Riverside Circle, Room M203. Attendees are encouraged but not required to wear masks. Please register. Lunch will be provided. The event may also be view via Zoom and live webcast.

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