“Astronaut Starbright” Advocates for Representation in STEM, Literacy, and Space Exploration

March 23, 2021

By Aysha Mahmood

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When 17-year-old Taylor Richardson saw NASA’s PERSEVERANCE rover land on Mars last month, she was excited at the thought of one day being there herself. With dreams of being the first Black astronaut on the “Red Planet,” space exploration presents an exciting possibility for Taylor.

“My earliest memory of space is when I was 5 years old, laying in the grass looking up at the stars and wondering what’s up there,” she said. “I hope to accomplish something not done before, but most importantly, I hope to go beyond the unknown and see what resources can be used to help our human race on earth.”

At age 9, Taylor — whose nickname is Astronaut Starbright — read Dr. Jemison “Find Where The Wind Goes,” which inspired her to raise her own funds and go to space camp in Alabama. But as Taylor’s dreams in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields grew stronger, so did the bullying and discrimination against her.

“Most of my life I’ve been told that I could not be an astronaut or doctor or scientist because I’m a girl, a Black person, and because of my ADHD diagnosis,” she said.

Yet, with every challenge she’s faced, Taylor overcomes with drive, determination, faith, and a strong village behind her. Even at a young age, she conveyed these traits. When she was bullied in school for the color of her skin, she raised funds to build buddy benches, and in 2nd grade, when she was called a terrible reader, she started her own Taylor Takes Flight Book Drive that, to date, has collected and donated over 12,000 books worldwide. She even optimistically looks at her ADHD diagnosis to mean “Abundantly Different Happily Divine” and doesn’t let her learning disability prevent her from working toward her dreams.

“I don’t let challenges stop me, I work hard and don’t give up,” she said. “While I have fallen a few times, I am still here and still standing.”

As she’s grown up, the Florida native has continued to be a strong advocate for Black girls in STEM, diversity in books, and representation. Just this year, she started the #BlackFriendBookChallenge, in which she fundraises money to distribute “The Black Friend” by Frederick Joseph to schools, libraries, and communities who are lacking this important book.

“I felt the need for more diverse books by those who look like me and how our stories should, and need to be, told for us by us,” Taylor said. “His book gives my generation a voice, and it gives insight on how people, especially white people who want to be allies, can be better.”

As of February, Taylor has directly raised funds to purchase and donate over 1,100 books, while an additional 700 books have been donated via Taylor’s wishlist from Amazon locally, nationally, and internationally.

“This book should be read by any young adult reader Black or white,” Taylor said. “It’s important that with so much unrest, this just may be the book to at least get our generation to be the change we want to see in race relations.”

This isn’t the first time Taylor has advocated for more representation in books and media. In the past, she’s launched similar successful campaigns like the #HiddenFiguresChallenge and #AWrinkleInTimeChallenge — both of which centered around fundraising to send girls to see themselves in movies in which the protagonist was a Black female lead in STEM. In total, Taylor raised $120,000 to send thousands of girls to see these movies. 

“While I feel that if you can see it you can be it, if you never see yourself in books, films, beauty, music, or anything positive — in my case STEM fields —  then what do you do?” she said. “For me, it was my love for literacy and a passion for the stars that took me on a trajectory to disrupt the status quo.”`

Not only does Taylor want girls who look like her to see themselves in STEM, but she also wants to educate boys on being better allies to females as well. Given there’s a significant gender gap in STEM, and an even bigger gap for women of color, Taylor’s work revolves around encouraging girls to believe in themselves and showing them that not only can they make it in these fields, but they can also successfully thrive in them as well.

“Start with the passion to dare, and it will take you far,” she advised. “To paraphrase my idol, Dr. Mae Jemison —the first Black female to go into space — ‘Never allow others’ limited imagination to limit you!’”

So what’s next for Taylor? The Bolles School junior is excited to soon experience another unknown to her — college. Once there, she hopes to train to be a doctor, specifically an OBGYN so that she can help more women. 

When she’s not studying, Taylor loves writing, watching Youtube videos, and spending time with her family. She also balances her schoolwork and activism by giving priority to her mental health — turning to positive affirmations, exercise, and the CALM app for support. (She also loves listening to The Princess and the Frog’s “Almost There” song for encouragement!)

“Self-care and my mental health is very important me,” she said. “Just recently I had to say, ‘Taylor take a break, it’s OK to say no to some things.’ I can’t be all things to everyone. And that’s OK.” 

That same level of care, kindness, and maturity is prevalent in Taylor’s advocacy work as she leads a generation that is eager to be more inclusive, accepting, and diverse. 

“I think our generation are the change-makers because we see a need and we want change, and we are willing to stand on the frontlines for it — for it’s the right thing to do, and it’s most definitely time.”

To help Taylor increase representation and donate to her The Black Friend Book Challenge, click here, and don’t forget to follow Taylor on Instagram and Twitter!

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