Updated: Apr 1, 2020
From slave to scientist:
Let me introduce you to the amazing Jewel Plummer Cobb. I can already hear you asking yourself "who is she" "is she like someone from love island" "is she a new actor on a Netflix film". To all these questions, the answer is no. Jewel was so much greater than that; she was a black woman in science.
“From 3 generations her family went from free slave to scientist”
Let's start from the beginning. Jewel was the only child of Frank V. Plummer and Carriebel (Cole) Plummer (1). She was already positioned for success as she was born into a family of game-changers. Her paternal grandfather was a freed slave who graduated from Howard University and made a living as a pharmacist (2). Her father specialised and practiced as a dermatologist after graduating from Cornell University (3). This rich environment of accomplishments, and passion for the medical sciences is what nurtured Jewel into becoming the researcher she was.
Let’s take a moment to pause right here. If we look at Jewels' family line, in 3 generations, they went from freed slaves to scientists. How amazing is this! Her grandfather could have allowed the burdens and scars of slavery to keep him mentally enslaved. Because of his resilience, he set off a chain of events that would eventually produce a grandchild who would eventually influence the world of science and education for minorities.
Even though Jewel was intelligent and passionate she also had hurdles to overcome. She was initially denied an opportunity to study at a university allegedly due to the colour of her skin, however, after an interview, she was granted a place (4). She went on to study masters (1947) and a Ph.D. focusing on cell physiology (1950) (5).
One of her research focuses was on the relationship between melanin and skin damage. She discovered that methotrexate was effective in the treatment of certain skin cancers, lung cancers, and childhood leukaemia (6). Jewel was also interested in social change. She established a Pre-Medical program that aided and supported people of minority backgrounds who were interested in careers in Medicine or Dentistry. The success of this program was seen when these students were accepted into graduate programs from prestigious universities (7,8). She also made it her goal to increase the number of women of colour in science. This should be our new #goals.
Jewels' life encourages me dream big. Not only that, but to think about what I want my family to look like in 3 generations' time. It makes me look at the mountains in my way, and to re-assess them to be molehills instead. You may not be discriminated against because of the colour of your skin like Jewel and her family. Your hurdles maybe something else, it could be struggling in your subjects at school, growing up in a poor family, living in an area where no one really finishes school. You could be the difference that is needed right where you are. You could be like Jewels grandfather who set off a chain of amazing events by valuing his skills and the passions he had.
I remember when I was in High School, I received one of the highest scores in my year for my physics course work. It got better when the head of science printed out copies of my course work for everyone in my year group. It felt amazing to be recognised for my work in science, but I was mortified when I received my work back again. My work was full of spelling mistakes, almost every sentence had a misspelt word. English, and most especially spelling was something I had struggled with, and something that I was embarrassed about. I had to overcome this by taking my time when spelling difficult words until they became second nature.
My task for you today is to think about what you’re good at, really think. There is nothing too big or too small, we have all go to start somewhere. When you have done that, think about the things that you would like to get better at. Then think about how you are really going to work on these things. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to be curious, look for the answers in books, people, be creative. Like Jewel, maybe one day you could change the world.
1. "Cobb, Jewel Plummer (1924- )". The Black Past. 2011-03-16. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
2. Eunson, Robi (March 5, 1969). "Dr. Cobb names Dean of the College". The Day.
4. "Cobb, Jewel Plummer (1924- )". The Black Past. 2011-03-16. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
5. Eunson, Robi (March 5, 1969). "Dr. Cobb names Dean of the College". The Day
6. Stephan, Pam (March 29, 2010). "Jewel Plummer Cobb - Overcomer and Cancer Biologist". Breastcancer.about.com. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
7. "CC NEWS Press Release 1976." Plummer Cobb Jewel, Folder 1. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.