Lewis Hamilton/Photo @lewishamilton Instagram
Lewis Hamilton is considered by some as the greatest driver of all time at Formula 1. Off the race track, Hamilton is also a champion for social change. Through his education charity, Mission 44, Lewis Hamilton has spearheaded an initiative to recruit 150 Black STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teachers in underrepresented communities in England and contributed an initial $35 million to the cause.
The grandson of Grenadian immigrants knows first-hand the importance of Black educators in driving student engagement. Hamilton, who is 37, recounts in an interview with Vanity Fair that he had severe dyslexia and was put in the lowest classes without being given a chance to progress. He was even told by his teachers, "You're never going to be nothing," a sentiment that was not expressed to his white counterparts. Though he overcame the odds through opportunity and family support, he understands the challenges those with similar backgrounds face.
"We know representation and role models are important across all aspects of society, but especially when it comes to supporting young people's development," Hamilton said in an interview with Computer Weekly.
Fighting for Diversity and Inclusion in STEM and Motorsports
Mission 44, which Hamilton launched in 2021, aims to address the lack of racial diversity among STEM teaching staff in schools in England. The foundation supports programs and organizations with a shared mission through grants and partnerships.
In collaboration with Teach First, Mission 44 is trialing a two-year pilot program that includes mentorship, training, research, networking, and events to identify the right formula to recruit and train Black teachers for STEM subjects. This pilot program will serve as a foundation on which the broader education system in England can model to hire more STEM teachers across the country. Through this program, Hamilton would like to identify best practices to attract Black talent to STEM teaching roles in poor socioeconomic communities.
The seven-time Formula 1 champion said the move "is another step towards addressing barriers preventing young black students' engagement with STEM," which were identified in the Hamilton Commission Report. The report published in 2021, found that only 2% of teachers are from Black backgrounds and that 46% of schools in England have no racially diverse teachers.
As the first and only Black driver at Formula 1, Lewis has inspired his Mercedes team to step up its diversity initiatives. Through the team's Accelerate 25 Program, their goal is to hire at least 25% of new staff members from minority groups between 2021 and 2025. They are also providing avenues for students of minority backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM.
Since the launch almost 18 months ago, Mercedes reported that minority members have risen from three to seven percent. They also welcomed 100 students into their STEM program with the Mulberry School Trust this year.
Lewis knows that his quest to create opportunities for students like himself requires a long-term commitment. Though progress has been slow, in an Instagram post, Lewis told his 30 million followers that he is proud of his journey to date.
Lewis Hamilton's Fight for Equality Helps Him
Hamilton's social advocacy was fueled by the senseless killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the US in 2020. However, the social activist has been a direct target of racial remarks his entire life. More recently, after winning the British Grand Prix in July of 2021, Lewis was subjected to several instances of racial slurs on social media. Last November, he was also racially abused by three-time racing champion Nelson Piquet. Piquet walked away with a slap on the wrist.
Hamilton has found his purpose beyond the race track, a mission that heightens his competitive spirit on the track and makes him mentally stronger. His fight for equality has also motivated him to stay in racing to serve as a beacon of light for the next generation.
The social activist remains energized and resolute on changing the ancient mindset about color and driving more diversity in UK motorsport and STEM education. But he believes it will take more action than words to see real progress.