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To the Black Innovators, Walker Sands Thanks You

Leah Cotton

In times of despair, my mother always tells me, “Remember who you are. Remember where you come from.” While these words have always stuck with me, it wasn’t until I grew older that I began to understand what she meant.

As an African-American woman, my lineage includes innovators, creators and trendsetters. My ancestors possessed the courage to create, despite being encouraged not to. In spite of being underestimated and having to constantly fight, they never wavered or stopped pushing forward. Their persistence and bravery has been passed down from generation to generation, and is embedded in me.

We Celebrate Black History Month

From the White House to Beychella, Blacks have greatly contributed to U.S. history. In fact, we’ve racked up so many wins that we have a month dedicated to celebrating the achievements of African Americans. And while we’ve all heard of Black catalysts, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X and Rosa Parks, we have more innovators to be thankful for than we realize.

To understand who you are, you must pay homage to those who came before you and made it possible for you to have a seat at the table. This Black History Month, Walker Sands gives six Black pioneers the platform they deserve — we see you and we thank you.

Six Black Trailblazers

Dr. Shirley Jackson

Caller ID transformed the telecom industry — and the way we use our phones — so we should all know Dr. Shirley Jackson’s name. Her experiments with theoretical physics paved the way for numerous developments in the telecommunication space, including the touch-tone telephone, the portable fax, caller ID, call waiting and the fiber-optic cable.

Jackson received her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973 and went on to become the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT. Today, she is the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Marc Hannah

Let’s be honest, action movies would not be the same without special effects, and for that, we should all thank Marc Hannah. In 1982, Hannah co-founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) with Jim Clark and five others, a company that helped pioneer the use of computer graphics technology.

Not only did Hannah develop 3-D graphics technology, he is also the creator of several computer programs, including Personal IRIS, Indigo, Indigo2 and Indy graphics — technology used to make movies like Jurassic Park, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast. Still not impressed? His work extends into video games as well — he was instrumental in designing the Nintendo 64 gaming system.

Hannah attended the Illinois Institute of Technology. He received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1977 before going on to Stanford University, where he obtained his M.S. degree in 1978 and his Ph.D. degree in 1985.

Marie Van Brittan Brown

Homeowners can rest a little easier thanks to Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse and inventor who invented a precursor to the modern home TV security system.

Living in a neighborhood plagued by a high crime rate and police officers who were slow to respond to crimes, Brown and her husband developed a way to securely monitor their home. The couple set up a motorized camera to peer through a set of peepholes and project images onto a TV monitor. But they didn’t stop there. Their security system also included an emergency alarm button to notify police as well as a two-way microphone. Brown’s invention laid the foundation for later security systems and is still used by many homeowners today.

Charles Richard Drew

Charles Richard Drew is the physician responsible for America’s first major blood banks. Specializing in surgery and transfusion medicine, Drew refined key methods of collecting, processing and storing plasma while studying at Columbia University.

Drew was such a medical guru that During World War II he was put in charge of "Blood for Britain." He helped collect thousands of pints of plasma from New York hospitals, and shipped them overseas to treat European soldiers. Drew is also responsible for introducing the use of “bloodmobiles.” These refrigerated trucks transported blood between collection centers.

After developing another blood bank for military personnel under the American Red Cross, Drew spent the remainder of his life working as a surgeon and professor. In 1943, he became the first African-American doctor to be selected as an examiner for the American Board of Surgery.

Lonnie G. Johnson

Ever enjoy competitive water gun fights as a kid? Well, meet Lonnie Johnson, the man that gave us the Super Soaker. Lonnie was an Aerospace Engineer for NASA. Johnson completed a stint with the US Air Force, and worked on the Galileo Jupiter probe and Mars Observer project. Lonnie also invented the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC), which converts heat directly into electricity.

After graduating from high school, Johnson attended Tuskegee University, obtaining a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in nuclear engineering.

Alexander Miles

Riding elevators used to be a life or death decision — literally. Before automatic doors, people had to manually shut both the shaft and elevator doors before riding or run the risk of plunging to their deaths at the bottom of elevator shafts.

A near-personal tragedy caused by manual elevator doors drove Alexander Miles to revolutionize intra-building travel. When his daughter almost fell down an elevator shaft, he took it upon himself to remedy the problem, and in 1887, earned a patent for a mechanism that automatically opens and closes elevator shaft doors. His designs are largely reflected in elevators used today.

Thanks to Miles, Walker Sandians don’t have to walk up 39 flights of steps every morning.

We Thank You

These Black trailblazers, and many others, laid the foundation for later generations to advance technologies and improve the lives of across the globe. As Walker Sands continues to push the limits of B2B marketing, we will not forget the ones who came before us. We hope to make them proud each and every day.