In a talk Tara Roberts gave at the 2019 Storytellers Summit (a project of National Geographic), she shared how, as a young girl, she spent many nights hidden under her blanket with a book and a flashlight, reading and imagining. She especially loved fantasy books, and her favorite was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. She dreamed of having adventures just like Meg. In fact, she wanted to be Meg. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized…there are no Black girls in A Wrinkle in Time. There are no Black girls going on adventures in any of her beloved childhood books.
Divers on the site of the São José Paquete D'Africa wreck | Jonathan Sharfman/Slave Wrecks Project
Tara is a storyteller, an adventurer, and a traveler. She was a fellow at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab and an editor for magazines and books for girls. She founded her own magazine and also spent a year backpacking around the world to find and tell stories about women social entrepreneurs.
Her biggest adventure came in 2016. Tara was at the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture and saw a photograph of Black women in wetsuits and learned they were part of Diving With a Purpose (DWP), an organization that trains divers to work with archeologists and historians to find and conserve slave shipwrecks throughout the Middle Passage. DWP is a predominantly Black organization that has trained more than 500 divers since their inception in 2003. Its mission is to “help Black folks, in particular, find their own history and tell their own stories.”
Divers With a Purpose
An estimated 12.5 million Africans were forced onto ships during the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries, according to Nafees Khan, a professor in the College of Education at Clemson University and adviser to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. What does that mean in numbers? 36,000 voyages, between 500-1000 shipwrecks, and 1.8 million people dead. Staggering.
Tara decided to join DWP so she could write the stories of the scuba divers she worked with; people who chose to volunteer their time to document this critical, but mostly invisible, part of history. Her goal, she says, is to “reimagine and reframe the origin story of Africans in the Americas and to tell stories that humanize and bring empathy, nuance, and complexity to their human journey.”
What began as a blog series for National Geographic became a podcast series called “Into the Depths,” where she chronicles her adventure with DWP. She was also featured in the March 2022 issue of National Geographic. She is the first ever African-American female explorer to be featured on its cover.
Tara says working with the slave shipwrecks has been a life-changing experience. “I am transported to a place of hope and possibility. I begin to see a way of interpreting one of the most painful parts of American history through a new lens, with a loving perspective, and with the possibility of repairing a deep wound—of closure. And that feels revelatory,” she writes in her National Geographic story.
The wreck site is in Table Bay, not far from Cape Town. Susan Persham NPS/ Slave Wrecks Projects
[NOTE: This is a REALLY cool pic because: “the research team later returned to the site of the wreck to scatter soil from the land of the enslaved people who died there.”]
Back at the Storytellers Summit, Tara wrapped up her talk by imagining a girl in the future, someone just like her, under the blankets with a book and flashlight (or maybe an iPhone or other fancy sci-fi light device), but instead of reading a fantasy novel, she’s reading about an adventure discovering “valuable treasure in the form of stories”—seeing herself in the pages of the book, seeing where she comes from, seeing her ancestors, feeling her roots.
What nine-year-old girl asks for a pair of cold water waders for Christmas?
One who loves being at the beach searching for treasure, that’s who! In fact, treasure hunter Molly Sampson and her older sister Natalie both asked for the waders. Inspired by their father’s love of fossils, one of their favorite family activities is searching for them at Calvert Beach, near their home in Prince Frederick, Maryland.
On December 25, 2022, bright and early on Christmas morning, Molly, her sister, and her father went to the beach to look for fossils. Molly was hoping to find some sharks’ teeth to make into a necklace, but she found something too big for a piece of jewelry.
Molly and the Meg tooth | Alicia Sampson
Molly is no stranger to sharks’ teeth. By then she had found over 400 of them during her treasure-hunting career, but she had never found a “Meg” as she calls it. Until now. There in her hand she held the tooth of a Megalodon, a prehistoric shark bigger and faster than any great ocean predator alive today. The Megalodon lived more than twenty-three million years ago and became extinct 3.6 million years ago. Scientists estimate the enormous shark could be up to six feet long and weigh over 135,000 pounds. Molly knew that the size of a shark is based on the size of their teeth—every inch is ten feet—so she realized she was holding part of what had once been a fifty-foot shark! But we’ll let Molly tell the story herself.
