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Category: Learning Resource

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What Have We Learned during Black History Month, February 2022?

Black History Month

Black History Month in America encompasses so much beautiful and tragic history, that it can be difficult to process and recall our favorite moments from American history or remember what kind of incredible feats were accomplished despite incredible odds, only to be forgotten in March.

While this list is not nearly complete, and should not deter you from learning more, here is a brief summary of some of the highlights from this month’s blog posts, particularly as they pertain to African American accomplishments in the field of environmentalism, key inventions, green-altruism, and the truth about the origins of the “farm to table” phenomenon.

Black Americans have been instrumental to sustainable development of American culture, cuisine, infrastructure, computer software, and definitely in the development of the environmental industry. From Mr. Latimer in the mid-19th century, to Reynolds work today, and everyone in between, it looks like we’ve covered a wide range of topics from inventions in lighting and electricity, to manufacturing and engineering, to food conservation and preservation practices in the US. To learn more about the specifics, feel free to peruse this month’s blog posts! Published blogs can of course be found here:

To learn more about Black history, American history, or other interesting facts we’ve reviewed this month, please check out the sources from within several of the February blog links so you’re able to learn American History from Black Authors, and hopefully get one step closer to a better understanding of our collective history, in this country that we all call ‘home’.

I want to thank SUNTEX for allowing me the flexibility and freedom to explore this topic openly this month, and for continuing to support/lead me in my work in fostering and understanding equality in environmentalism. Please continue to follow this blog and reach out with any questions you may have for us if you’re interested in learning more about the topics we explore. Thank you for being avid readers!

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American Cuisine: Farm to Table, Part 3 of Many

Modern Chefs and their celebration of Black American cuisine is nothing short of a miracle. Recipes that stem from generational knowledge and cooking and farming techniques, is not something that everyone can or does take advantage of – for example, how many times have you bought groceries, planned out particular meals, and then ordered a pizza instead of cooking it at home?

Please keep in mind this is nothing against pizza, which should be ordered as much as you like within reason, or other types of cuisine that perhaps you haven’t attempted yet – however the art of preserving food from your garden, keeping it safely until ready for consumption, and then using everything you can to mitigate waste while providing a delicious/nutritional meal is not a new concept, just a forgotten one.

Lucky for us, there are more chefs than ever before trying to really document and preserve the cooking styles of African Americans, and give credit where credit is due.

American Cuisine: Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi

‘Taste the Nation’ with Padma Lakshmi, Hulu, https://www.hulu.com/series/taste-the-nation-with-padma-lakshmi

American Cuisine: ‘Taste the Nation’

If you have read along in this blog previously, you might have picked up on the fact that I’m a huge fan of Top Chef (https://www.bravotv.com/top-chef), and while there are plenty of places online I could look up to find American culinary influencers – as we have explored the past couple of days (check out previous blogs here: https://suntexllc.com/american-cuisine-farm-to-table-part-1-of-many/, https://suntexllc.com/blog-american-cuisine-farm-to-table-part-2-of-many/) – I do have to say that Padma Lakshmi’s new show, ‘Taste the Nation’ (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12244950/), does a better job of highlighting modern-day American Chefs than I ever could.

Gullah Geechee People: Architects of American Cuisine

Gullah Geechee People, Architects of American Cuisine, Photo Credit: gullahgeecheecorridor.org/

I highly recommend you check the show out for several reasons, but I will say that in comparison to Top Chef, she does do a better job of “welcoming more people into the kitchen, rather than kicking them out,” as Naomi Tomky says in her article on thekitchn.com, titled, ‘Watch the Gullah Geechee Episode of Padma’s New Show for Free Right Now’ (https://www.thekitchn.com/gullah-geechee-padma-hulu-youtube-23050729). In this episode, episode 4 of ‘Taste the Nation,’ Padma Lakshmi interviews several chefs within the South Carolina, Charleston Sea Islands, region and starts to learn more about the historical roots of cooking in this region.

Among the people she meets and highlights within the show include:

For more information about the Gullah Geechee and cultural cuisine, feel free to check out a few more sources (for example, here: https://gullahgeecheecorridor.org/thegullahgeechee/, https://marshviewcommunityorganicfarm.com/).

Gullah Geechee, American Cuisine

Gullah Geechee People, Architects of American Cuisine, Photo Credit: gullahgeecheecorridor.org

For example, GullahGeecheeCorridor.org has this to say about the Gullah Geechee, Southern American diet:

“FOODWAYS: The traditional Gullah  Geechee diet consisted of items available locally such as vegetables, fruits, game, seafood, livestock; items imported from Europe, items imported from Africa during the slave trade (okra, rice, yams, peas, hot peppers, peanuts, sesame “benne” seeds, sorghum and watermelon), and food introduced by Native Americans such as corn, squash, tomatoes and berries. Rice became a staple crop for both Gullah Geechee people and whites in the southeastern coastal regions.

Making use of available food (or rations), making a little go a long way, supplementing with fish and game, leftovers from butchering and communal stews shared with neighbors were African cultural practices.  African cooking methods and seasonings were also applied in Gullah Geechee homes and plantation kitchens.  Because plantation cooks were primarily enslaved women, much of the food today referred to as “Southern” comes from the creativity and labor of enslaved cooks.” (link here: https://gullahgeecheecorridor.org/thegullahgeechee/).

 

For more information about Black Cuisine, and/or the origins of the Farm to Table movement, feel free to check out the sources  mentioned in the past few days blog posts – added here, again, for reference (in order of appearance in blog posts):

 

Otherwise, I’m sure we’ll visit this topic again in the near future, hence the title, “American Cuisine: Farm to Table, Part 3 of Many” because you truly cannot truly study the farm-to-table movement in the United States, or around the world for that matter, without paying homage to those that came before today’s modern movement, including Native Americans from North to South America, Canada to Argentina, nor without being grateful to the African American community for the preservation of the farm-to-table technique of food conservation and culture.

