Hesabu Circle: Mixes up Good Math Vibes
By Dianne Anderson
Being Black in STEM fields usually adds up to a mere handful of students tough enough to suffer through the academic gauntlet alone, but there is strength in the Hesabu Circle.
A team of dedicated math doctors has come together to heal the community.
Dr. Kagba Suaray, a mathematics professor at Cal State Long Beach, works with his team to bring math appeal to students of all ages, providing help and tutoring from Pre-K through post-doctorate.
They can go as deep as they want to go.
To take the edge off math anxiety, at their last event kids were introduced to one of their math doctorates from the inner circle, who just happens to be a DJ.
Or, Dr. Hip Hop with a twist.
“He had two turntables out there, he was scratching for us, making music and we had a great time. But, he was showing us that mathematics is a part of how a DJ does his mix, going from one song to another,” he said.
It is a non-threatening way to introduce complex math notions, like fractions and percentages, that may otherwise be intimidating.
“Then we take it further, it does get deeper. Math is about music, waves and it’s about vibrations. Dr. Edray Goins, a math professor at Pomona College, gave a synopsis about pendulums and waves and harmonies and how it all connects,” he said.
Even some science fiction with a basis in actual science becomes easier to understand, he said. Science sparks the imagination. Hip hop is naturally artistic, but both can exist on the same mathematical plane.
“We tend to do a little bifurcation on how we classify brilliance, [such as] he’s in a math class, that’s brilliance. When he’s scratching records, that’s juvenile music those ghetto kids came up with,” he said.
Kids make the leap in ways they can relate. Hip hop breakbeats created deejaying as an art form, but his team shows students the engineering behind it, like beat slicing and time stretching.
It doesn’t help that western modes of learning are restrictive, separating math and science from art, while Black people historically have viewed life holistically. His other concern is that students may not be as interested in math because the education system doesn’t teach them the true origins.
Dr. Suaray said it is well documented that the Greeks learned mathematics from Egypt.
“There’s always been this concerted effort to take away the contributions of Africa to mathematics, and civilization in general. It’s very much connected to the transatlantic slave trade. To dehumanize peoples, you have destroyed every sense of culture that you would excavate or discover,” he said.
On Saturday, February 27, the Hesabu Circle invites the community to join “Mathematics in History: African American Women in Math” with Dr. Gloria Ford Gilmer, the first Black woman to publish a research article on mathematics in 1956. Also featured, Shelly M. Jones, Ph.D. professor of Mathematics Education at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. That event runs from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
Hesabu Circle program, now virtual, is Long Beach based, has drawn students as far away as GA, TN and NY. When school systems reopen, he said they have applied for funding to continue working with students from CSULB, LB City College and LBUSD.
“We actually started last year in response to the dual pandemic, systemic racism and COVID. We got together and said we’re here at the university level impacting students, but we know there’s a need beyond in K-12,” he said.
Their top tier team of math moguls and Ph.Ds include Kyndall Brown, director of the California Mathematics Project; Math professors Robin Wilson at Cal Poly Pomona; Rob Rubalcaba at San Diego City College and Edray Goins at Pomona College. Also participating Micki Grayson, director of TRIO programs at Moreno Valley College; Pamela Lewis, director of Community Partnerships and the Women’s and Gender Equity Center CSULB and Kekai Bryant, math teacher with YouthBuild Charter School, Los Angeles.
He said there is still a lot to get excited about for the future.
Robots, artificial intelligence, and computer learning systems are all here to stay. As a full-time professor at CSULB, he is a graduate advisor for applied statistics, which he said is moving faster toward machine learning.
“Training a computer to do a task that humans used to do, statistics really moving toward that and that’s what students want to learn in our program, to get hired working for companies using these machine learning techniques,” he said.
Great high-tech jobs are available, providing students get past the math. Those who can’t pass a regular college algebra test will be limited in the majors they can choose and have a limited voice at the table.
“That’s the common denominator, whether it’s chemistry, biology, there is a minimum amount of math you need to have. Making sure that our students, our people, are mathematically literate has a ripple effect downstream,” he said.
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