A Saturday with The Robochicks & a VERY Wise Man.
Last weekend was one of those weekends that changes your perception of the world...
It was Saturday morning, a beautiful day in Atlanta, most were out in the parks enjoying the crisp fall day. But not me. I was meeting the Robochicks to spend the day with them as they got some robotics training from an amazing group of young men, in preparation for their upcoming FTC Qualifier in December.
The Robochicks are serious. And so is this training event. Teams from as far away as Tennessee have come to take advantage of the knowledge here today. The Robochicks arrived 30 minutes early to the event, the first of all teams to show up. They choose the first table in the room and immediately began to set up. The Robochicks coach, Mrs. Bisa, tells the girls that they need to learn something today from the other teams here... armed with their pink spiral notebooks, as other teams begin to arrive, the Robochicks venture out to meet them, shake hands, introduce themselves, & ask questions. Their confidence is overwhelming! After a trip around the room, the girls regroup and Mrs. Bisa asks each girl what they know now that they didn't before. It's this kind of push & challenge from their coach that has created the drive these girls have, no doubt.
So the day begins at Johnson Research & Development, with a full size mock-up of their upcoming competition challenge & the brains & support of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta Robotics to brainstorm with the days attendees. One of those young men is 16 year old Nicolas Badilla, captain of the 100 Scholars Robotics Alliance... Nick is something special. He beat out over 4000 other developers in a game design competition hosted by PBS, has been to the White House 5 times for game development, & has met the president. This young man was sitting elbow to elbow with the Robochicks, enthusiastically helping them problem solve their robot's design. Incredible.
I was particularly excited about this training day, for the girls have told me SO much about "Mr. Bart", a man that they clearly look up to and have incredible respect for. If he has their respect, he has my respect, and I wanted to meet him. Bart Sudderth, "Mr. Bart", is here today & has been working with the Robochicks for quite some time. As a show of their appreciation for his mentorship & belief in their brains, the Robochicks are presenting him with a shirt today that says "Man Enough To Be A Girl Scout", for the Robochicks are an all girl robotics team/Girl Scout troop.
After recieving the shirt, Mr. Bart throws it on over his long sleeved button up, and says a few words of thanks. This is where is gets good, friends. Mr. Bart says that all the successes of the Robochicks in the past have started with the love & support that the parents have for their girls. He even calls 12 year old Madison, a future Megatronics Engineer & one of the Robochicks, his "youngest inventor friend" for she was inspired by patents in that very buildling & is now en route to two of her very own patents (one for an inflatable device to help the disabled out of flood zones, the other to redirect the eye of an ADHD patient). Mr. Bart speaks of his time knowing the Robochicks over the last two years, says they're becoming amazing young women & that the universe cannot limit them. "Have dignity & nobility, & continue to hold your head up high," he says looking at the girls. Mr. Bart is humbled by the honor of this shirt he has been given, even shedding a masculine tear or two.
As fortunate as the Robochicks feel to have Mr. Bart as a mentor, it is him who feels blessed to work with families like these. Like Larry & Bisa, the husband & wife team that leads the Robochicks. (*Tear) "People will be talking about Friday night's football game in churches & barber shops, but you look around here & you see fathers. That's what it's about. These girls have got the brains, but it's the ability to encourage others that sets them apart," Mr. Bart says, constantly stressing the importance of changing our paths & encouraging girls in STEAM fields. Preach!
Mr. Bart also speaks of a girl named Vivian, a smart young girl who dared to be different. "She wasn't going to be a cheerleader, sing, or dance... but she had brains. People made fun of her for her skin tone & her hair, but she fell in love with learning & understood that it was cool to be smart. The Robochicks show that it's cool to be smart. I saw Madison & Brittany come as young girls to camp last summer... after they left, they were girls. There's the question of whether the glass if half full or half empty. The glass may only have a few drops in it, but these girls make me feel like those few drops is all we need."
"My boys (of the 100 Scholars Robotics Alliance) are taller than me & have more muscles that me, but they'll respect an old negro man because that's how they were raised, " says Mr. Bart. "They will work with other students because they have a desire. Honestly & truthfully, I'm honored by it. I don't deserve these kinds of accolades. It will make me work harder. It's about love & discipline from their families... outside of schools. People talk about the athletes in your high school & they have colleges coming after them with scholarships. The same thing happens in robotics!"
As much as Mr. Bart wants to give credit where credit is due, it is him who has already shaped the lives of these young girls. Madison for example, met Jamison here. Jamison is a megatronics engineer & now Madison is well on her way to being the same.
Quickly, Mr. Bart diverts the attention back to 100 Black Men of Atlanta & Dr. Lonny Johnson, the man most famously behind the Super Soaker who's so graciously hosting the training today. And so begins our tour of the Johnson Research & Development building. This is not a tour for all that attend. It's just us, me & the Robochicks, getting this quality time with an incredible man telling us about the incredible organization that Dr. Johnson has built here.
Dr. Johnson formerly leased the spaces throughout his expansive building out to telecom companies, but that is all changing now. Today, these spaces are being opened up to robotics teams around the city to use as build space. Fernbank Links, BEST, Decatur High School, Global Dynamics (who've been to the robotics world championships), & ReBoot all have spaces here. These teams all would have died, but Dr. Johnson has given them a place to build. The building itself sits humbly in downtown Atlanta, often un-noticed from the street. Passers by would be shocked as to what lied behind the walls of this building.
A welcomed interruption...
One of the boys in attendance walks by... "You play football?" Mr. Barts asks him. "No", says the boy. "Good. I'm glad to hear you're using your brain on the robotics side. It's so easy for us to do sports, but this is the real trophy. Let's embellish brains over athletes."
Back to the tour...
This building is large. Rooms on rooms, on rooms. Some still left with the remnants of the telecom companies that once were, waiting to be cleared for the use of youth robotics teams in need. What Dr. Johnson has built here is incredible yet modest, & beyond generous. When Dr. Johnson moved into this building, there was a robotics team that needed space. He gave them the break room. He then moved the break room into the business managers office. The business managers office was then moved into his wife's office. And his wife's office into his office. Then, he put his desk out into the open, surrounded by the people he worked with. No walls, no privacy, in his own house. All to give space to another robotics team without a home.
This so called "campus" is extensive. Design patents cover the walls, Super Soakers galore, projects under works that will change the game in the electric car world, & remnants of thought processes to be seen around every corner, mostly from teams Dr. Johnson has literally given space to. It's a literal industrial space, & is the most creative space I've ever felt. Not seen, felt. What both Dr. Johnson & Mr. Bart are doing here in special. Building up youth, the community, each other. There's a love that oozes from the walls in here. There's a love from person to person as they pass in the halls. This is a work environment that fosters ideas. Encourages mistakes & celebrates the resolutions.
My favorite quote of the day came near the end of our tour when one of the Robochicks, Brittany, said "What you visualize is what you iternalize. The support of our families helps, but you have to have the confidence in what you can do to achieve." She's 15.
This day... one in a million.