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American Cuisine: Farm to Table, Part 2 of Many

In yesterday’s blog post we briefly explored the origins of the farm-to-table movement within Native American culture – check it out here if you’re interested: https://suntexllc.com/american-cuisine-farm-to-table-part-1-of-many/.

In today’s blog post, we explore the influence Black chefs had on American cuisine – building upon some of the very traditions that Native Americans had established decades prior – and thanks to the incredible research of culinary historian, Diane M. Spivey (http://www.migration-of-african-cuisine-global.com/), we can glean some pretty good insights into how these cooking techniques and recipes became American staples.

Farm to Table: Diane Spivey

Diane Spivey, Culinary Historian, Photo Credit: Upittpress.org

Per an excerpt her article on BlackPast.org, “TRANSATLANTIC FOOD MIGRATION: THE AFRICAN CULINARY INFLUENCE ON THE CUISINE OF THE AMERICAS”:

“The story of the African culinary past begins with “Lucy” and East Africa, the cradle of humankind and civilization.  Over thousands of years East African cuisine and culture slowly migrated to every other part of the African continent, diversifying and establishing new concepts, while retaining basic aspects and characteristics of the old.  Throughout the continent, prosperity arose out of superior agricultural environments and eventually the transcontinental trade and commerce in agricultural and other goods first to Asia and eventually to Europe and the Americas.

East coast cuisine and culture transplanted itself by means of explorers, merchants, travelers, and seamen bound for India, Indonesia, China, Southeast Asia, and Japan.  Spices sold and purchased at East African trading ports and in Indonesian and Southeast Asian markets would dominate the delicious flavors of creative cooks.  The Dravidians of southern India and the Khmers of Southeast Asia (modern Cambodia and Thailand), are two of numerous ancient Eastern civilizations that still bear many African culinary and cultural imprints.

Africa’s East and West Coast cultures made their indelible culinary marks through exploration, migration, and trade expeditions on the Olmecs and Mayans of Mexico, the Chavin of Peru, the Native American Mound Builders, the Caribs of St. Vincent, and other indigenous cultures in the Americas, and these marks were made long before the so-called discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. 

Migration and trade between the Americas and Africa had made the exchange and transplanting of foodstuffs between the three continents quite common.  In other words, the African culinary influence on the Americas began long before the trans-Atlantic slave trade.” https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/trans-atlantic-food-migration-the-african-culinary-influence-on-the-cuisine-of-the-americas/

While I would like to do my best to contribute to her words, and not copy + paste her entire article within this blog, I have to say that there is a lot of fascinating material within this specific article by Ms. Spivey, that bears reading. For example, did you know the following?

“The last stage of this culinary diaspora was the forced migration of Africans to the Americas through the slave trade, beginning in the 15th century, which brought numerous culinary artists and expert agriculturalists to the Atlantic coast stretching from Argentina to Nova Scotia.  The continual influx and steady increase of Africans into the Caribbean and South America at the height of the human bondage trade ironically constantly rejuvenated the African cultural input, and fostered a culinary revolution under the influence of Africans that would permeate every aspect of cooking and cuisine in rural and urban areas of every country in the Americas. 

Africans who were shipped directly to areas such as Louisiana and South Carolina, as well as those who endured the “seasoning” process in the Caribbean islands and were then transferred to the American South, all positioned their culinary standards throughout the Southern states.

West African cooks made certain that all fish, meat, vegetable, and beans and rice dishes were heavily seasoned with hot peppers and spices, such as Guinea grains, or melegueta, spicy cedar (called atiokwo in the Ivory Coast—its seeds are roasted, ground and used in soups or with leafy vegetables), tea bush (known as an-gbonto in Sierra Leone, its fragrant leaves are used to flavor meat dishes, vegetable, egusi and palm nut soups), African locust bean (harvested, boiled and fermented to produce dawadawa, an indispensable condiment in Nigerian and Cameroonian cuisine), and West African black pepper (fukungen to the people of The Gambia and Senegal), to name just a few. 

Several oils were used in preparing West African dishes, such as groundnut, or peanut (which is sometimes preferred in stews), melon seed, sesame seed (gingelly), coconut, corn, shea butter, and palm, which remains the favorite in West Africa due to the reddish-orange color it imparts to foods.

Both these specific foods and the preparation and cooking methods came with the enslaved people to North and South America.  The cooking methods included frying, boiling/simmering, roasting and steaming (foods are first wrapped in banana, plantain, miraculous berry, cocoyam leaves, or corn sheaths) and baking, or combinations of two or three methods. Broiling has been added in the modern era.” https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/trans-atlantic-food-migration-the-african-culinary-influence-on-the-cuisine-of-the-americas/

I know there are a lot of direct quotes here, however I fully recommend you go directly to the link above and read the article for yourself! The research and understanding of African cuisine in the Americas (North,Central, and South) is demonstrably impactful, and well-documented within Diane M. Spivey’s work within.

While this historical context is significant to the development of African American cuisine and modern American cuisine, you don’t have to dig too much further into American history to learn that many of our favorite foods today were invented by Black chefs.

Farm to Table, American Cuisine: Potato Chip

George Crum, Native American/African American Chef, Photo Credit: WildBerryLodge.com

Whether born out of necessity in feeding large groups of people as inexpensively as possible during the harrows of slavery, or through something more positive such as an innovative solution to soil erosion, Black Americans have created the foundation of what is today “Southern cuisine” in America. Thus, both today’s and tomorrow’s blog posts will focus on the tastes that define American food, that were created by Black chefs.

