Just a day before President Joe Biden made history by declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday, Dr. Constance Meadors made history by carrying out NASA’s first Juneteenth celebration.
Meadors recently joined the UA Little Rock campus as associate director of the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium. Back in 2021, she worked at NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement in the Minority University Research Education Project (MUREP) at Kennedy Space Center.
She created the MUREP Kennedy Space Center Courageous Conversations Series. The goals of the series are to establish an ongoing dialogue with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to raise awareness of NASA opportunities with HBCUs and engage HBCUs in NASA activities.
The first Courageous Conversations event took place as a Juneteenth celebration on June 16, 2021. The event celebrated African American heritage and the relationship of African American HBCUs with NASA through a discussion of personal or institutional NASA connections.
June 19, also known as Emancipation Day, is annually celebrated as Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the country. The holiday originates from June 19, 1865, the day the last enslaved people in the country were freed in Galveston, Texas, at the end of the Civil War.
“I wanted to do the Juneteenth event because I wanted to do something that was unique to HBCUs and the African American community,” Meadors said. “We think of NASA as sending rockets to space, but we don’t often realize the amount of research that goes into that process and how many HBCUs have been involved with NASA.”
Meadors moderated a panel discussion with Laura Hildreth of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Dr. Teresa Bailey of Prairie View A&M University; Knox Tull Jr. of Jack and Tull Engineering; Dr. Willie Rockward of Morgan State University; Dr. Danielle Williams of Grambling State University; Dr. Richard Gragg of Florida A&M University; and Priscilla Moore of NASA Days.
Meadors was shocked and delighted when President Joe Biden made an announcement declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, just a day after she held NASA’s first Juneteenth event.
“Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed as I had no idea that was going to happen,” she said. “It’s like I made history just before history happened. When the president makes any announcement like that, the director of NASA sends out an email saying how it impacts NASA. I made sure that I kept that announcement.”
In 2022, Meadors celebrated Juneteenth with another Courageous Conversations event on June 15 that celebrated the contributions of NASA employees who graduated from HBCUs in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
At the time, Meadors had established a pilot HBCU advisory board with representatives from those four states. In addition to highlighting HBCU alums working at NASA, the event was a way to motivate and encourage HBCU graduates to pursue careers at NASA, highlight historical contributions of HBCUs to NASA, and identify and overcome barriers to NASA employment and university research opportunities.
One of the people honored from Arkansas was the late Dorothy McFadden Hoover, a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the University of Arkansas who was a pioneer in the field of aeronautical mathematics and research. Her story appeared in the highly acclaimed 2016 book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” by Margot Lee Shetterly.