Dr. Ronald McNair graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (North Carolina A&T). He was an accomplished saxophonist, a man of Omega Psi Phi, a fifth degree Black Belt, karate master and the second Black man in space.
Both of Dr. McNair's parents instilled in him and his brothers the importance of hard work. is father was a mechanic, and his mother was a school teacher. She drove over 600 miles roundtrip to South Carolina State College (now University) for classes as she pursued her master's. Dr. McNair could read and write before entering school and was considered a mechanical genius. When he was nine years old, a librarian at Lake City Public Library in South Carolina called the police on him for refusing to leave the segregated library. Today, that library is named for him.
He went on to graduate valedictorian from his high school. When he got to college, Dr. McNair almost majored in music instead of physics. As a freshman at A&T, he was intimidated by all of the big city kids who were majoring in physics; he was just a country boy. But one of his counselors encouraged him to pursue physics, saying "I think you're good enough." He went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, becoming nationally recognized for his work with laser physics. He was one of 35 people chosen by NASA out of over ten thousand applicants. McNair flew several successful missions in space, but died in the 1986 Challenger explosion.
Young Students (K3-2nd Grade)
Dr. McNair stood out over 10,000 other people who applied for the space program because he worked hard and believed he was good enough to apply. What amazing things can you accomplish if you just believe you're good enough?
Middle Students (Grades 3-8)
Have you ever found yourself running from a challenge because you were scared? Write three ways you can encourage yourself or others to keep going and tackle big things, even when they are scary.
High School Students (Grades 9-12)
Despite being a genius from a young age, Dr. McNair almost majored in music instead of physics because he didn't think he was good enough. Later, he almost didn't go to MIT for the same reason. Imposter syndrome is the idea that you're not good enough or don't belong, even though you're more than qualified to be in a place. Have you ever battled or seen someone else battle imposter syndrome? How did you handle it? How did they? How can you help yourself and others feel a sense of belonging wherever you go?
A police officer was called on a 9 year-old Dr. Ronald McNair for refusing to leave the library without his books. Despite the fact that segregation was the law of the land, if we are truly honest, most educators can admit there is rarely a good reason to call the police on children. Think about the ways that encountering the police can be scary for children, and especially for Black children in your classroom whose lived experiences and exposure through the media show police are most often not there to help them. How often do you employ a trauma-informed approach to discipline and classroom management that considers the differences in how students may experience the world versus how you or even other classmates experience it? How can you ensure you're promoting an environment that is safe and welcoming for all students, and that respects their lived experiences?
About the Series
A Black Child Can was founded to create a better world for students by empowering the adults around them with the knowledge they need to advocate on their behalf. The 2022 blog series builds on this foundation, encouraging educators to participate in the discussion and reflect on the ways they're showing up for their students.