George Crum, Inventor of the Potato Chip

Ever had a potato chip? That delicious salty snack is all thanks to chef George Crum, who “unintentionally created the potato chip during the summer of 1853. They were made in response to a customer who sent back their fried potatoes after complaining they were too thick”  (https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/work-money/g30877473/african-american-inventors/?slide=1).

To learn more about his remarkable life, read on here: https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/george-crum.

George Washington Carver, Inventor of Peanut Butter

Farm to Table, American Cuisine

George Washington Carver, Inventor and agricultural scientist, Photo Credit: New Scientist.com

Thanks to Oprah’s list of “14 Black Inventors that changed American Life” we also know who is responsible for the creation of the wonder-food that is peanut butter: George Washington Carver.

According to this list, he was not only responsible for Peanut Butter, but also “As an agricultural chemist, in an effort to increase the profitability of sweet potatoes and peanuts (which thrived in the South as opposed to dwindling cotton supply), Carver began conducting experiments in 1896 and created 518 new products from the crops. They include ink, dye, soap, cosmetics, flour, vinegar, and synthetic rubber. He publicly revealed his experiments in 1914” (https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/work-money/g30877473/african-american-inventors/?slide=4). Read more about his life and the myriad of cuisines he created here: https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Washington-Carver.

It’s a good thing we’re parceling out this topic of the origins of the “Farm to Table” movement all week long – because there’s just too much to cover! Thanks to the important works of Diane Spivey in researching and documenting (preserving) the African traditions that were popularized in the American continents, as well as the promotion of infamous chefs such as George Crum and George Washington Carver by influential people such as Oprah, we have a good list to get started. Check out tomorrow’s blog post to learn more about the roots of American cuisine!

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American Cuisine: Farm to Table, Part 1 of Many

This week we’ll focus on a natural cross-over between what we typically discuss on this blog forum – living sustainably – and those who have lived the “farm to table” lifestyle for generations, and have led this modern movement since the beginning of agriculture in America.

We’ve looked at this topic plenty of times on our blog previously – just check out those posts here:

However, today’s blog post will explore the origins of this lifestyle and their early introduction on and in American soil. I am of course talking about Native Americans.

There are several documented cases of Native American agriculture, however as English writing styles had not been widely adopted until colonization enforced them, there are even more cases that have gone unpublished or lost to history. Thankfully however, some of the ancestral knowledge of this land was passed down through word of mouth, journals and drawings, and eventually made its way into historical texts and non-fiction writing that transports us back to that time and allows us to learn more about what types of agricultural practices people were engaged in during the early days of American life.

Farm to Table: Indigenous CuisineFor example, while doing some research I came across a book called Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation by “nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist” Gary Paul Nabhan (https://www.garynabhan.com/). In his book, he discusses some of the earliest recorded agricultural findings from North America and how they shaped the diet, culture, and livelihoods of people who lived there at the time. Check out a couple of excerpts below describing the encounter of Native Americans by Cabeza de Vaca’s contingency as they explored what is now Texas (pages 49-50):

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=eIorDQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=native+american+agriculture&ots=Si5Hs39-kj&sig=Cva4MTvaX61ovqB0KrndCqYRXsI#v=onepage&q=native%20american%20agriculture&f=false

The beauty of learning more about learning more about native plant species and practices for cultivating them is that they have a neutral longevity and thus are highly sustainable. So, though this seems to be a current fad sweeping across the globe, the practice of living sustainably has more longevity than any other practice we humans could possibly engage in because it’s how we survived for centuries before modern technology gave way to industrial farming.

As outlined in this Washington Post article – which in my opinion is a fascinating segue between ancient practices and modern technology and trends – the practice of sustainable farming is certainly not new:

“Indigenous peoples have known for millennia to plant under the shade of the mesquite and paloverde trees that mark the Sonoran Desert here, shielding their crops from the intense sun and reducing the amount of water needed.

The modern-day version of this can be seen in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, where a canopy of elevated solar panels helps to protect rows of squash, tomatoes and onions. Even on a November afternoon, with the temperature climbing into the 80s, the air under the panels stays comfortably cool” (“Native Americans’ farming practices may help feed a warming world”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/interactive/2021/native-americans-farming-practices-may-help-feed-warming-world/).

The article goes on to describe the current research being done in the Sonoran Desert on growing native crops that require little water, and the work being done to re-build and preserve the Native American practices that make this practice even possible.

“The Tohono O’odham have farmed in the Sonoran Desert for several thousand years. Like many Indigenous groups, they now are on the front lines of climate change, with food security a paramount concern. Their expansive reservation, nearly the size of Connecticut, has just a few grocery stores. It is a food desert in a desert where conditions are only getting more extreme,” (“Native Americans’ farming practices may help feed a warming world”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/interactive/2021/native-americans-farming-practices-may-help-feed-warming-world/).

If you’re looking for more on the subject, additional sources aren’t hard to find. Just check out the incredible list of North American crops on sciencedirect.com to see what I mean – the article had this to say regarding the varied plant species discovered in North America originally:

“It is estimated that about 60% of the current world food supply originated in North America. When Europeans arrived, the Native Americans had already developed new varieties of corn, beans, and squashes and had an abundant supply of nutritious food. The foods of the Native Americans are widely consumed and their culinary skills still enrich the diets of nearly all people of the world today” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352618116300750).

So, why on earth during Black History Month are we focusing on Native American cuisine? For the simple reason that you cannot fully appreciate American history, and more specifically American cuisine, without a base set of facts regarding what grew here originally, and how Native Americans helped to cultivate the land for modern-day agriculture. Follow along in tomorrow’s blog post to learn about the next phase in American agriculture and beyond.

