An activist at both home and work


As operations manager for NYU’s Center for Cybersecurity, Emerald Knox oversees CSAW (Cybersecurity Awareness Worldwide), the most comprehensive student-run cybersecurity event in the world. Launched in in 2003 as a small local competition, CSAW has since grown to an international event that last year attracted some 1,225 teams from 90 countries. 

Despite the large number of participants, Knox recognized that CSAW, like much in the STEM world, could benefit from greater diversity. Organizers had, for several years, encouraged women students to enter, and in 2019, two all-girl high school teams — from Poolesville High School, in Maryland, and Niwot High School, in Colorado — made the finals. Still, Knox wanted to see more members of every underrepresented group at the finals in Brooklyn — and she wanted to see them not only participate but triumph.

To that end, she is making major outreach and education efforts. “A lot of high schools simply do not have the rigorous computer science programs that students need to be competitive at a high-level event like CSAW,” she says. “But here at Tandon, we have many resources that can be helpful to them, from online lesson plans to grad students eager to be mentors. Schools that want to are going to be able year-round training with our help, and I think we’re going to see CSAW becoming even more dynamic, diverse, and inclusive than it is now.”

Knox, it’s apparent, believes in diving right in when she sees something that needs changing. When her eight-year-old son, Johan, became frightened after witnessing the violent clash between Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters and the NYPD outside of the Barclays Center in late May, she was immediately moved to action. Billing it as “the most peaceful protest ever,” she organized a Black Kids Matter event for her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbors. Held at the Herbert von King Park, the march attracted dozens of families who chanted, “Black kids matter. They are the future,” while toting signs with uplifting slogans like “A is for Activist” and “I am beautiful.”

Black Kids Matter rally

“We wanted only positivity,” Knox explains. “Our kids see enough signs on the news saying, ‘please don’t kill us’ or ‘I can’t breathe,’ and while that definitely has its place, we wanted the focus here to be on giving them a strong foundation. When they are met with injustice and bigotry, we want them to have internalized the message that they are accomplished, valued, and strong.”

Knox says that it would be easy to become demoralized if she dwelled on the fact that she is still protesting the same things her grandmother and mother protested. “I refuse to become demoralized though,” she asserts. “I take heart that my son is out here with me in von King Park, marching alongside people of all colors and cultures. The key, I think, is for them to learn early on that we are all neighbors.”

The work continues

Knox, a member of a Bed-Stuy group known as the Dope Moms Club, is planning regular, kid-friendly events in the park. She invites anyone interested to join them on July 31, from 3 to 6 pm, to create a colorful mural with the help of a local artist.