NOKWANDA MAKUNGA: Feeling more visible and valued
Plant biologist at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, and an organizer of #BlackBotanists.
#BlackBotanists was such a wonderful week of joy (6–11 July 2020). Participants shared why they love plants, their favourite plants and their research. Our lead organizer, Tanisha Williams, a postdoctoral botany researcher at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, sent out a tweet on the back of #BlackinNature and #BlackBirders weeks, asking who wanted to get involved. #BlackBotanists week was built organically from there, with each person putting their individual skills to use. I coordinated the media package; others facilitated social-media events such as Instagram Live broadcasts.
By the end of the first day, the #BlackBotanists hashtag had been used and/or liked by more than 40,000 people. By the end of the week, the top 50 tweeters had interacted with more than 223,000 people from around the world. To keep the hashtag relevant, all the organizers display it on our profiles and use it periodically, particularly during the monthly talks we have organized. As we warm up for this year’s #BlackBotanists week, we are starting to engage with it again. We are striving for global interaction. One thing we are doing differently this year is making an effort to connect with people who aren’t academic botanists.
From a personal perspective, I felt seen, validated and valued during that week last year. We were able to create a global community.
I don’t see my role as a way of pushing my career. My role as a Black female scientist who works at a university with a long history of apartheid and continuing low diversity is to inspire others who are like me to pursue this career. That said, we did get loads of media attention, which is important to achieve the international standing that’s necessary for me to get to the next level of my career.