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Black Inventions We Can’t Live Without: Part 3 of 3

Before finishing out this week’s focus: Black Inventions we Can’t Live Without – and should mention, that if you haven’t already, please do go and check out our prior blogs from this past week on the subject: (https://suntexllc.com/blog-blackinventionswecantlivewithoutrefrigeration/, https://suntexllc.com/black-inventions-we-cant-live-without-part-2-of-3/). However, I would like to take a moment to focus on one element of these posts: author.

I feel it’s important to view history through the cultural and professional lens of those telling it. For that reason, I seek authors that may have a clearer viewpoint than I could have on the subject matter and quote/publish their stories and works instead of highlighting anything I might be able to write. To that end, I’d like to highlight some of the important and gifted writers we’ve featured this month thus far, whose discoveries and/or inventions in Black Content have helped to tell an untold story about U.S. history (to name just a few, in order of appearance within this blog):

Thanks to these influential writers and creators, we were able to learn a lot this month already, however there are a few more folks I would like to call attention to from these sources specifically. During most of the prior year, the focus of the SUNTEX blog has mostly been about environmental sustainability – I mean, we are an environmental home-energy company after-all. However we’ve also done a series on the historical background of lighting, insulation and cooling, and the “invention of electricity” (link here: https://suntexllc.com/historical-figures-from-lightening-to-lighting/). However today’s inventions build a more wholistic picture of early inventions that are critical to today’s home-energy discussion: from computer science and data analysis, to the invention of home security systems.

Home Improvements: Computers and Analytics  

Though we briefly analyzed the start of several key inventions in the field of energy, and outside of it (see if you can find a few here: https://suntexllc.com/blog-standard/), it’s important to highlight Mark Dean, co-creator of the color monitor – something we use daily to work/study/learn/communicate/watch/build.

Black Inventions: Computers and Analytics  

Mark Dean, Inventor and Engineer, Photo Credit: www.blackpast.org/

Mark Dean was born in 1957 and has helped to create some of the most profound changes to our daily lives that we still see today. For a full look at his biography, check out the following link, https://www.biography.com/inventor/mark-dean, which tells us just who he is –

Who Is Mark Dean?

“Computer scientist and engineer Mark Dean helped develop a number of landmark technologies for IBM, including the color PC monitor and the first gigahertz chip. He holds three of the company’s original nine patents. He also invented the Industry Standard Architecture system bus with engineer Dennis Moeller, allowing for computer plug-ins such as disk drives and printers.”

According to BlackPast.org, in their biography titled,

MARK DEAN (1957- ),

“Dr. Mark Dean, an American inventor and computer engineer, is one of the most important figures in the emergence of the personal computer in the late 20th Century. Three of the nine patents on the original personal computer (PC) by International Business Machines (IBM) are registered to Dean, making him a key contributor in the development of the PC.”

[and later within that same article],

“Dean was hired by IBM as a chief engineer on the personal computer project at a time when the PC was just beginning to emerge as a major consumer item. The first IBM personal computer was released in 1981. It began with nine patents including three from Mark Dean.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/dean-mark-1957/

So I think it’s safe to say that given the modern marvel that is the cell phone – and the expectations that this technology not only place calls but also act as a tiny computer – are in large part thanks to the work of Mark Dean and his colleagues, but his accomplishments didn’t stop there.

“Over the course of his career Dean climbed up the ranks at IBM eventually becoming a Vice President and overseeing the corporation’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. He also served as the chief technology officer for IBM Middle East and Africa. Dean is also the John Fisher Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee. In 2018 he was named interim dean of the university’s Tickle College of Engineering.

Dr. Mark Dean has been honored by numerous organizations, and in 2001 he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering, the most prestigious professional society for engineers in the country. Dr. Dean continues to contribute to the evolution of the personal computer.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/dean-mark-1957/

To say Mark Dean’s career has been impressive is perhaps an egregious understatement, and whatever the right words may be to describe such a man, impressive definitely makes the cut. Why though would we feature his work in a solar blog?

Well, those who are familiar with the solar industry, and to some extent, the research needed to improve it, know that we have a lot to thank Mark Dean for. If not for his accomplishments, how would we be able to measure and improve upon inverter-data efficiency in monitoring and reporting? How might we compare solar companies and solar panels online to determine which were right for our customer, and then communicate that quality and detail to them? Certainly not without color-screen-monitors or higher data processing microchips, and thankfully now, we won’t have to.

Home Improvements: Security Systems

Another important feature of modern-day home improvement is the home security system. At SUNTEX we feature several of them on our ‘Security Products’ page (https://suntexllc.com/security/), and we understand the importance this service holds for our residential customers. However, one thing I’m guessing many readers did not know: this technology was invented by a nurse, and African American woman in the sixties, Marie Van Brittan Brown.

Who is Marie Van Brittan Brown?

For help with this subject, we again turn to the writers at blackpast.org, whom had this to say about her:

Black Inventions: Home Security

Marie Van Brittan Brown, Inventor of Home Security, Photo Credit: https://theblackwallsttimes.com/2022/02/07/before-ring-a-black-woman-invented-the-first-home-security-system/

“Marie Van Brittan Brown was the inventor of the first home security system. She is also credited with the invention of the first closed circuit television.  Brown was born in Queens, New York, on October 22, 1922, and resided there until her death on February 2, 1999, at age seventy-six.

The patent for the invention was filed in 1966, and it later influenced modern home security systems that are still used today. Brown’s invention was inspired by the security risk that her home faced in the neighborhood where she lived. Marie Brown worked as a nurse and her husband, Albert Brown, worked as an electronics technician.

Their work hours were not the standard nine-to-five, and the crime rate in their Queens, New York City neighborhood was very high. Even when the police were contacted in the event of an emergency, the response time tended to be slow. As a result, Brown looked for ways to increase her level of personal security. She needed to create a system that would allow her to know who was at her home and contact relevant authorities as quickly as possible.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brittan-1922-1999/

What did this early home-security technology look like?

