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Black-owned non-profit Energy Diamonds Corp. named 2023 Edison Award finalist

Rodney L. Williams is doing his best to encourage young women in high school to join the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce.

Black-owned non-profit Energy Diamonds Corp. named 2023 Edison Award finalist
Rodney L. Williams, centre, in the blue hat and shirt, stands with a group of students and volunteers with Newark Public Schools in New Jersey while on a field trip. His non-profit Energy Diamonds Corp. was announced an Edison Award finalist on Feb. 9. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

Rodney L. Williams is doing his best to encourage young women in high school to join the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce.

His company, Energy Diamonds Corp., provides renewable energy education and enrichment and allows students in Newark, New Jersey, to learn from industry professionals and benefit from internships and scholarships. From field trips to several renewable energy sites to visits to large tech companies, Williams and his staff are preparing young women of colour from Newark Public Schools, ensuring the group has equity in the energy transition to net zero.

And on Feb. 9., Energy Diamonds Corp. was recognized accordingly: the Edison Awards announced the company as a 2023 finalist. It's the non-profit's second Edison Award finish since 2012. In its 36th year, the competition honours inventions from innovators worldwide.

“It’s a tremendous honour and privilege,” Williams told Black Dollar Magazine. “When we first started, we had a small camp of students. But what I noticed is that it was very male dominated. We had a few females, but it seemed like all the male students were taking over, and while they did very well, I saw that females of colour are not represented well enough in these fields. So, I focused on them (exclusively since 2021).”

Energy Diamonds Corp. made the list of 153 finalists out of thousands of applications in the “Social and Cultural” category.

You can check out the complete list here. Gold, silver, and bronze winners will be announced at the Edison Awards Gala on Thursday, Apr. 20, 2023 in Fort Myers, Florida.

Partnerships with N.J. energy firms training Black youth

Through associations with HDR Inc., a U.S. real estate and engineering design firm, studying the city’s electrical and water utilities, the program quickly caught traction with young women of colour.

Williams said that students learned about the pollution problems within underground drains that supply water to citizens and received a better understanding of its root causes. They also studied other sustainable technologies that inspired them in states abroad.

Energy Diamonds Corp. took students to a lab owned by Johnson Controls in Philadelphia to study modules used to repair building automation systems and control sensors that measure interior environment stats like temperature, humidity, heat levels, and more. It is also involved in managing and growing community gardens by using renewable energy sources.

“We started with 19 students (two years ago), and by the time we finished the week, we knew we had to keep going,” Williams told Black Dollar Magazine, adding that today, he has 31. “It was very interactive and engaging; the girls really enjoyed it. In fact, I was just at a couple of meetings with a couple of principals (from the N.J. school board), and they want us to extend the program for another week because the girls are so excited.

“We want to create future leaders with this program, so we elected one of the original students to become president of the club, and we work with her to make sure we have a structured leadership program from top to bottom,” he added.

In partnership with PES&G, a Top 10 publicly traded electric company in the U.S., Energy Diamonds Corp. has installed 2.6 megawatts of solar electricity for Newark Public Schools.

What is more incredible is that Williams achieved it without private funding from the Black community or big banks. Energy Diamonds Corp. relies on U.S. government grants and state subsidies. But Williams recognizes the advantage belongs to them. The company is exposing these young women of colour, from the heart of Newark to the opportunity to enter a field that has largely ignored them.

“The most valuable thing that we received from different organizations so far is their time,” Williams said. “They were able to bring different elements to keep the girls engaged and give them options to think about their future. Some of the girls in our program have gone on to work for Fortune 500 companies, and this program gives them the foundation to show how brilliant they are. There’s a big world out there.”

The hardships of the hood: Reaching higher goals

Newark is one of America’s known ‘Chocolate Cities’ — an area with more Black people per capita than any other race.

“I got exposed to opportunities that not too many people get, but I took the chance, and lo and behold, there’s a big world out there,” he said, adding that he has fenced and played golf in his collegiate days.

Williams found a love for the energy sector in his early career years. Energy Diamonds Corp. won a silver Green Award in 2012 for a project, “Journey to Sustainability,” by Williams and Ron Scott of the Newark Public Schools. The project helped the school district conserve energy to reduce the carbon footprint in its buildings.

Now, as director of energy and sustainability with the Newark's board of education too, he's using STEM to train Black youth and encourage them to adopt entrepreneurship in the industry.

Williams knows what it’s like to be hassled by the police and held back from opportunities that are foreign to communities of colour. While many are attracted the arts, music, and sports, he encourages students to broaden their horizons to activities in science, engineering, and technology.

“We can't settle for the status quo,” he said. “I used to be at conferences wondering why I was so popular, why everyone knew my name. Well, it was because I was the only Black guy. The opportunities are out there. We can’t think, like, ‘I don’t know if they are going to accept me.’

“We have to be focused on the fact that we bring something to the table.”