Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s ‘Evolved Man of the Week’ profiles. Each week, we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved man, famous and non-famous alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week, we honor physicist, veteran, professor, inventor, star of the Science Channel’s “How the Universe Works,” and self-proclaimed ‘gangsta nerd’ Hakeem Oluseyi.
His story is truly inspiring, tragic, and at the same time, uplifting. Hakeem wants to bring science to the masses of people and make the most cutting-edge ideas about the ‘universe’ accessible to some of the most poverty-stricken people on the planet.
“When I look at my colleagues in the developing world, their problem is not that they’re ignorant. Their problem is that they’re broke, and their governments are broke, and can’t spend money on certain things because there’s a problem of development and poverty. Spending money on basic science can look like a waste in these circumstances. But human beings, we’re more than just survival. We are artists, we’re scientists… There’s a story of Africa, a perception that it’s a place without science or scientists. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when you don’t enable them to do real science.”
Hakeem didn’t grow up in the best of circumstances and faced many personal struggles during his childhood. He and his mother move about various cities throughout the American south. He finally landed in rural Mississippi as a teenager to live with his father. During his teenage years, he struggled to fit in; science and physics were his salvation. Despite struggling to fit in like most young people, he still managed to graduate as his high school’s valedictorian. After high school, Hakeem served in the U.S. Navy from 1984 to 1986. He credited the Navy for teaching him algebra. Hakeem is the exact definition of #BlackBoyJoy. Here, Hakeem explains his double-consciousness growing up.
“…by the time I was a teenager I was carrying a gun, I was involved in all these crazy things. I carried protection because I lived in a violent world. But the other side of this story is that I was also really interested in physics — it’s what I did for fun. In my own communities, I was seen as some kind of weirdo nerd kind of guy. A cool nerd. A gangsta nerd…”
During his journey from childhood to adulthood, Hakeem found his inspiration from three young black graduate students who came to his college in Mississippi by chance. They started a youth science program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Yes. These three grad students from MIT and Harvard came to Tougaloo, where I was one of two physics students in 1986. They were all black physics students from the Cambridge area – and each of them thought they were the only one! They came to realize that kids from certain communities just have no idea that physics as a career exists. They decided they’d start the National Council of Black Physics Students, to help the most down-and-out kids in the country. So where did they go? Mississippi. They showed up on our campus.”
In 2016, Mr. Oluseyi made Physics Central’s “People in Physics profile.” He’s passionate about changing the face of what science looks like in America and across the globe as more and more women and people of color obtain advanced degrees from America’s best university in the nation. He wants to introduce those same minds to advance fields of study in science and technology. The scientific community will have no choice but to get with the times. Hakeem Oluseyi is one of the men leading to charge to change the face of science and inspire young people the world over. He stays true to his humble and earnest beginnings. He definitely pays it forward.
“Some scientists present themselves as super-intellectual, and I go out of my way to present myself as a regular guy,” he says. “Because I’m from such humble origins, I can really talk to students.”
Today, we honor Hakeem Oluseyi as this week’s Evolved Man of the Week