Samantha “Sammy” Theresa Mensah, president and cofounder of BlackInChem, died Feb. 22 at the age of 28.
Mensah was a doctoral candidate in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she developed biosensors that detect neurotransmitters and other biomolecules. Friends and colleagues remember Mensah as a scholar and activist with a bold vision for cultivating a welcoming community in which Black researchers feel supported both as scientists and people. “They were never afraid to push the envelope on the conversations people were having about supporting Black chemists,” writes Devin Swiner, a scientist at Merck, in an email.
In 2020, Mensah, Swiner, and their colleagues founded BlackInChem, a nonprofit organization that advocates for greater representation of Black researchers in the chemical sciences. Mensah went on to become the organization’s president, driving efforts to connect activists in the chemistry community to other scientific disciplines through the BlackInX coalition. “Sammy was crucial in creating alliances and programming that would bring BlackInX organizations together so we can address a common goal,” says Ayanna Jones, a graduate student in chemistry at Emory University and cofounder of BlackInChem. In her current role as an executive member of BlackInChem, Jones sees Mensah’s legacy woven throughout the nurturing community they helped build together.
Mensah received multiple awards for her scientific achievements and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), including the Winifred Burks-Houck Graduate Student Award from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. Swiner says Mensah will be missed not only as a champion of DEI but as a positive light in the world who “always had a kind word in their heart [and] a smile on their face.”