Vignette from Black Market at Bloomington city hall: New nonprofit aims to close equity gap in science ed

On Saturday, the city of Bloomington hosted a “Black Market” at city hall as part of its celebration of Black History Month.

The event was an homage to the Black Market of the late 1960s, which was firebombed by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The market was located in the space now known as People’s Park.

The market sold products made in Africa or by African-Americans, serving as a cultural center for Black students attending Indiana University. The market stood at the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and Dunn Street. The campus is just a block away, to the east.

On Saturday, vendors were set up in the city hall atrium, along the hallway in city council chambers, as well as on the second floor.

The wall next to the city hall stairs forms a kind gallery where two-dimensional art is displayed. A recent addition, hung in time for the launch of Black History Month, is the Black y Brown community mural from last summer’s festival.

On Saturday, in the city council chambers, The Cat’s Closet was selling its “funky and fun” vintage clothing. Clarissa, the Cat’s Closet’s proprietor, took a photo of a shirt that a customer had settled on—because she wanted to remember it.

Nearby was Korka Diatta with Kankou Elegance, offering colorful handmade unisex jackets with cotton fabric from Mali.

But on Saturday, some of the vendors weren’t selling physical objects—they were more in the idea business.

Among them was All-Star Imagination, a non-profit founded last year by Bloomington resident Jules Tam, who works at NSWC Crane as an electrical engineer. The mission of All-Star is to give low-income youth chances to have fun with science- and technology-related activities.

The operative acronym for the range of topics to which All-Star wants to expose youth is STEAM—which stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math.

On Saturday in the city hall atrium, Tam and All-Star’s director of emerging technology, Terrence Thompson, were shepherding a small flock of little robots that would roll around on the floor, controlled by an electronic notepad. They invited Black Market visitors to give it a try.

One mode of operation was a kind of remote real-time joystick operation. But the notepad offered an operator a way to set up a sequence of commands, like: move 20 centimeters forward, turn left and go 50 centimeters, then go backward for 75 centimeters. Once the sequence was set up the operator could run the “program.” At the end of the sequence, the robot does a little “dance.”

That mode works as a kind of introduction to computer programming.

Tam told The B Square that the ideal target audience is 5th and 6th graders. With younger elementary school kids, it works as a way to expose them to an idea, to make them think about something they want to do when they get older.

But for 5th and 6th graders, it’s not about just exposure, Tam said. For that age group, you can say, “ Hey, here’s a task. And I want you to use critical thinking.” By 5th and 6th grade, kids start thinking about what they want to do in life, what interests them, he said.

It’s not that Tam thinks that participating in All-Star’s program will make a kid want to become an engineer. The idea is to get them to start thinking about pursuing something that interests them.

On Saturday, the robots were not equipped with their full arsenal, which includes projectiles that can be launched to knock down pyramids of cups. Tam told the B Square he decided not to bring the projectiles, out of concern for safety in the city hall atrium venue.

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