“Brown’s security system was the basis for the two-way communication and surveillance features of modern security. Her original invention was comprised of peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone. The final element was an alarm button that could be pressed to contact the police immediately.

Three peepholes were placed on the front door at different height levels. The top one was for tall persons, the bottom one was for children, and the middle one was for anyone of average height. At the opposite side of the door a camera was attached with the ability to slide up and down to allow the person to see through each peephole. The camera picked up images that would reflect on the monitor via a wireless system. The monitor could be placed in any part of the house to allow you to see who was at the door.

There was also a voice component to enable Brown to speak to the person outside. If the person was perceived to be an intruder, the police would be notified with the push of a button. If the person was a welcome or expected visitor, the door could be unlocked via remote control.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brittan-1922-1999/

Sound familiar? My mind immediately thinks of the modern-day phenomenon, the “Ring Doorbell” or the “Google Nest Doorbell,” which are fairly common-place items in houses these days. I personally can think of 3 friends that have them, and several of our customers, and swear by them as being helpful for both security, and communication for example for food deliveries and/or packages. However, that’s not all Brown’s invention contributed to, as the article lays out for us a little further down:

Brown’s invention laid the foundation for later security systems that make use of its features such as video monitoring, remote-controlled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, instant messaging to security providers and police, as well as two-way voice communication. Her invention is still used by small businesses, small offices, single-family homes, and multi-unit dwellings such as apartments and condominiums. The Browns’ patent was later referenced by thirteen other inventors including some as recently as 2013.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brittan-1922-1999/

Without the works of Mark Dean or Marie Van Brittan Brown, the home improvement industry overall would look very different today. The technological efficiencies created by the inventions of these two people have made it possible to move away from business-only computers and security systems to cheaper and more sustainable access to personal computers and at-home security systems. They’re technologies that helped to create the home-improvement landscape we see today, and I can say that all those with me at SUNTEX are incredibly grateful to both Mr. Dean and Mrs. Brown for what they did to help us get here!

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Black Inventions We Can’t live Without: Part 2 of 3

As we get older, we develop better ways of learning, have more time for reading and perusing interests, and can build upon the foundational knowledge we received in school as children to really develop our understanding of history more thoroughly than when we were simply learning the basics.

For example, in English class you may have first learned to read and write – later being asked to replicate this skillset on paper for various assignments and exams. Later in your schooling, you might have read about famous authors from the past – reading Shakespeare or Maya Angelou – and then been quizzed on their content.

As an adult however, you’re free to develop your own curriculum in reading and writing, be it historical literature about kings and queens such as works from Philippa Gregory, or dramas that are later modified into tv series such as Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty or Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Your knowledge of literature and the diversity of topics and authors and viewpoints starts to expand your worldview beyond what you learned in school, and you can decide what you like and pursue more information about it.

History of course works much the same way, in that you might have learned about Caesar and Brutus and the Roman empire when you were younger and may want to travel to Europe to see the infamous Roman ruins and aqueducts as they exist today, centuries later. Your interests might lie in the Ming Dynasty of China which built the Great Wall – so, you might start by looking up a little bit about their history on history.com, for example (https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-china/great-wall-of-china#:~:text=Despite%20its%20long%20history%2C%20the,Dynasty%20(1368%2D1644).), or you might even go to your local library to see if you can check out books like Ming China, 1368-1644: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire (Critical Issues in World and International History).

If your interests lie in American history, there is likewise a lot of information to explore – even in the relatively brief period of global history when the United States has been a governing body. Funny enough however, because of the principles set forth in the Constitution of the US that were in direct response to the objections of being ruled by Monarchical England, a lot more time is still spent on learning about Europe and Great Britain than Africa or Black History. For this, and a litany of other good reasons, it’s important to celebrate Black History Month and dive deeper as you get older into the good, as well as the bad and the ugly of Black history.

All that said, today we continue from yesterday’s focus on “Black Inventions We Cannot Live Without” (check out yesterday’s post here: https://suntexllc.com/blog-blackinventionswecantlivewithoutrefrigeration/) to explore some of the greatest inventions to come from Black inventors that are still widely used, starting today’s blog post with Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson

Black Invent

Shirley Jackson, Photo credit: https://aaregistry.org/story/dr-shirley-jackson-a-progressive-scientist/

With the advent of the internet, information about Shirley Jackson has become more readily accessible, particularly because of the high adoption of smart phones and touch screen technology – just a couple of things she herself helped to create. Her contributions to this field are remarkable, given her aptitude for complex subjects such as mathematics, computer science, and physics and the ability to apply these concepts simultaneously while developing her many inventions.

In fact, “Jackson conducted successful experiments in theoretical physics and used her knowledge of physics to foster advances in telecommunications research while working at Bell Laboratories. Dr. Jackson conducted breakthrough scientific research which laid the groundwork for the invention of the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting” (https://blackdoctor.org/shirley-ann-jackson-a-visionary-in-telecommunications/).

Random side note: Perhaps you’ve heard about Bell Laboratories, or remember it’s founder, Alexander Graham Bell (https://history-computer.com/bell-labs-history/).

Among her many achievements,

“Jackson, the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT, is responsible for monumental telecommunications research that led to the invention of products such as the touch-tone phone, portable fax, fiber optic cables, and caller ID” (https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/work-money/g30877473/african-american-inventors/?slide=11). She would go on to be “named one of the Top 50 Women in Science by Discover magazine, and recognized in a published book by ESSENCE titled 50 of The Most Inspiring African-Americans. She also was named one of “50 R&D Stars to Watch” by Industry Week Magazine.

