STEM Professionals Impact

At Project Exploration (PE), we value building relationships with students, but we also cultivate relationships with STEM Professionals. In many cases, these relationships have opened up opportunities for our youth, partnerships to increase PE’s impact, and even mentorship relationships for our STEM Facilitators.In our collaborations with STEM Professionals, we find the best benefit is long-term relationships. This year, one such impactful relationship was cut short by the untimely and unexpected passing of one of our most engaging and committed STEM Professionals, Bryant Williams. We pause to honor the work and impact that Bryant has had with Project Exploration and the environmental community in Chicago.

In Memory of Bryant Williams

Bryant became engaged with PE in 2015 by connecting with our program team through a meeting for another organization, and expressed his interest in helping at our programs by sharing his story and his passion for the environmental sciences with our students. We arranged to have him scheduled to visit our Brothers4Science program, where he’d have the chance to share his green building, repurposing, and passion for the environmental sciences. He was a hit with the boys. They loved his energy, excitement, and even got a chance to go outside and explore the grounds of their school with him to hear him tell about environmental impact and changes they could easily make to sustain our planet. Bryant continued to stay in touch with Project Exploration by inviting our staff to join his Environmentalists of Color group, as well as attending PE fundraisers and events to continually show his support; and connecting PE with Plant Chicago, a non-profit in the Back of the Yards community where he was an active board member. When PE revitalized our Environmental Adventurers program in the Summer of 2016, Bryant was one of our first calls. He was ready to jump on board and work with our high school students to get them excited and informed about the world of environmental science and its importance in today’s world.

Sharing more about Bryant

Outside of work and PE, Bryant was a force to be reckoned with. He had a contagiously optimistic personality that was joined by a huge smile! You could always count on him for a well-timed joke and a good laugh. He also had an inquisitive way about him, he was always asking questions to get to know his colleagues better. In a recent chat with our Program Manager, Kiara Byrd, Bryant’s first cousin, Darien Williams spoke about what it was like to grow up with Bryant and see all his good work develop! Here are some highlights from this interview:

Kiara Byrd (KB): What were the projects that Bryant was involved in other than Plant Chicago and Environmentalists of Color?
Darien Williams (DW): He was really big on the water system and inner city rebuilding. He would work with the department of buildings and help with mold in homes and helping with the living arrangements with families too. He was very involved in the South Shore and Englewood communities in bringing awareness to urban farming and better sustainable living.

KB: What was it like having Bryant as an older cousin that you could look up to?
DW: He was closer in age with my older brother, so my other brothers would definitely look up to him. He also brought his business idea to us and he wanted us to be involved. The business that he told us about were about taking on damaged buildings and rebuilding them and bringing more jobs to teens and community members. He was very motivational and inspiring for us.

KB: Bryant had a term called “Dusabling”. He described this as ‘the act of reclaiming something that was taken from an indigenous group’. What are you “Dusabling” and why?
DW: He loved the DuSable museum. He really wanted to expand and help bring more guests to this building. He felt that they were lacking in funds and wanted to bring more to this place. I would say my “Dusabling” moment is Health. Back in the day, we didn’t need to go to the doctor and clinics to be “healthy”. We already had our own home remedies growing in our backyard. We need to get back to where we came from. Health is wealth. We didn’t need to be influenced by markets and media, where the food is injected with chemicals that are not healthy for you, but we purchase it anyway. I want to help people get back to where we came from in regards to being smarter about nutrition.

Bryant in Action!

In his time working with Project Exploration, Bryant had a clear passion for encouraging youth and communities of color to become educated about the STEM fields, particularly environmental sciences and urban planning. That passion led to the start of a Podcast called “Shades of Green” with his partner in crime, and fellow PE Supporter, Juanita Garcia. Their goal was to share the stories of Chicago’s Environmentalists, particularly those of color to share the message about the importance of caring for our environment and speaking about how some have taken on that mission in different ways. One of PE’s very own STEM Facilitators, Kyle Reid, was invited to guest star on one of their episodes. Kyle recently shared some reflection on his time getting to know Bryant through him visiting PE program, as well as some environmentalists functions.

Project Exploration (PE): How did you first meet Bryant?
Kyle Reid (KR): I met Bryant through an Environmentalists of Color Christmas Event. I normally never attended event with small local groups because I felt like our world was losing so badly that only big dramatic marches and fundraisers with everyone involved would make a difference, so who cares about a handful of acres in Chicago when “ecological hotspots are in danger. Then I met Bryant. We discussed our past and and he and Juanita invited me to their ‘Shades of Green’ Podcast and we became friends even if at the time I, in my little liberal college bubble of a mindset, thought he was aiming too low.

PE: Why did Bryant enjoy working with Project Exploration students?
KR: When Bryant came as a guest to environmental Adventurers, his outlook began to make way more sense. He knew not everyone was born with the same love of nature [he and I] had been blessed with and in order to reach an audience, you had to know your audience. He led the students in a wonderful demonstration, showing how environmental disasters can be solved using different thinking styles and how sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can change everything. Most importantly, he listened. He asked questions and saw what the students wanted for their lives and helped provide guidance on how to obtain their goals. He recognized that some students need to be asked questions that only someone coming from the same situation would know to ask. When a student was afraid to leave home for a great college, Bryant was able to identify that the problem was not academic or financial, but the family she was afraid to leave behind as she felt they needed her. Something most teachers would never see, Bryant saw from a mile away.

PE: What made Bryant a great mentor/friend?
KR: Honestly, it took me sitting down and writing this to connect these dots and that is what is great about Bryant. His work and his legacy was so deep and specialized that it will be paying dividends for generations even to those who don’t realize it.

Bryant’s legacy will live on!

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