Black-owned businesses in NYC: Roniesia Godfrey is making STEM education more accessible
As a Black woman working in fintech, Roniesia Godfrey saw firsthand the lack of diversity in her field and set out to do something about it. Her organization 21 Ethos is bringing STEM education to the forefront of underrepresented communities through a variety of engaging events and programs, and has managed to thrive during the pandemic despite undergoing some major changes.
During a conversation with a friend back in 2019 about the lack of diversity in tech, Roniesia Godfrey was inspired to do something about it. Soon after, she founded 21 Ethos with one meaningful mission: to increase the number of underrepresented individuals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in as many places as possible.
Godfrey grew up in a home where her STEM education was prioritized with science camps and extracurricular programs that intensified her curiosity for these subjects. Her friend's upbringing was another story: his single mother couldn't afford for him to participate in the same educational activities. To Godfrey, this imbalance in access to free STEM education programs and a supportive community was simply unfair.
"STEM education should not be a privilege; it should be accessible for all," she says. 21 Ethos was born with the goal to "never let another kid feel like they couldn't have access to opportunity and high-paying jobs because they couldn't afford it."
21 Ethos is based in Godfrey's home borough of Queens, where the organization aims to address the lack of STEM education for primarily Black communities and other communities of color by making it more inclusive and accessible through a variety of supportive programs and events.
To help realize this goal, Godfrey called on the help of NYC Small Business Services (SBS), which supports the development and growth of businesses in New York City. "I have utilized almost every SBS service offered" she says. "They have a plethora of resources and programs that you can take for free that have been instrumental in starting and growing my business."
Before the pandemic, Godfrey and her team were running mostly in-person workshops and tech office tours to give aspiring STEM professionals a peek at what their futures might look like. When COVID-19 hit, it did more than just put an end to meet-ups in classrooms and company offices. It also exposed the digital divide, as many students didn't have a computer or broadband access available at home.
Still, 21 Ethos managed to not only survive, but thrive, despite COVID-19 upending its usual operations. Godfrey is grateful for the surprising success her team found in the pandemic."We were able to build a close-knit digital community through our Tech House summer program that allowed students to learn and create websites when most summer programs were canceled," she says.
On top of that, her organization offered programs above and beyond math and science, including health and wellness classes like yoga and meditation that couldn't have come at a better time for local families. These programs "allowed students a moment to deal with the current state of the world," Godfrey says. "Parents were very thankful, and kids were excited for an opportunity to learn a new skill."
Godfrey has already become a neighborhood leader, getting to know local educators, elected officials, and residents as she scales 21 Ethos into one of the most inspiring Black-owned businesses in NYC. Ultimately, her goal is to give back even more to her community by building a state-of-the-art innovation lab in Jamaica, Queens, that will foster the next generation's creativity. The vision is a modern "makerspace" where students can attend workshops, work on personal projects, and participate in sharing innovative ideas with the local community and beyond. "We want to grow our community nationally, even globally, to continue to help create access and education for women and minorities in STEM," Godfrey says.
Although she knows the work is just beginning, Godfrey is nonetheless driven to keep 21 Ethos on pace to complete its mission. "What's priceless for me is being able to inspire and empower the next generation of leaders, innovators, and creators to lead boldly and pursue careers in STEM," she explains. "They are the future. I am motivated by being able to make a difference in their lives, even if it touches just one person."
The NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) helps unlock economic potential and create economic security for all New Yorkers by connecting New Yorkers to good jobs, creating stronger businesses, and building vibrant neighborhoods across the five boroughs. For more information on all SBS services, go to nyc.gov/sbs, call 311 or 212-NEW-YORK (212-639-9675) from outside New York City, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.