Monday, July 22, 2024

Janet Moses and Omo Moses cut the ribbon on the Cambridge MathTrail on Oct. 1. (Photo: MathTalk)

My dad, Bob Moses, used to say “If your friends don’t get this algebra, they’re going to end up in jail” and “Math literacy is the key to citizenship in the 21st Century.”

As a kid, I struggled to make the connection between the two. But my father knew that more prisons would become the nation’s response to its failure to provide a quality education for all children.

As a gifted teacher educator, he also knew that math literacy was a radical bulwark against the crisis of incarceration swallowing up whole communities in our country. And as an organizer in the civil rights movement, he understood that children who get a poor mathematics education would be displaced in the workforce and disenfranchised in their role as citizens.

When my dad learned that algebra was not being offered in the eighth-grade class of my sister, Maisha, he knew that something had to change for her to be college-ready by the end of high school. Bolstered by the generosity of a MacArthur Fellowship, he volunteered to teach Maisha’s class of 20 students and set about building a practice of math education that broke from the rote learning that made mathematics more difficult for young minds to understand. He applied his doctoral thesis in the principles of mathematical logic to a process of experiential learning that enabled students to demystify their understanding of basic algebraic concepts.

My dad challenged the systemic structures that held people back. He believed firmly that equality in our country began with having a strong voice in decision-making. As a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, he organized Black communities in Mississippi who had been denied essential rights for decades to secure their right to vote.

He infused what he learned from the struggle for voting rights into the struggle for the right to quality education for all of the country’s children. Math literacy was the tool to ensure access to the economic empowerment in our society. The Algebra Project and the organization it spawned, The Young People’s Project, are nonprofit organizations he inspired and nurtured that are dedicated to creating a floor of mathematics proficiency under each high school student that support them being college- or career-ready upon graduation.

My father’s legacy, and my desire to find meaningful ways to share that legacy with my own children and others, motivated me to create MathTalk, a community-based ed-tech company that inspires families to discover and enjoy math everywhere. We are achieving this through the development of MathTrails – interactive outdoor experiences where kids can learn math while they skip, hop and have fun with their friends (and our cast of augmented reality characters) in the communities where they are growing up.

And as we spread our love for math nationwide – we recently launched a trail in Clayton County, Georgia, and have plans to install trails throughout Massachusetts, Chicago, Mississippi and California in 2023 – I am especially proud of The Bob Moses MathTrail in Cambridge, which launched Oct. 1.

My father’s educational trajectory from Stuyvesant High School in New York City to Hamilton College and Harvard University laid the foundation of his mathematical understanding. His dedication to vastly enlarging the circle of the mathematically literate to include students who have been historically denied such inclusion garnered numerous accolades and awards, including a MacArthur Genius Award and 17 honorary doctorate degrees.

MathTalk is picking up the baton, taking his life’s work to the streets and playgrounds of America. One of the things I’m most proud of as a father has been passing along my dad’s passion for math (with an added playful touch) to my children.

We’ve learned math while riding trains or shooting hoops or making pancakes on Sunday mornings, and we even wrote a book about it, “Sometimes We Do”:

How many stacks do you have? One stack of two and two stacks of three. How many pancakes is that? SOOO MANY!

Seeing a spark in their eyes when they connect a mathematical concept to the world around them is inspiring.

As my dad said, learning math – and algebra in particular – continues to be instrumental to the future of historically disenfranchised communities, a critical ingredient to quality education and therefore at the root of citizenship and participatory democracy in America. Unlocking our childrens’ mathematical potential is a gift that will serve them well no matter where they go in life.

MathTalk seeks to ensure that all children have access to high-quality learning environments that instill a love for math and that help them apply it to better understand and engage the world around them.

Omowale Moses is the chief executive of MathTalk and the former executive director and a founding member of the Young People’s Project. One of four siblings, he grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and attended the University of Pittsburgh and George Washington University on basketball scholarships, majoring in mathematics and minoring in creative writing. He founded MathTalk in 2015 and is the father of two: Johari 10, and Kamara (almost!) 8.