Gwendolyn E. Boyd
Just by being a black female engineer, Gwendolyn E. Boyd challenges the world’s perceptions and assumptions about black women. Just by being a black female engineer who cares about the single biggest killer of African American women, Boyd has also had a profoundly positive effect on countless lives in the health crisis of our time.
Boyd served as the first national president of the 21st century for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., an international service sorority with over 250,000 members in 950 throughout the world. Tradition dictates that each president chooses a platform, or area of concentration for the sorority’s philanthropic and conscious-raising efforts during her four-year term. Boyd’s area of focus was HIV/AIDS, the greatest health threat to her 250,000 sorority sisters, and their sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, nieces and cousins.
“I saw it as a requirement for African American women to speak out,” she says, reflecting on her motivation. “We can’t just put our heads in the sand and hope the pandemic goes away. We have to be advocates for our own physical well-being, our own health, our own survival.”
For Boyd and the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta, survival meant educating themselves on the facts and facing the enormity of the epidemic among black women. Equally important, survival meant educating the thousands of young women on college campuses about the heath crisis and its ramifications on their young lives. Education also meant acknowledging the existence of “brothers on the down low” at a time when the topic was not so media-friendly. Long before JL King, author of “On the Down Low,” was on Oprah, he was talking to packed audiences at the sorority’s national convention, discussing the implications of black men who live straight lives but have sex with other men. “The women were shocked at the information,” said Boyd, “but they wanted the information just the same.”
Boyd has always been that kind of forward thinker. She took note of AIDS early in the pandemic’s history because “as an engineer, I paid attention to numbers and statistics and did a lot of reading.” From there, she made a conscious decision that “if no one was going to talk about it, I would.”
Trips to South Africa for another sorority project opened her eyes and her heart even further.
“I saw both the beauty and the devastation of South Africa. I brought back pictures to show people that this is important, that we need to be the ones addressing this, using our voice.”
Since then, Delta Sigma Theta has adopted two AIDS orphanages, one in Swaziland, the other in Sutu, both of which sprung up as a result of African parents dying of the disease. Now the orphanages have a house mother, books, school supplies and “everything they need to survive.”
Meanwhile, in the States, Boyd, encouraged her sisters to get tested, knowing that knowledge is power.
“God called me to do this,” she says. “He has allowed me to have the opportunity. This is a major health issue. We need more advocates to speak out. We need to stay on top of it before it wipes out an entire generation. You’ve got to reach back to the young people behind you and pull them up.”
Even though her tenure as national president is over, Boyd continues to report for duty in the struggle with HIV/AIDS. Still an engineer by day, she attends the school of divinity at Howard by night, and remains very passionate about what it takes to rise above the pandemic.
“If I could wish anything for us, it would that we have more civility towards each other. We need to look out for each other, treat each other better, challenge each other to take care of ourselves. We need to start caring for seniors, young people, children. I want to encourage us as a community to do the right thing. All of us are in it.”
A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Boyd graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Mathematics from Alabama State University. She earned her Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Yale University and is currently an engineer and the executive assistant to the chief of staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Dealing with AIDS isn’t the only way Boyd gives back to the community. Among her many philanthropic and civic activities, she serves as a mentor with the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The program graduates the highest number of minority scholars who go on to pursue doctoral research in mathematics, science, engineering and technology. She’s also a very active and highly sought after public speaker throughout the country. Her presentations include a wide variety of topics ranging from inspiration and motivation to technical presentations on engineering, science, leadership development, African American history and women’s history.
“I wasn’t put here to be still,” she says of all her endeavors. Yet what resonates with her is not so much the amount of work as it is the reward the work brings to her soul.
“I can’t describe the glow on their faces,” she says of the children in the AIDS orphanages in South Africa. “I love to hear them sing. They sing songs of thanks. I can’t find the words to express how wonderful it is to know how you affected someone’s life in such a positive way.”
Engineers engineer change. Just by being herself, Gwendolyn E. Boyd never ceases to be an engineer for the greater good