Now a group of Haitian teens from Brooklyn, N.Y. who have won an invitation to a prestigious robotics competition in St. Louis need just $15,000 to make it there.
The mostly Haitian students from the It Takes a Village Academy in East Flatbush beat out kids from 63 other area high schools, including some of New York City's most prestigious, to earn the invitation. It was something many of the kids on the team did not think was possible.
"It's like a dream come true," said Margely Saint-Pierre, 17, who saw 10 friends die and his high school destroyed in the devastating Haitian earthquake, told the New York Daily News.
The school is just one of two from the city to be invited to the FIRST Tech Challenge next month where they would participate in a competition to build the fastest and most precise robot.
"What their victory shows is how a little bit of money in the right place can accomplish a lot," Marilyn Gelber, president of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, told Aol Black Voices in an interview.
The foundation, in conjunction with Polytechnic Institute of New York University, sponsors the Central Brooklyn Robotic Initiative. Graduate students from the university travel to 18 schools in Central Brooklyn to work with the kids on robotics programs. The program is working so well that it will double to 36 schools next year.
"To travel from Brooklyn to St. Louis to compete on a national level would be an extraordinary experience and show these kids that you can be written off as one who is not going to succeed but come out on the other side as champions. We want them to be champions and represent all kids in that situation," Gelber added.
For many of these kids, participating in the robotics program has brought a world of benefits.
"They're like brothers and sisters, sharing experiences," Yvon Morin, a computer science teacher who serves as the team's coach, and who's also a Haitian immigrant, told the News.
It takes math, physics and computer programming to build these robots. And they are learning about cooperation and being creative as well. Many of the kids also see this as another opportunity to add an impressive attribute on their resume as they strive to go to college.
"We're going to show that we're Haitian and we've accomplished something really important," said Christopher Leveille, the 17-year-old team captain who immigrated from Port-au-Prince just two years ago.
And more children of color should be involved with math and the sciences. It's about these kids serving as role models for future generations.
In a piece a few weeks ago about Benjamin Alvin "Al" Drew Jr., the only black astronaut on the last mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery, I shared how my sister was laughed at by her own high school teachers in Brooklyn when she shared her goal of becoming a doctor.
It's one of the reasons black children are not as involved in math and science professions as they should be. Luckily, my sister had the encouragement of my family. Today, Dr. Mays, as my mother loves calling her (She earned it, my mother says.), is rated as one of the top practitioners in her field in the region of the country where she lives.
That's what I want for these kids and for all of our kids. This program may produce the next Benjamin Alvin "Al" Drew Jr., Bill Gates or Dr. Mays.
"Science and math education is important to the future success of students. We want to emphasize math and science but do it in a way that is engaging to young people," Gelber told Aol. Black Voices. "Young people love math and science but too may are just consumers of technology. We want to let them know that you can be a creator and an inventor. You don't have to be just a consumer of technology. Robotics makes that idea very real to kids."
As this country heads toward a more technologically advanced future, we need to make sure our kids have a chance to compete at the highest levels and to be the next great inventor.