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NASA competition teens persist despite racist attacks

YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK: Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff (Image: Mayor Muriel Bowser/Twitter)

THREE BLACK schoolgirls who made it to the finals of a highly-rated NASA high school competition have spoken out about the racially-motivated sabotage they faced and what they’ve achieved since the competition.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, all 17 years old, took part in the NASA OPSPARC Challenge six months ago. They were the only all-black, all-female group participating.

Part of the competition included an online voting element, where people could place their votes for the teams.

It was during this period that anonymous users of online forum 4chan hacked the voting system and deleted votes place for the girls and urged others not to vote for the trio because they are black.

In spite of the attacks, the trio won second place.

Thanks to media coverage of the attacks, high profile figures have since reached out to the girls and these interactions have led to some extraordinary experiences.

Since then they have met with US education secretary Betsy DeVos, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, visited Flint, Michigan, to hand out clean water to residents as part of a trip organised by Google and been invited to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Reflecting on the racism they faced, Sharrieff told the Washington Post: “Looking back at it, in a way, I’m glad I experienced it at such a young age because I’ll know how to handle it when I encounter it again.

“I know I’ll hit more bumps in the road and, after experiencing this, I can speak up.”

Being targeted because of their race, wasn’t something that the girls were surprised by as they had received negative messages in response to their announcement that they would be taking part.

“To be told we were at an advantage because of our skin, it was confusing,” Snell told the Washington Post. “Why can’t we just win because we worked hard? It seems they can’t see past the colour of our skin.”

Sharrieff posed the question: “If a panel of NASA judges could see something in our projects, why couldn’t the world see that?”

The experience hasn’t deterred the girls. They plan to better their invention to enable children to access clean water in school.

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