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Alexa Canady

Alexa Canady

I grew up in the ‘50s. White gloves... hats... stockings. We lived just outside Lansing, Michigan, an auto-manufacturing town. My brother and I stuck out as the only black kids at our rural elementary school. My mother frequently gave us her famous "tokens are for spending" talk. She said, "Let them make you the token — so what if you're the token black girl. Take that token and spend it." My mother taught me not to care what other people thought.

The summer after second grade, my grandmother came to stay with us. She was a school teacher and was taking a course in psychological testing at the local college. I became a guinea pig for testing conducted by her class. After I scored exceptionally well on an exam, my grandmother's professor asked for further testing. I sat at a desk at the front of the classroom while her professor showed me pictures and numbers and asked me questions until my brain felt numb. A week later, the professor called our house during dinner. My mom came back to the table looking puzzled. "He wants to know if Alexa is in any special programs — he says her intelligence testing is off the charts." She looked at my father. "That's odd," my father said. "Her scores at school are just average."

My parents didn't tell me until years later that they discovered my teacher had lied to the school about my test results. She had given my scores to a white girl in my class.

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Dr. Alexa Canady graduated with a B.S. from the University of Michigan in 1971 — one year before the passage of Title IX. The law opened the doors for girls and women to pursue the sciences and mathematics and has helped increase their numbers in these fields. In 1970, less than 10 percent of all medical students were women. By 1975, that number had jumped to just over 20 percent. Women now make up nearly half of all medical students. Canady finished medical school in 1975, and in 1981, she became the first African-American woman neurosurgeon in the United States. From 1987 to 2001, Canady was chief of neurosurgery at Children's Hospital of Michigan. After more than 30 years as a pediatric neurosurgeon, she retired in January 2012.