Hi Molly! Let’s start with the basics. Where do you live? How old are you? Who makes up your family? Things like that! We want to know who you are.
My name is Molly Sampson, and I live in Prince Frederick, Maryland. When I found the tooth I was 9, but since then I have turned 10! I have a brother who is 19, his name is Oliver, and a sister who is 17 and her name is Natalie. I live with my mom and dad and Natalie! I also have 27 pets, which I count as my family. I have 21 chickens (they live outside), a fish, two cats, a dog, and two turtles.
Where did you find the Megalodon tooth?
I found the big Meg along Calvert Cliffs here in Calvert County.
Have you looked for shark teeth before? Your father is super into fossils, right? How has his love influenced you?
I have looked for shark teeth for a long time now. I have been finding them since I was really little, but got serious about collecting them in the last three or four years. My dad grew up on the bay near the cliffs so he has always looked for them. I think just going with him and seeing how excited he is when he finds something cool got me excited about it. He knows so much about them and how to look for them, and now he has taught me how to do that too! I have found five other Megalodons in the last few years but all of them are only an inch or two long. This one is five inches!
That’s really big for a Meg tooth, right?
My dad has dreams about finding teeth as big as the one I found!
Molly, her sister Natalie, and her dad |Alicia Sampson
Can you describe what happened on that amazing Christmas morning, when you found the Megalodon tooth? Who were you with? What happened?
I had told everyone that the only thing I really wanted for Christmas was insulated chest waders, because my dad has them and he can walk out into the water when it's cold and find things that we can’t see. I also wanted a sand scooper for the water. For Christmas I got both of them! After we opened our presents my dad told us that at 10:30 a.m. that morning there was a negative low tide—
What does that mean?
It means the tide was a lot lower than other days so we could wear our waders and walk out so much further than we usually would be able to. My dad took Natalie and me down to the beach as soon as we ate breakfast. My mom didn't come because the wind chill was ten degrees Fahrenheit and she doesn't have waders yet.
On the way down to the beach I told my dad I was looking for a Meg tooth. I was just wading in the water and all of a sudden I saw this huge tooth in the water! I tried to use my sand sifter to scoop it out, but it was way too big, so I had to reach down and get my arms all wet to get it—but it was so worth it!
My dad and Natalie said I was screaming saying I couldn't believe it! I remember thinking that I had to be dreaming. I was so excited!!
Did you know what it was, at first?
Yes, I knew exactly what it was! All the different sharks have different shaped teeth, and my dad has taught me how to identify all of them! I have always loved Megalodon teeth, but they are harder to find than the other kinds. I have always hoped I would find a big one!
Artist making a model of a Megalodon | Smithsonian Museum
We did take it to our friend Dr. Godfrey at the Calvert Marine Museum, who is the paleontologist that works there. He was able to tell me it was about 15 million years old and what part of the cliff it came from. Dr. Godfrey was so excited for me and said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime find!” My dad told me that I am the first human to ever touch this tooth in FIFTEEN MILLION years! To me, that is probably the coolest thing.
OK, Molly, onto non-Meg related questions! What are some of your favorite things? What makes you laugh?
I have so many things I love to do! I love to play with all my chickens and take care of them. I also LOVE hiking and camping with my family, playing my violin, reading, drawing, and painting. I love all animals but right now my favorite are chickens. My favorite color is teal, my favorite books are the Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew series. I love to watch I Love Lucy because that show makes me laugh so hard! Other things that make me laugh are playing jokes on people, and funny animals—especially my chickens, they are so funny!
What would you like to tell other kids about adventuring? Do you have any advice for them?
