ARTICLE WRITTEN BY KAYLAH HOLMES
Kaylah Holmes is a junior in high school that has devoted her high school career to representation for women, POC, and LGBTQ+ groups. She started her school’s first youth neuroscience society, and was inaugurated as the future co-president of the gender equality movement. Outside of school she works at the international youth neuroscience association and as a director for Generation Ratify, a non-profit that works for the advancement of gender rights. Kaylah has met with senators and legislators in her home state to guarantee women’s advocacy under the law.
Growing up can be hard. Growing up as a young black girl in American society is even harder. When I was younger I had this aching feeling of inferiority. Those around me perpetuated the idea that as a woman and a POC my intelligence, work ethic, and potential were questionable at best. I grew into the belief that who I was born as ultimately made me less than and sealed the supposed inadequacy of my future.
Eventually, I received a scholarship to attend a private high school, and further my academic career. Freshman year I lost my house and felt like the world around me was crashing down. I was in an environment filled with “overachievers” and wealthy students who had the privilege of affording SAT prep and having “guarantees” for their college and future careers. Although it wasn’t anyone’s fault, I still ended up feeling insufficient. I have vivid memories of people blatantly underestimating my academic achievements based on my race and my gender as well. Going back to eighth grade I developed a passion for neuroscience after our first-in-class brain dissection. But due to all the racism and sexism I experienced once I entered high school, I ended up abandoning those goals. Exposure to women like myself helped change this idea.
At the end of sophomore year, I read the book “Colonize this” by Daisy Hernandez and read stories of incredible POC women who accomplished their dreams despite the pushback from society. I learned about the ideas of intersectionality, POC solidarity, and the imposter syndrome felt by a multitude of black women across the U.S. These stories inspired me and reignited my passions. I ended up working for several international organizations focused on neuroscience and women’s empowerment.
I also got the chance to join coalitions of female and POC scientists and gain insight into the disparities faced by them in STEM. I later started FemNeuro, my organization centered on women’s representation in Neuroscience and STEM. I have had the opportunity to interview and present stories of women who were victims of discrimination, and harassment, and some who ended up developing imposter syndrome. FemNeuro is the culmination of all my personal feelings and my desire to give women role models who let them know that they are not alone and there are people who look and feel like them in the scientific world.
Simply reading a book filled with powerful women, assisted in building up my confidence and strengthening my ambitions. Because of this, I knew that starting my organization could leave an impact no matter how big or small. Often at times women who look like me are discredited and undervalued for our intellect. I realized that when people deny you the right to join the conversation you have to work to create your seat at the table.
I hope that my own story and FemNeuro can provide other high school and college-aged girls the extra push they need to eliminate the limitations imposed on them by society and flourish to be the best versions of themselves possible.
BLACK LIVES MATTER EXCERPT
I remember two instances of racial prejudice towards me off the top of my head. In early middle school I had attended a predominantly white institution and often felt like an outcast as one of few Afro-Latina/black kids in my school. One of the first times I had mustered up enough courage to wear my hair in its natural state, I had been told that “It wasn’t crazy hair day”. After that the racial comments and bullying became more severe and I ended up switching schools. Although I was in a more diverse setting and doing better I was not exempt to both subtle and blatant racial prejudice. During a conversation with a girl I had become extremely close to I ended up in shock by the abrupt and complacent nature of racially charged statements. We had been hanging out together for months and she had met my family several times. One day I had asked if I could go over to her house and she outright told me no, “because I was black” and her parents might be uncomfortable. Seconds later she returned back to the topic of our conversation.
This is why BLM is so important to me. Whether it be bullying, subtle comments, casual racism, or outright discrimination. BLM is bringing these conversations to the forefront and forcing others to listen to cries of black voices. Making sure people hear what we have to say, and understand how these instances impact our lives. Moments like the ones I described made me extremely ashamed to be black. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I would never hurt a fly, yet someone’s parents would be frightened by my presence at their doorstep? I was born with beautiful long locks, yet others saw it as a freak-show?
To me, Black Lives Matter is a culmination of all these things. The racial injustice going on in America isn’t anything new. This country was built off of slavery, Jim Crow, black codes, segregation, and is profiting off of the prison system right now. When young black boys have the highest victimization rate of any group, and 40% of black people makeup falsely accused exonerees it is clear that this isn’t just a one-dimensional issue. People looking in from the outside assume that it is just about the murder of George Floyd. But in reality, it is more of a buildup and a showcase of just how tired we are as black Americans. Tired of being undervalued, tired of being disrespected, and tired of being viewed as disposable. I attended my first BLM protest a few weeks ago and I cried. I had never felt prouder of being black in my entire life.
FemNeuro is a youth led blog/organization that shares stories of women who have been victims of gender based harrassment and discrimination at both the college and professional level. We work to provide girls interested in Neuroscience and a safe space to convene and express the hardships they’ve been through in their scientific careers. We also have women provide advice to girls hoping to pursue neuroscience as a college career. FemNeuro has featured women of all ages, races, and scientific disciplines to highlight the individual inequities they face.