In the 1960s, America was segregated and racing towards space. Engaged in a passive battle with Russia to see who could get a man into space and orbiting around the planet first, we were ignoring the racial injustice right before us. In our search for progress, we weren’t acknowledging the inhumane state our own country was in.
The recent movie Hidden Figures (Rated PG from 2oth Century Fox) tells the story about the collision of racial segregation, sexism, and the Space Race As NASA was trying everything they could to become the victors of space, they found untapped mathematical talent in a group of African American women; ‘living computers’ if you will. These women ultimately became the turning point for NASA, allowing us to launch John Glenn into space and getting him back down to our planet safe and alive.
If it wasn’t for the giant dreams, persistence, and refusal to give up shown by Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), NASA and space exploration would look drastically different today. These women changed the direction of the race, and at the same time, made leaps and bounds against the injustice shown by segregation. They demonstrated how to make change happen in this country.
Having their story shared in a cinematic form couldn’t be more timely. In a country that is currently being torn apart by bitter race relations, rioting disguised as ‘protest’, and animosity from all sides, it’s important to remember how true change, needed change occurs.
Hidden Figures teaches us several lessons about change making:
Be confident in your ability
Even though, as African American women, Vaughan, Jackson, and Johnson were looked down on, they KNEW how good they were. They remained confident in their abilities, and used that confidence to successfully do the job no one else could, effectively changing minds and making people question NASA segregation. Confidence in what you can do to benefit the world will help you actually end up creating successful change.
They didn’t give up. Jackson knew that she was smart and talented enough to be an engineer, she just wasn’t a white male as was the norm in this time period. That didn’t stop her from defying odds, taking classes, and getting the necessary training to qualify her to apply for the NASA Langley engineering program.
If you truly want to create lasting change, you have to be persistent and be ready to hunker down and be in it for the long haul.
Think small before thinking big
These women weren’t trying to rid the country of segregation; they were trying to display the need for NASA integration, the injustice done by segregation within the agency, and the talent that was being missed by dismissing the African American women working as computers. Trying to make a large, widespread impact has its place. However, you will always be most effective if you start trying to generate change in your own environment and in ways that you are directly involved in. Work on creating positive change in your community and state before trying to create it across the country!
Kindness and levelheadedness are key
The rioting and Black Lives Matter protests that have been occurring across the nation are lacking two very large components of helping make effective change: Kindness and levelheadedness. In order to be an effective change maker, you must be passionate and tough, yet kind, well reasoned, and factual. The women in Hidden Figures could have been absolutely nasty to everyone they proved wrong, yet they weren’t. Remember: Those opposed to you are not your enemies-they are just haven’t come over to the side of truth yet.
Find your niche
Finally, to be an effective change maker, you must find your niche in which to create change. The NASA Langley ladies had opinions about many things going on in the country, but since they were such skilled mathematicians, they were able to make the most difference doing what they were excellent at: Math. I am pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and hold many other conservative views, but I find that my best niche to create change is talking with other Millennials about how big government harms them. Look for your own niche, and then think about how you can help create change there.
The colored computers unit at NASA Langley helped pave the way to integration. They were change makers, movers and shakers, and determined. Instead of looking at the flawed lessons culture tries to teach on enacting change, let us look to their example instead.