Back in January, one girl decided to help other girls see the movie Hidden Figures so that they could be inspired to get into STEM. Taylor Richardson is a 13-year-old aspiring astronaut who is a huge activist in her community. She had started an anti-bullying campaign, and she’s also a huge advocate for STEM fields.
Her mother, Toni Richardson, supports her all the way. According to a Medium article about their story, Toni moved Taylor from South Carolina to Florida after Taylor was, unfortunately, bullied at her previous school. She also helped start Taylor’s aforementioned GoFundMe campaign to send 100 girls to watch Hidden Figures, where they raised over $17,000 in just a month.
Taylor and Toni have been featured in many articles online and in other mainstream media because of their efforts. From Fusion to Forbes, more and more people heard about their efforts. Taylor also participated in April’s “March for Science” on Earth Day.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with Taylor and Toni Richardson, and Taylor agreed to answer some questions for me about how she 'rocks STEM' and how she decided to get her Hidden Figures campaign started, as well as some of her plans for the future. Her answers below are inspirational and, frankly, quite amazing.
Q: Hello, Taylor! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to fill these questions out! You and your mother have been absolutely wonderful so far!
A: Thank you for speaking with me. It's truly an honor. I am a huge fan. Thank you for your contributions in STEM as well.
Q: So, I’m sure you’ve told this story before, but I wanted to ask you: what sparked your love for space and NASA? What made you want to become an astronaut?
A: I've been interested in space and stars since I was five. What is outside our world. You know. But when I read Find Where The Wind Goes by Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American women to go into space, I was really excited. And then when I turned nine and old enough to attend space camp in Alabama I was like ‘I want to be an astronaut or do something in the STEM field to work for NASA one day’.
Q: Could you explain to our readers what makes the study of space, and really science in general, so important to you?
A: Wow, it’s a lot of reasons, but the main reason now to me is promoting science and space education in girls. We need to inspire younger generations of girls to know that science/STEM isn't a boy or girl game, it's everyone's game. That it's important that girls know that with hard work they can not only become an aeronautical engineer whose job is to design a spaceship that could fly to Mars, but actually be the astronaut who's inside it. It's important to me that I use my platform to engage, inspire and have girls act on being in STEM fields.
Q: The big news that went pretty viral about you was how you raised money for girls to watch Hidden Figures for free! That’s amazing! What inspired you to raise the money for this cause? And was it difficult to raise the money?
A: I was inspired to raise money for a few girls to see the movie after attending a special screening at the White House with the cast and former First Lady, Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama said we as girls have to do the work and take those hard math classes and we have to keep the door open for girls to follow behind us. So that inspired me to do a GoFundMe and raise money for a 100 girls in my city and give them the book to promote not only STEM, but literacy as well.
I still can't believe that I raised almost $20,000, inspiring fundraisers in 28 states in 72 cities. I just wanted girls to see this movie and to see that we, as women/girls, even in the worst environments could still be great and do great things. I wasn't sure if I would raise the money, but it wasn't difficult to raise because there were so many people who, like me, believed in the cause — which was to get girls to this movie so they could dream big and see girls who look like them achieving unbelievable tasks. I'm really proud and so humbly grateful to everyone who contributed and changed lives in many little girls — over a 1000 of them in Jacksonville alone.
Q: Because of what you did for your community and girls everywhere, you’ve been featured on a lot of different platforms recently. Everything from womenyoushouldknow.net to People Magazine. How have you felt about this? Has this attention been somewhat overwhelming?
A: I feel really good about it. The attention from the many different and diverse platforms helps little girls who not only look like me but all girls see a girl in a blue suit and wonder can I be that or better yet I will be that. So I'm grateful for it. I've talked with Forbes, Motto Time, even BBC News in the U.K. So it's amazing to help girls see we can not only be at the STEM table, but lead it. The Hidden Figures movie, along with all the media attention, just makes it that much better for us girls. It's showing representation matters in not only race but gender as well.
The attention has been a little overwhelming in that I'm really quiet and reserved, but it's given me a platform now to speak out and I'm not going anywhere. But it's all good, especially if we can inspire just one to know they can be at the STEM table.
Q: Do you have any specific goals for your schooling? A certain college you might want to attend, or other aspirations for your school career?
A: I am still middle school at the Bolles School and its curriculum is definitely keeping me engaged and preparing me for success. I use my summers and some time during the year to attend robotics or engineering or flight events. Of course visiting various space centers. Wow, college. I would love to tour and maybe attend MIT, California Institute of Technology, or Clark Atlanta University to name a few and major in engineering or math. And I want to take flight lessons. That's about it for now, since I'm just 13. Lol.
Q: If someone comes up to you, and asks you for advice on how to get started down the path of heading to space, what advice do you think you’d give them?
A: I would tell youth to read everything they can find about it, find a mentor or maybe several, check out a few space centers, an internship, and then if still interested get busy in the classroom. As Mrs. Obama said, put down that snapchat and get into those advanced math and science classes. And most importantly, make sure you have a passion for space, not just for the money, but understand the unknown and ways to make our world a better place.
Q: Thank you so much, again, for sitting down with us. Our readers will very much enjoy this, I know it, and we truly appreciate it. Good luck with everything, Taylor!
A: Thank you for speaking with me. Keep in touch.