Trip Elementary School fourth grader Penelope Bender is learning about influential African-American historical figures in her social studies class, but she said Wednesday she was excited to learn about an influential female inventor she’d never heard of.
The Trip Elementary School gymnasium was packed full of its fourth grade class on Wednesday afternoon. Michael Carson, who wrote a book called “African-American Inventions That Changed The World,” told students about Madam C.J. Walker, who created a hair-loss solution in the 1890s and marketed it to become a self-made millionaire.
“It is pretty cool to know a 13-year-old found a solution to save your hair so it doesn’t fall out,” Bender said.
Walker was one of the African-American inventors profiled in Carson’s book, which he featured in his presentation to the Trip fourth-grade class. His business partner, Natacha Jocelyn, helped tie in Walker’s life’s work to her own ambition as a business woman. Jocelyn, who owns a Dacula State Farm agency, told students being an entrepreneur not only requires the fundamental math, reading and writing skills students begin to learn in elementary school, but it also requires courage.
“To be a business owner, you’re not going to follow what everyone else does,” Jocelyn said. “You’re going to have to follow what’s best for you.”
Walker was one of five inventors Carson discussed with Trip fourth graders in honor of Black History month. One inventor that caught the attention of Trip student Nathan Thompson was Gerald Lawson, who pioneered an early ROM video gaming console in the 1970s.
“Video games are one of the things I do all the time,” Thompson said. “I probably do it more than reading.”
Carson’s book covers a total of 42 inventors. Two pages are dedicated to a short biography of the person, an explanation of their invention and its historic significance. The format makes it easy for elementary school students to digest. It’s the first of two books Carson written. His second is a denser work called “Today in African-American History,” which marks 366 dates with significant black history events.
Carson’s first book was inspired by his son, Matthew, who is a member of the Trip fourth grade class. Carson said his son once asked him about famous African-American inventors while working on his homework. Carson was perplexed there was such a small amount of common knowledge on the subject. That launched a months-long project of penning his first book.
Carson found that African-American inventors, whose merits are rarely discussed or taught, changed the course of history with their work.
“They just changed the world with what they did,” Carson said. “I thought it would be important for people to know how these came about.”
Carson led off his presentation with a perfect example of an invention that rippled into a technological tidal wave. Henry T. Sampson, co-invented the Gamma-Electric Cell, which was later used in early cellphones in the 1970s. Jocelyn held up a version of a late-’90s cellphone, a solid black brick that couldn’t be shoved in a pocket. The sound of Trip fourth graders’ reaction echoed in the gymnasium.
Trip’s fourth-grade Assistant Principal Monya Phillips helped coordinate the breakout presentation with Carson and said it’s important for students to learn from voices like Carson and Jocelyn that are different than their everyday teachers,
“They hear us talking about the importance of reading, writing and math, but (it’s important) to hear a business owner say, these are the things that are important, and to hear (Carson) talk about the writing process,” Phillips said.
Carson knows how to get a fourth grader’s attention. He led off his speech by mentioning four surprises for students who attended his presentation: first, a copy of his new book and, second, cupcakes for the fourth-grade class. The third was a Barnes and Noble gift card to the first 25 students to attend his 1 p.m. book signing at the Barnes and Noble at the Shoppes at Webb Gin on Saturday. Finally, he offered a pack of Pokemon cards to fourth graders who made it to the book signing.
Maggie White, another Trip Elementary fourth grader, said she took away more than a book from Carson’s presentation. She’s learned the importance of equity in social studies and from Carson’s book.
“If Martin Luther King didn’t give his speech, then we would still have segregation, and we need to celebrate what we have today,” White said.