“Fundamentally, this is a question about power in society,” said Daniel Zaharopol, BEAM’s director. “Not just financial power, but who is respected, whose views are listened to, who is assumed to be what kind of person.”

***

My friend Dan said this to a New York Times reporter, in the context of an organization that he started called BEAM. It is a pathway for underserved middle school students to gain exposure, interest, and opportunities to see how amazing the world of mathematics can be. This is important. Why?

Guess how many math and statistics Ph.D.’s were awarded in 2015 to black students?

20.

***

So how do we change that? Dan and I were both at a lecture at Teachers College at Columbia yesterday given by Erica Walker. Her thesis? That you need mathematical socialization, spaces, and sponsoring (mentoring) to build positive, strong math communities.

Dan’s organization is doing that.

I highly recommend checking out the BEAM website to read about the ways it is trying to change the status quo.

But more than that, I recommend reading the article the New York Times reporter wrote about BEAM. She took an intimate, in-depth look at the program through the eyes of its participants — from riding the subway together to their discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement to their families. You may get welled up, as I did.

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Thank you for bringing this group to my attention. It is sorely needed.

I’d like to raise a point with you and your readers.

You describe the reality of poor representation of underserved students in advanced math classes. I wonder how much of that is the fault of the math teaching community. Look around your advanced math classes, in middle school and in high school. What are the demographics? Why do we math teachers tolerate this situation? And tolerate is a mild description of our own culpability.

I’m glad there are organizations like BEAM addressing this inequity. But the bulk of the work needs to be done in our own schools, in our own classrooms. How are we personally agitating for change?

Agreed, Seth, I was just talking to my colleagues about the same thing. The black students at my school are underrepresented in all of our advanced classes.