She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Foundation Hall of Fame (WITI) in June 2000. WITI recognizes women technologists and scientists whose achievements are exceptional. Dr. Jackson was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 for her significant and profound contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for education, science, and public policy.” (https://blackdoctor.org/shirley-ann-jackson-a-visionary-in-telecommunications/).

It’s easy to see why she is such an important figure in American Black History, and if you’d like to learn a little more about what she’s up to these days, feel free to read more about her life and achievements here: https://www.black-inventor.com/dr-shirley-jackson, and here: https://president.rpi.edu/president-biography.

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Black Inventions We Can’t live Without: Part 1 of 3

Now that we’ve all slept off our sugar high from the boxes of chocolates and delicious Galentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day deserts, time to get back to celebrating Black History Month. What better way to celebrate this month than to continue to admire the long list of Black inventors whom history has overlooked?

One of the most important benefits of the internet – aside from the interconnectivity of social media and the ability to post photos of our pets or favorite meals of course – is the free access to information! Previously knowledge and power were reserved for the select few members of society that 1) were male, and/or 2) could afford it, however this exclusivity is no longer the case. The internet allows for people like myself to connect with people like Oprah, or the editors of biography.com to learn more about a wide range of topics, including the focus of today’s blog post: Mr. Frederick McKinley Jones.

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, refrigeration is a big part of your energy bill, and part of the energy discussion at large (check them out here to see what I mean: https://suntexllc.com/2729-2/, https://suntexllc.com/setting-the-stage-energy-consumption-in-the-home/). This technology and the many conveniences it affords us today in our daily lives would not be possible however without the work of Frederick McKinley Jones.

Frederick McKinley Jones, the inventor of Refrigeration equipment

Black Invent: Frederick McKinley Jones

Frederick McKinley Jones, Photo Credit: https://aaregistry.org

While everyone we’ve discussed this month has an impressive and impactful resume, Frederick McKinley Jones might just be one of the most important inventors of all time. Reason being that refrigeration isn’t only used to preserve your left-over lasagna from the night before, but also helps us to preserve and ship medicine and blood for transfusions (among other things), which has furthered science and saved lives all over the world for decades.

Take a look at the following link from Oprah Winfrey’s article, “14 Black Inventors That Changed American Life” to gain a little more insight into his life, and his contributions to your own life as well: https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/work-money/g30877473/african-american-inventors/?slide=2.

Though this can likely be said about most if not all educational topics, it must be said that the more you learn about Mr. McKinley Jones and his life, the more impressed you will be with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles he overcame to achieve such a feat as becoming the “first African American to receive the National Medal of Technology” (https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/work-money/g30877473/african-american-inventors/?slide=2).

Essentially orphaned at 9 years old, and deciding to run away just two years later, he lived on his own picking up odd jobs for years around the Midwest, while teaching himself automobile mechanics and developing a passion for working with machines (https://www.biography.com/inventor/frederick-jones).

If you read on in the previous link, you already know this, however it’s important to note that his achievements were not limited to the development of refrigeration: “Over the course of his career, Jones received more than 60 patents. While the majority pertained to refrigeration technologies, others related to X-ray machines, engines and sound equipment” (https://www.biography.com/inventor/frederick-jones); he would later be “ inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977.”

To say that he led an impressive career might be an understatement. The work completed and inventions created by Frederick McKinley Jones is nothing short of monumental, and changed the foundation of our daily lives, paved the way for modern medicine and the transportation of food and medicine, and helped to save lives in World War II and was likely the very reason some of you are alive today. We have a lot to be grateful for in terms of modern technology improving our daily lives, however I hope that after reading this post you won’t forget to save space for Frederick McKinley Jones in your gratitude journals when considering the direct contributions he made to your life.

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Environmentalism for and from Environmentalists: Part 2 of 2

In yesterday’s post we covered just the first half of people highlighted in Greenpeace’s article, “8 Black Environmentalists You Need to Know” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/), and my head is still swimming with ideas on how to help my own community in environmental justice. I hope you’re ready for more, because today’s post will focus on the second half of that list, which is by no means any less impressive than the first half.

Environmentalist Christopher Bradshaw and Dreaming Out Loud

Environment Christopher Bradshaw, Founder & Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud

Christopher Bradshaw, Founder & Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud

First up is Christopher Bradshaw – whom, according to the article, is “a social justice entrepreneur who founded Dreaming Out Loud, Inc., an organization dedicated to creating economic opportunities for the marginalized community in the D.C. metro area” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). Bradshaw does an incredible job in his work in connecting the disparaging parts of Black history – from slavery and sharecropping – to today’s inadequacies in food equality – and addressing both through leadership and economic opportunity. Just take a look at the Dreaming Out Loud homepage, and specifically their journey, to see what I mean:

“DOL began with teaching character and leadership development in DC public charter schools but soon recognized systemic issues around the food system which led to the creation of community farmers markets, with the help of a local church and one farmer.

Chris also recognized that these issues were connected to historical legacies of slavery, sharecropping, and entrenched systemic racism with intersections across the spectrum of social justice issues. As the organization evolved, we expanded into urban agriculture and food system work with a focus on economic empowerment of marginalized communities.

Through economic opportunity, using workforce development and entrepreneurship training, DOL is driving deeper change within the community creating financial stability and food security. DOL aims to use the food system as a powerful tool of resistance, resilience, and advocacy for structural change.”

Link here: http://dreamingoutloud.org/about/.

Similar to the work that Tanya Fields is doing in New York (check out yesterday’s blog post to learn more: https://suntexllc.com/environmentalism-for-and-from-environmentalists/), Mr. Bradshaw helps communities in the DC area familiarize themselves with sustainable farming practices, and even provides a space for people to get their hands dirty working directly with the soil and building community as they go (https://dreamingoutloud.org/farm-food-hub-at-kelly-miller/).