I would tell them to just go out and explore. You never know what you will see or find! Sometimes I don't find stuff, and that's ok. So even if you don't find something, just remember the fun you had and don't give up. Keep exploring! If I hadn't gone out and explored, I probably wouldn’t know being a paleontologist might be something I want to do!
Thank you, Molly! Molly can be reached at her website: www.thefossilkids.com and on Instagram at @fossilgirls_md.
Click here to read fan letters to Molly.
Seventeen-year-old Logan Lane is a senior at Edward R Murrow High School in Brooklyn, NY, but her story starts in 6th grade when she got her first smartphone. Like most teenagers, she dove head first into social media, using the phone at all hours and falling asleep scrolling through it. Logan carefully watched girls on Instagram—not girls she knew in real life—and observed how they crafted their popularity by posting very intentionally: they wore make-up and nice clothes, posed in flattering ways, and wrote clever captions. Logan was both fascinated by their behaviors and repulsed. She decided to create her own social media persona, becoming a sort of anti-instagrammer: basically she would post not-so-flattering pictures of herself. But what looked like a rebellion against the social media scene actually fueled the same addiction.
Although Logan took an occasional break from her phone, it wasn’t until she entered high school that she began to truly question her relationship with it.
Some of her new schoolmates were some of those popular Instagram girls and things got weird. As she says in an interview with podcast host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, her real identity collided with her social media identity. She began to feel compelled to act the way she portrayed herself on Instagram.
A split identity like this is not an unusual phenomenon when so much socializing happens online. Neither is a skewed sense of social emotional norms. For instance, spending most of your time socializing on a phone means missing nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions. Making friends and navigating healthy relationships get tricky, too, when phones are involved. It’s easier to be unempathetic, self-centered, and just harsher when you don’t have to interact face to face. Talking to someone in the same space at the same time becomes more foreign and can feel awkward. The overuse of social media can also lead to online bullying, shorter attention spans, and low self-esteem. Despite the word “social” in its name, it can actually make teens feel lonelier.
This was true for Logan. By the beginning of the pandemic, she was on her phone almost twenty-four hours a day. She began to spend a lot of time feeling jealous of her peers and down on herself. She couldn’t sleep and she got actual indentations on the pads of her fingers from scrolling so much.
So two years into her high school career Logan made a choice. She walked into her parents’ room, put her phone in their drawer, and that was that. Her social circle got smaller. She began to read a lot more, sew and crochet, go to bed earlier, sleep better, wake up earlier, and enjoy simple things like having dinner with her family.
Then Logan met a girl at a concert who had an old-school flip phone. The girl liked to read. She liked to experience things in real time. Logan’s world lit up. She and her new friend met up the next week and walked through the art and music section of the public library and then went to a farmers’ market. Simple and fun. Soon after that, they decided to form the Luddite Club.
The leader of the Luddites, 1812 | Wikipedia
What does Luddite mean anyway? Today it’s a catch-all term that means anyone who dislikes new technology, although the technology in question goes back to the 19th century. Weavers and textile workers in the British midlands objected to mechanized looms and knitting frames that were moving into their workplace. Supposedly a young apprentice named Ned Ludd destroyed one of the new machines in protest and an early labor movement was born. Members of the movement were referred to as “Luddites.”
Fast forward to senior year. Logan’s version of Luddite means that she and the rest of the club meet at the park every weekend. They head into the woods to talk, play music, make art, and just be together. The ritual has changed Logan’s life. She feels much more intentional about the choices she makes. She has more confidence. Her social anxiety has dissipated.
The Luddite Club
Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Logan in their interview if she thinks she’ll be a Luddite forever. “I don’t know,” says Logan. Sometimes she feels like being attached to your smartphone is a necessity. For example, more and more restaurant menus are now barcoded and colleges often require a two-step authentication for registering for classes. “I hope so,” she adds. “Why [do you hope so]?” says Lulu.
“Because I fear what will become of the authentic me when or if I get back online,” says Logan.
Hopefully she can hold onto the self she’s creating now. The real Logan is simply and beautifully the real Logan—no matter what she’s doing or where she is or who she’s with.