Moffitt Team Members Encourage Black Young Adults to pursue STEM careers

By Steve Blanchard - February 16, 2021

Every professional has chosen their path, whether they’re a doctor, lawyer or teacher. Team members at Moffitt Cancer Center will share their own stories with young adults from around Tampa Bay during a unique event urging them to “Be Your Own Champion.”

The webinar on Feb. 18 will feature several Black Moffitt Team members who will use digital storytelling to encourage young adults to focus on careers in medicine, science and research.

Tyesha Stewart, a nurse practitioner in Moffitt’s Head and Neck  Oncology program, plans to share her journey, which started in Missouri, led her through the military and then to her position at the cancer center.

“When I was asked to speak at this virtual event, I saw it as a chance to share my experiences with those young people who will come behind me,” Stewart said. “You don’t necessarily know you’re a role model or that someone is looking up to you, but in this profession, it happens all the time. It’s important to make sure people who look like me know they can do whatever they want to do with their lives.”

Dr. Brandon Blue also wants to impact those that may one day follow in his footsteps. Growing up in St. Petersburg, his family encouraged him to aspire to be whatever he wanted, but he didn’t have many Black role models outside of sports. Today he is an assistant member in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Malignant Hematology.

portrait of blockquote author

"My goal is to say, ‘Hey, I’m here. I was literally where you were 10 years ago. Now I’m a doctor. You can do this, too.’"

- Dr. Brandon Blue

“I never saw a Black doctor growing up,” Blue said. “I saw my first Black doctor when I was in college. That’s why I give talks whenever I can. Kids are very visual. They see sports stars and entertainers all the time, so they view those careers as options for success. There’s nothing wrong with that but my goal is to say, ‘Hey, I’m here. I was literally where you were 10 years ago. Now I’m a doctor. You can do this, too.’”

While the arcing purpose of Be Your Own Champion is to encourage careers in STEM, it also encourages young people to follow their passions, no matter where they lie.

Moffitt patient and local civil rights icon Clarence Fort plans to speak to the audience about how he chose his path early. At age 20, he knew he wanted to be part of an organization that demanded peaceful change. He joined the NAACP during the time of segregation, where Blacks and Whites were separated at lunch counters and water fountains.

“I soon became president of the NAACP Youth Council and in that role I did a lot of reading,” Fort recalled. “I determined that since we spent our money in stores, we should have rights to all parts of the store – not just one part.”

Fort took the lead and lead a peaceful sit in at the Downtown Tampa Woolworths in 1960. The organized protest helped end segregation and Fort found himself working with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as a liaison to the Black community.

Now the 82-year-old has a message for young people: There’s nothing to hold you back.

“Today integration is everywhere and it’s a different kind of fight,” Fort said. “Today’s youth can do things we only dreamed of doing. There are some great programs out there. It’s all about them right now and their path is fully up to them.”

Convincing students to pursue a career in math or science can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge the speakers are determined to overcome.

“I want to show people from my community that there are people from similar backgrounds who have paved their way to a successful adulthood,” Blue said. “No one wants to be a nerd or be ridiculed, but I talk about how awesome it is to be an a student. Being smart is cool.”

To register for the Be Your Own Champion webinar, click here.

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