Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration announced Thursday that it would award $4,000 to help three D.C. high school students who faced a torrent of racist comments when they used social media to encourage people to vote for them in a NASA competition.
The three black Banneker High students — whose method to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains landed them in the final round of the science competition — were featured in a Washington Post article this week. The all-female team was subject to racist comments from users of the controversial and anonymous online forum, 4chan, who tried to ruin the students’ chances of winning by urging people to vote against them because of their race.
The 4chan posters recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost, prompting NASA to shut down voting early.
Bowser (D) said in her weekly newsletter that the city should be celebrating the students — Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, all 17-year-old high school juniors — for their successes.
“Mikayla, India and Bria are reminding us that the good in our world is stronger than the hate, and we want them to know that the District has their back,” Bowser wrote.
The teens said in interviews with The Post that they planned to attend college and graduate school, and they aspire to be doctors and engineers. They volunteer at the city-funded Inclusive Innovation Incubator — a technology lab focused on diversity and entrepreneurship near Howard University — and their mentor at the incubator encouraged them to compete and supervised them on weekends as they built a prototype for the NASA competition.
The $4,000 will be given to the incubator and used to help the students further develop their water filtration system.
“The mayor was inspired by these young women,” said Andrew Trueblood, the chief of staff for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which provides support to the incubator. “It was a natural next step to say what can we do for these young women.”
The students received a swell of support online this week. Chelsea Clinton tweeted at the teens Thursday, thanking them for using their “talents to tackle big problems!”
“I am so sorry that anyone would ever feel anything but gratitude for your clean water efforts.”
NASA expects to name the competition winners this month. In addition to the public voting, judges assess the projects to determine the winners, who are invited to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt for two days of workshops, with the winning team receiving a $4,000 stipend to cover expenses.
Washington Post by Perry Stein