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LatimerNOW Paves Way for Next Generation of Inventors

By Kelly Church

Run by the Historic House Trust of NYC, LatimerNOW is a pilot program that wants to help people re-think the traditional museum. Lewis Latimer was an African American self-taught inventor. Even without a formal education, Latimer worked in the 19th century with some of the world's most famous inventors: Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram Maxim and Thomas Edison. The Flushing, NY museum is the house that Latimer lived in from 1903 until 1928 when he died.

"His story of achieving a fulfilling life against all odds is inspiring and transcends the barriers of cultures, race and languages," Program Director Ran Yan said. "By learning about his life and accomplishments, the public, especially the underprivileged children, people of color and immigrant communities, might find in themselves new possibilities of defining the American life of their own."

The museum's Tinker Lab is a place for visitors and students to play with micro-controllers, proto boards and coding programs. Participants can build three-dimensional inventions of their own from scratch, in honor of Lewis.

During the summer, LatimerNOW holds summer camps in the Tinker Lab for kids ages six to 14. Kids work on projects for two weeks. One project is the decoding of remote control signals and using those signals to control a robot. The second project involves electronic textiles. Kids will create light-up dance gloves that are used at the final event of the camp.

The museum also holds classes during the school year. Class one is where kids ages seven to 13 will build an electronic instrument. In class two, kids will create robots inspired by their observations in nature, ultimately programming the robots to move. Both classes are eight weeks.

"The Latimer House is the physical evidence and witness to Lewis Latimer's heritage," Yan said. "It stands as a resource for the community to access free or low-cost technological education, literature nourishment (Latimer was also a poet), cultural celebrations and communicates an important aspect of African American history to local residents."

Yan said LatimerNOW explores a new way for historic houses like these to interact with visitors. The team behind LatimerNOW strives to protect this part of American history while incorporating important lessons for the next generation to be successful.

For more information on LatimerNOW, visit latimernow.org.

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