Growing up, my youngest brother was an avid reader of comic books. Of course, he knew all the superhero backstories that I'm just now learning about in the movies—well, I kind of know them. I'm thrilled to be a witness to this DC and Marvel movement, it's fascinating! Even when comic lovers know how the story is going to end, they know to remain seated in the movie theater to see the Marvel post-credits scene.
The intersection of comics with forensics and STEM is indisputable. Superheroes are known for using their powers to solve crime while they fight with villains to keep their community safe. That’s what forensic specialists do, too.
Real-life superhero Jamila Howard, aka Lady J, is a forensic DNA analyst by weekday and cosplayer by weekends. Howard is the owner and organizer of several cosplay charity events and fundraisers, and even designer of her own costumes.
I had an opportunity to speak with "Lady J" about why she chose a career in forensic DNA analysis, and how a girl grew up liking comic books. Howard grew up in a low-income household in Philadelphia. Back then, being a nerd wasn't as accepted and cool as it is nowadays. That didn't stop Howard from excelling in science and math at Central High School, a magnet school in Philadelphia. After high-school, Howard was accepted and attended a semester at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine school before transitioning to a different program due to recurring health issues. She ended up getting a BS in Biomedical Science from Drexel and a Master's degree in Forensic Science from Arcadia University.
In 2010, Howard went on to work as a forensic DNA analyst in Philadelphia. The following year, Howard attended her first cosplay happening at the Wizard Event—and she got hooked.
Now during her free time, Howard spends countless hours managing her cosplay groups—Philadelphia Avengers and Lady J Nerdy Enterprises. She promotes "Cospositivity," acceptance of people of all sizes, shapes, color and skill level. Through her membership-based community group Philadelphia Avengers, Howard organizes charity events and fundraisers for breast cancer and toys for tots. Her online shop, Lady J Nerdy Ways, features comic collectibles such as toys, shirts and books. Most items are less than $20 so young people can afford to shop. Another endeavor of Lady J is to bring awareness to breast cancer through "pinup for a cause" stickers, magnets and photos. Right now, Howard’s biggest cosplay project is a Comicon Ranger Station, an all power ranger event that will be the first of its kind on the east coast.
Howard intends to keep solving crimes, both as a forensic DNA consultant and a dressed-up superhero who puts smiles on children’s faces.
You can follow Lady J on Instagram @ladyjcosplay.
This is Forensic’s second installment of “Women in Forensics.” This column is authored by Antoinette T. Campbell, founder of the Association of Women in Forensic Science, Inc. (AWIFS) and Club Philly Forensics—a youth forensic science and violence/education outreach program. Determined to fulfill all her passions, she established AWIFS as a conduit for connecting like-minded individuals and organizations and provide STEM-based programming for youth and young adults. Antoinette has been profiled in the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, 105.3 WDAS, 900 AM WURD, and myriad blogs. In 2017, she earned a nomination for the RAD Awards Scientist of the Year and continues to serve as a venerated member of several panels including the Philadelphia Science Festival-Partner Advisory Council and Parents United for Better Schools, Inc. Antoinette can be reached at: www.awifs.org, @womeninforensic, #womeninforensics