With dreams of making it into space, this girl is a real inspiration

31 May 2018

Taylor Richardson. Image: Latonja Richardson

Many of us dreamed of being an astronaut when we were younger, but 14-year-old Taylor Richardson is tirelessly working on making sure it becomes a reality.

What had you achieved by the time you were 14? While many of us would be happy with just ticking off learning how to ride a bike as an accomplishment, there are a number of special teenagers who have already become pillars of their communities, while aiming high for their own personal development.

One such teenager is 14-year-old Taylor Richardson of Jacksonville, Florida, who is gearing up for her first visit to Inspirefest to tell her story of how she wants to emulate her icon – astronaut Dr Mae Jemison – by adding herself to the small list of African-American women who have made it into space so far.

Along with Jemison, only two other African-American women have broken through the atmosphere – Stephanie Wilson and Joan Higginbotham – so, if Richardson were to make it, she would surely join an illustrious group.

But where did her love of all things space start?

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Richardson said that the first time she realised she wanted to be an astronaut was when she was nine years old (just five years ago) and attended NASA Space Camp, where eager kids get to see close up just what it would be like to work at the space agency.

Since going on to attend three more, Richardson has officially become a space obsessive and has been working hard on her studies, but also planning ahead for what she will need – and wants to achieve – as an astronaut.

‘My possibilities are limitless! Period’

“Once achieving the goal of becoming an astronaut, I would hope that people will look back or at me and say I brought girls and girls of colour with me,” she said.

“That the door and table opened, so no other girl, especially those of colour, will ever have to say: ‘I don’t see me in that field or career because no representation was there.’”

Given her age and NASA’s growing interest in sending humans to the moon once again and even beyond to Mars, does she think that she could one day set foot on the Red Planet?

With no doubt, that seems to be her plan: “I see me on Mars and I know my possibilities are limitless! Period.”

Keeping the dream going

But why do the vast majority of us give up our childhood dreams, and are more willing to lead a life that might be a lot more achievable but less rewarding in the long run?

For Richardson, she said it could be hard to pinpoint any particular reason as to why someone might not fulfil their dream, but in many cases it is definitely down to having someone close to you to push you on when it seems tough.

“Some of it could be due to the lack of support or encouragement from someone in their family, school and community,” she said. “Maybe the perception that failing will be too bad of a risk.”

This was certainly not the case for her as she said her mum instilled in her an essence of hard work and that paying it forward will bring her greater rewards in the future.

“I think what may be different from me than others is that my mum and grandmother really push me to believe that I can literally do anything if I set my mind to it, even when others have tried to say I couldn’t because I was a girl or because I was black,” she said.

“They are my motivators, my encouragers, my rocks.”

Where STEM is going

There have been efforts, of course, by various organisations – ranging from Black Girls Code to House of STEM – that are trying to encourage more diversity among children and adults in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and these have proven successful.

However, Richardson believes that, where things are right now, much work still needs to be done.

“Diversity doesn’t mean anything if you don’t feel a part of something or welcomed,” she said. “As an advocate, I would love to have more resources financially to help those who dream of STEM to accomplish that goal – maybe a foundation of my own, something to help more.

“I think more advocates should reflect a more diverse representation and I think kids want to see themselves represented, and we are still not there yet.”

On that front, she has already started helping her local community with a book drive called Taylor’s Take Flight With a Book project, which donates books to kids in programmes who wouldn’t typically be able to afford them.

Then there were the crowdfunding campaigns, which have raised thousands of dollars to help disadvantaged kids see movies to inspire them, such as Hidden Figures and A Wrinkle in Time.

Speaking of Inspirefest, Richardson said she was excited not only to take part in the event and meet some interesting speakers such as Sheree Atcheson and Arlan Hamilton, but also embark on her first international trip.

“[Atcheson and Hamilton] are amazing and the work they are doing to ensure women and girls are represented and funded is phenomenal,” she said. “It’s going to be amazing and I’m honoured just to be a part of it!”

Taylor Richardson will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Get your tickets now to join us in Dublin on 21 and 22 June 2018.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic