Kicking off specialized history months (like Black history and women’s history) are generally a mixed bag of emotions if you are Black, a woman, or both, but this year is different. This year we see the first full year of BWEEMS programming created by and for Black women. What started as a Tweet has become an NSF-funded organization of more than 200 Black women working and studying in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Sciences – BWEEMS.
2020 was one of the most tumultuous years we’ve seen and as 2021 feels like 2020 - part deux, the tumult is exacerbated by isolation. COVID-19 forced people to utilize technology and social media to build community, but that too can be wrought with frustrations and missteps. All too often the spaces built were for the majority, but not for long - enter Nikki Traylor- Knowles.
Busy is an understatement when it comes to her schedule. She is a marine scientist, an assistant professor at the University of Miami, a PI(Principal Investigator), a wife and mother, and the founder of BWEEMS. So why take on a task as large as building an organization?
Frequently, an invitation to a space that cannot support you is just as bad as not getting
invited at all. DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initiatives caught like the California wildfires through the spring and summer of 2020, but one main tenet, creating space to recruit and retain minoritized scientists was being overlooked outside of DEI committee membership. Being told a space cannot be created for something that wasn’t there placed an incensed Traylor – Knowles in an awkward position. She was not the only Black woman in marine science, so how was it possible that her colleagues couldn’t recognize that? With one tweet, Traylor- Knowles debunked the myth.
Now, just over six months after the first general meeting, BWEEMS is a fully formed organization with international membership. When asked about what drove her to make BWEEMS more than a social club, Traylor – Knowles simply said she was aligning her personal values with her professional work; she had a platform and was going to use it. The immediate goal was to create space with the vision of the future focused on the next generations of scientists. “We hustle, we are busy as hell and we need a space where we (and the next generation) can just come in and do the work [science].”
While Traylor – Knowles attributes the growth of BWEEMS to an organic evolution, she resoundingly touts the success of BWEEMS to member contributions, “It [BWEEMS] has grown beyond my vision and I am grateful.” Her future planning involves formalizing the organization’s presence and translating the palpable power and joy of a BWEEMS meeting into meeting hubs both local and international.
Traylor – Knowles is humble about the movement that is BWEEMS but make no mistake, she isn’t throwing out ideas and taking off – she’s an active and engaged champion for the successes of Black women, and ultimately the work. When she isn’t teaching or giving talks on her coral research, she’s mentoring the next up. BWEEMS scientists are changing the world and Traylor – Knowles is ensuring we are being recognized for it because we exist and we are out here.