Environmentalist Peggy Shepard and WE ACT

Environment, Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Peggy Shepard, Co-founder of WE ACT

Next up from the Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists: Peggy Shepard. According to the article, “Peggy Shepard is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice and has a long history of organizing and engaging Northern Manhattan residents in community-based planning” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). Just a quick browse of their website and you can tell that you’re dealing with an impressive group of social and environmental justice warriors. WE ACT’s mission is to (https://www.weact.org/):

“build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”

If you check out their laundry list of activities on the “What We Do” page of their website, you’ll see exactly how they work to accomplish this mission, and there is certainly no shortage of reading material outlining their impressive accomplishments.

Environmentalist Jeaninne Kayembe and Urban Creators

Environment, Jeaninne Kayembe and Urban Creators

Jeaninne Kayembe, Founder of Urban Creators

Speaking of talent and hard work, next on our Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists is Jeaninne Kayembe. Given my own personal devotion to composting, I can already tell you that the work she has done to co-create Urban Creators, and in “transforming a 2-acre garbage dump into a farm” has me giddy (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). What does Urban Creators do? Check out the following quote directly from their ‘About Us’ section to learn more (https://urbancreators.org/):

“Since 2010 we have used food, art, and education as tools to nurture resilience and self-determination in our neighborhood. Now, we are supporting the emergence of a new generation of Urban Creators, organizers, artists, growers, and local businesses who are working to build equity and collective liberation in our communities.

Life Do Grow (LDG) is a Neighborhood Creative Commons, situated in the heart of North Central Philadelphia on the ancestral lands of the indigenous Lenni-Lenape. LDG is a dynamic and ever-evolving ecosystem of creative ideas, currently comprised of an urban farm, public park, outdoor classroom, community marketplace, venue for artistic and cultural expression, and co-working/co-creation space for local businesses, artists, organizers, growers, and creators. It is a canvas for ingenuity; a safe-space to explore boundaries, discover passions, and experiment with new ideas; a hub for community to organize, build equity, and foster economic opportunity; and an organic garden where we can all connect more deeply with the earth and one another.”

Because we are a solar company, I can’t help myself in also highlighting that “In 2019 we [Urban Creators] installed a solar energy system with Youth Build Charter School to power Life Do Grow, and were honored by the Bread & Roses Community Fund with their Annual ‘Tribute to Change’ Award” (https://urbancreators.org/mission-history/). It’s safe to say the work they’re doing is transformative and nothing short of phenomenal.

Environmentalist Omar Freilla and Green Worker Cooperatives

Environment, Omar Freilla, Founder of Green Worker Cooperatives

Omar Freilla, Founder of Green Worker Cooperatives

This brings us to the final honoree on the Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists, Omar Freilla. Thanks to the article, we know that “Freilla is the Founder of Green Worker Cooperatives and creator of the academy model of cooperative development. Green Worker Cooperatives is a South-Bronx based organization dedicated to incubating worker-owned green businesses in order to build a strong local economy rooted in democracy and environmental justice” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). On further inspection of the company website however, we get the full picture of what this means. Check it out for yourself, here: https://www.greenworker.coop/coopacademy, including their partner organizations, here: https://www.greenworker.coop/ourcoops.

While I can’t speak to the future of SUNTEX, I know that these incredible people will be part of the fabric of inspiring stories which carry us forward in our work in Texas, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for all that they do. Huge shoutout to Greenpeace as well for curating this list so that we may learn more about their work and how to help. Please check out the individual links throughout today’s and yesterday’s blog posts to learn more about how you can help support their work directly too!

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Environmentalism for and from Environmentalists: Part 1 of 2

Are you an avid environmentalist? In other words, are you concerned about the protection of the environment? If so, then you may already know the focal points of today’s blog post discussion – however even the most avid environmental heroes need to study up to stay up to date with the latest and greatest people and techniques in their respective field.

For this reason, today we’ll highlight a few people that have really paved the way in recent years for the protection of our planet and are serious advocates for keeping Earth safe and hospitable. For a short-list of people to know in environmental protection, feel free to peruse the following Green Peace article which highlights several excellent environmentalists and the important work they’re doing: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/.

Green Peace is an organization known for its leadership in environmental protection, so it’s only natural that they would come up with an exceptional list of people to follow in the field – literally and figuratively.

Environmentalist Savonala Horne and the Land Loss Prevention Project

Environment, Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project

Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project

Starting with Savonala “Savi” Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, we already know that this list of professionals is no joke. According to their website, their mission statement reads as follows:

“The Land Loss Prevention Project was founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers to curtail epidemic losses of Black owned land in North Carolina. Land Loss Prevention Project was incorporated in the state of North Carolina in 1983. The organization broadened its mission in 1993 to provide legal support and assistance to all financially distressed and limited resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina.”

Link here: https://www.landloss.org/index.html

Perhaps most importantly, they also help “family farmers and landowners develop sustainable agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly and economically viable for their rural communities” (https://www.landloss.org/index.html), meaning that they’re working on the ground, with Black farmers to not only maintain their properties, but to do so sustainably – which benefits everyone, but is hugely helpful to the families they serve. To learn more about the work they’ve done, check out their ‘Services’ page, here: https://www.landloss.org/services/index.html.

Environmentalist Chantel Johnson and Off Grid in Color

Environment, Chantel Johnson, Founder of Off Grid in Color (OGIC)

Chantel Johnson, Founder of Off Grid in Color (OGIC)

Perhaps more relevant to this year’s Black History Month theme of “Black Health,” and looking to the Greenpeace list, we find Chantel Johnson in spot #2 of Inspiring Environmentalists. If you read the Greenpeace article you’ll find that “Chantel Johnson founded  Off Grid in Color (OGIC) in 2016 to help lead her community, to greater self-sufficiency through farm raised food, birth coaching, and community outreach” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/), however her personal reason for starting this organization is founded in tragedy.

