I’m not much of a movie buff, but from time to time I see a movie that I feel is worth watching again and that I will most likely remember. I don’t typically remember the plots of movies for very long so if you ask me what a movie was about I am unlikely to know even though I have seen it. But a few nights ago my husband and I captured a rare moment and watched Hidden Figures together. This movie about three African-American women who worked for NASA, was of particular interest to me since I LOVE space, minored in math, am a scientist, and am married to an astronomer. I know, just call me a nerd — not to mention I LOVE history, any kind of history really. I also adore movies with a mission and a purpose.
After seeing this inspiring film I walked away with a mission of my own. I am determined to teach my children the attributes these three amazing women displayed both in real life and on the screen. So despite a few subtle details between truth and Hollywood, I hope that all Americans, black, white, brown, or otherwise can walk away from this movie with the character of these three women. They are an example and model to us all.
First, there is Katherine Johnson, who graduated college, an all-black college mind you, at the age of 18. She had an incredible mind for numbers and was hired by NACA, later NASA, as a human computer. Ms. Johnson, recognized for her math genius, was assigned to work alongside other “human computers”, white males. She is best known for calculating John Glenn’s trajectory during his first flight to orbit the earth.
Then there is Mary Jackson, who assisted NASA engineer, Kazimierz Czarnecki, who insisted she get her degree in engineering. The problem with this was that she would have to attend an all-white school. In order to do so she petitioned the city of Hampton to attend these graduate courses. She won her petition and became a NASA engineer in 1958. For obvious reasons, this was not an easy task.
Finally, Dorothy Vaughan, who in the movie sees that she and her pool of “black computers” as they are called will be eliminated when the massive IBM is functioning, decides to learn Fortran in order to be a viable candidate for running this new machine. Because of her leadership skills, she became NACA’s (later NASA’s) first African-American supervisor in 1948. Again, for that day and age, this was an incredible accomplishment.
For that matter, anyone who is a supervisor at NASA has accomplished something spectacular. They don’t just let anyone do that kind of work. Certainly, I never fulfilled my dream of working at NASA.
As I watched the movie, I gained so much from the lessons these powerful women had to teach.
Katherine Johnson, carrying herself with grace and dignity, did her job as a matter of principle. She did so to serve her country during a time when American felt threatened by the Russians, who were winning the space race, and to fulfill a promise to her deceased husband, whom she promised she would keep their girls on the path to college. In the film she is portrayed as confident, respectful, innovative, hard-working and bold.
Dorothy Vaughan, recognizing that a machine was about to take her job, decides to re-invent herself instead of playing the victim. She refused to embrace an entitlement mentality, lying down in the midst of change. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and the circumstances that naturally come with the advancement of technology, she recognized a new opportunity and was innovative in teaching herself the language of that technology, thus making herself and those she trained the best candidates for the new positions. She would not be dismissed simply because a computer wanted her job.
Mary Jackson, like the others, had a gift. Her intelligence was quite superior. Unfortunately, the opportunity for advancement was severely limited given segregation laws and racial bias. However, Mary Jackson would not be denied. She would not take no for an answer. Her petition would be both heard and won. She would not allow herself the luxury of excuse making. She would have her dream. She would become an engineer even if it meant challenging the system. Her hard work and persistence won the day.
Sadly, the message and the values of these women have been all but lost in America. These women made no excuses for themselves, and they would not give in to the adverse circumstances of their day. They made a way for themselves and for those that followed them. They refused to play the victim, thus allowing the system to win. And they did so with persistence, hard work, self-respect, and dignity. They did what they did, not for the glory or recognition, but because it was right. So I would say to all Americans. Follow their example! See the obstacles that you face as nothing more than that. Don’t allow them to dictate the outcome of your life. Rise above your circumstances. Refuse to take no for an answer, make no excuses for yourself and accomplish your dream with honor. If you will, I believe the lives of these “Hidden Figures” would be honored.
Image: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use; Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51342178