“There is a goldmine in our backyard.” This was the opening statement from a presentation by the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs to the Tampa Innovation Partnership Advisory Board on August 20, 2020.
Not long ago, America’s most popular astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, posited on CNBC that, “the first trillionaire in the world will be the person who mines asteroids.” Tyson was referring to the “space gold rush” by emerging tech companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and a bevy of small & old established giants, like United Launch Alliance – a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin – investing billions to reach the stars and tap the incalculable mineral wealth which according to NASA can be found on asteroids, planets and even our own moon. According to NASA if we were only to explore and mine the infinitesimal fraction of asteroids which run within a belt between Mars and Jupiter (a mere scintilla within our galaxy) it would amount to a “staggering $100 billion for every person on earth.” Whether it’s colonizing Mars, mining asteroids, or building the digital Metaverse on earth, a new economy is emerging which will dwarf the old gig economy.
The central question is whether this economy will tap the goldmine of talent which resides in our own backyard? Will the millions of people who missed out on the opportunities of the old economy be given an opportunity to participate in the new?
In 1958, Mary Jackson became the first African-American engineer to work for NASA. Her brilliance and fierce determination – detailed in the book and major motion picture, Hidden Figures – outshone the blinding darkness of racist bigotry that denied people of color an opportunity to participate in our great democratic experiment. America has paid a steep price for hundreds of years of oppression. It only takes a short ride in a car from any city center to a blighted neighborhood to see first-hand its steep price.
Mary Jackson pushed back against racists policies that denied her entrance to the University of Virginia in the 1950s to earn an engineering degree. Her brilliance enabled her to shine at NASA despite the repugnant polices of “separate-but-equal” which fought to hold her back. Now, imagine a nation that takes our history and turns it on its head. Imagine instead, a proactive program to mine the gold which is in our own backyard and in every community across the nation, armed with STEM skills, mentors, and capital to enable every person in our nation the opportunity to tap into what Kevin Kelly and Neil deGrasse Tyson have described as a future of unimaginable wealth.
This will require STEM skills taught to every child from every gang-ridden city or impoverished backwater in America. This means we take a page from Wayne Gretzky and skate to where the puck is going and not waste time and money on old school training programs to teach skills without high paying jobs whether it’s preparing young people to build a colony on Mars or gaming skills for the next Fortnite.
It is time for a robust program which is light years ahead of the laudable Obama Administration program TechHire, which was created to build a robust tech pipeline. TechHire was designed to go into the poorest communities to find raw talent and provide basic tech skills to young people left behind in the old economy. The Tampa Innovation Partnership became a TechHire city in 2016 and learned much from this noble effort. It was a far cry from what we need today to change the world. And it is why the Tampa Innovation Partnership proposes a new plan.
The Mary Jackson Plan, which is named after NASA’s first African American engineer, is tasked with rebuilding our nation bit by qubit It’s a bold adventure into the world of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, astrophysics, gaming and beyond.
The Mary Jackson Plan is designed to bring STEAM training, mentoring, and financing to the people on a scale which matches the Manhattan Project and Marshall Plan. Yes, it will require millions if not billions in investment. Yet it will yield a return in both human capital and revenue beyond that which any old jobs training program could ever hope to achieve. The nation is spending trillions today to recover from COVID-19. How do we ever hope to pay this back? Mary Jackson is the answer.
A gargantuan recovery effort is essential if America is to survive and this time everyone must participate. The Mary Jackson Plan would be the first bold step, like Armstrong’s on the moon. The Mary Jackson Plan must be big and bold if we are to scale the wall of prejudice and injustice which have held this nation back since its founding.We all know that we must do something bigger and better than what has been tried in the past. Einstein said that we can not solve problems with the same thinking used when we created them. He was right about relativity and he is right about this.The thinking which left millions of people on the sidelines, languishing in blighted communities, must be abandoned.
The thinking which allowed our best and brightest to sit idle in poor schools without purpose or in prisons must be abandoned.
The Mary Jackson Plan means putting far more energy and thought into solving the most vexing problems facing the world than what was used to create our current predicament. We do this by tapping into the minds of children who can out think any adult if only given the tools and a map.
We need to think big, bold and reach beyond our planet. A mission to Mars would be a great start. The complexity of such a mission would scale beyond any task we have attempted and demand all hands-on deck to engage. For others, it will mean building the Metaverse. Somewhere between these two ventures, Mars or the Metaverse, we can generate wealth that will lift ever person and begin to transform broken cities into epicenters of innovation.
Join Tampa Innovation Partnership as we launch the Mary Jackson Plan and help change the world.