Looking at the very front page of https://offgridincolors.com/, we learn that her brother died from gun violence in 2015 – and while she goes on to describe the insurmountable pain she felt watching his life decline, she herself would continue to live on, honoring his memory, and paving a way for herself, and others like her, to give back to her community working as an environmentalist.

To learn more about her journey and how you can contribute to Off Grid in Color, check out the site directly, where she tells her story about how this foundation came to be – https://offgridincolors.com/. To share just a brief tidbit, please read the following:

“When Richie died, I was lost and depressed. Mother Earth saved me. She showed me how to use the trees for shelter, the sun for light and energy, soil for veggies, wildlife for meat and with a little extra effort, generate an income. My brother’s death created space for me to heal with Mother Earth and birth Off Grid In Color. I’ve been doing this work since 2016: pasture raising animals for meat, providing doula services, and educating the community all while landless and with very little funds.”

The courage it takes to build a company from the ground up, while mourning the loss of a loved one is powerful and is certainly someone worthy of the title “inspirational.” The tough part is that too many of our American neighbors and friends have undergone a similar story, and hopefully through environmental justice we can help to change just that.

Environmentalist Tanya Fields and the Black Feminist Project

Environment Tanya Fields, founder of the Black Feminist Project

Tanya Fields, founder of the Black Feminist Project

Next on our Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists is Tanya Fields, who founded the Black Feminist Project, whose focus is “enrich[ing] the lives of, restores agency, justice, joy and health to Black womxn, girls and non-men, often referred to as marginalized genders or MaGes and the children they care for – with an emphasis on mother-led families” (https://www.theblackfeministproject.org/). How does this work coincide with the environmental movement?

I’m glad you asked, because it’s an important part of the story – thanks to the Black Feminist Project, the Black Joy Farm has been established as a “safe, healthy, bold space where MaGes are nurtured to be their full selves, un-policed and judgement free” (https://www.theblackfeministproject.org/blackjoyfarm). Please do read their full story within this link about the seven-year journey to transfer a community green space into a working farm – hosting Youth Employment camps, Family Movie nights, and several other workshops for the community – I can assure you this is one story you don’t want to miss.

Environmentalist Rue Mapp and Outdoor Afro

Environment, Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro

Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro

Going back to our short list from Greenpeace, you’ll find Rue Mapp is next on the list of inspiring environmentalists, and for good reason. Rue Mapp started Outdoor Afro in 2009 as a blog to “build a broader community and leadership in nature” (https://outdoorafro.com/team/rue-mapp/). Since then, she was invited to the White House to participate in America’s Great Outdoors Conference and assist Michelle Obama in her “Let’s Move” initiative; her writing would go on to be featured in several prominent news outlets, and “in 2019 Rue was named a National Geographic fellow and in 2021 selected as an AFAR Travel Vanguard Honoree” (https://outdoorafro.com/team/rue-mapp/).

What does Outdoor Afro do today? Well, look no further than the ‘About Us’ section of their website to learn more (https://outdoorafro.com/about-us/):

“Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.”

Only half-way through this list and I feel inspired to build a few raised beds, plant seeds physically and metaphorically, and spread the word within my community on how to do so. The importance of this work cannot be over-stated – because through their works these powerful women have created a space for their communities to be themselves while addressing food shortages and build an inclusive community around food safety and security, as well as environmental justice. Check out tomorrow’s post for highlights including the rest of this short list, and take a look at blog posts all month long to learn more about the important contributions of Black Americans to our ever-diverse country.

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Pop-quiz: Who Invented the Modern-day Lightbulb?

Black History: Lewis Latimer LightAs energy experts, it’s important to pay homage to the monumental innovations that led us here, particularly those in the world of energy and electricity.

In previous blogs we’ve discussed the history of the lightbulb (and, the ‘discovery’ of electricity) in great length – check those out here: https://suntexllc.com/historical-figures-from-lightening-to-lighting/ – so for those of you following along each and every day, you likely already know the answer I am looking for.

However, it’s pop-quiz time! Let’s see how many of you remember what we learned. Can you tell me from the top of your head who invented the modern-day lightbulb?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not Thomas Edison, or I should say, not only Thomas Edison, since he had some help in getting to where we are today – just check out the quote below from History.com:

“The light bulb itself was perfected by Thomas Edison, but the innovation used to create longer-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament came from African American inventor Lewis Latimer. Latimer, the son of formerly enslaved people, began work in a patent law firm after serving in the military for the Union during the Civil War. He was recognized for his talent drafting patents and was promoted to head draftsman, where he co-invented an improved bathroom for railroad trains.”

See the direct link here, as well as some interesting information about several other inventions as well – including the three-light traffic signal, automatic elevator doors, and inventions such as the IBM PC, color monitor, and first Gigahertz processor: https://www.history.com/news/8-black-inventors-african-american?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_GLhBWSbxC5_cwVqkbC0QSEiZjZFRDjPBOZdliErTdWuQ4fr4XwlLiYUp-1d1WHnvr9e1TPdrMeVYx9P1W448oowkGQw&_hsmi=2.

While conducting my research, I came across an interesting article about Mr. Latimer’s life, and the many things he helped to create beyond the modern-day long-lasting lightbulb – check it out here: https://www.uuworld.org/articles/latimer-african-american-inventor (this is also where the photo above came from, so I thank Ms. French and her team for this key contribution).

Long-lasting light bulbs have helped to power our entire world, making dreams of extending our productive hours into the evening hours a feasible possibility. Without the contributions of Lewis Latimer, we might still be, very literally, in the dark. As an energy company, and personally as a night-owl, I’m grateful to Mr. Latimer and his accomplishments in American history.

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