Before COVID-19, I belonged to Sweat, an exercise studio in Berkeley. I loved the HIIT classes at 6 am and religiously reported for duty at least four times a week. One morning I introduced myself to a woman who seemed to be a regular. We exchanged names.
“Great to meet you, Michelle.”
“It’s Nichelle,” she said, “like Lt. Uhura in Star Trek.”
“Oh, sorry about that, and thanks for letting me know, Nichelle.”
Although I’ve never been a big tv watcher and hadn’t ever followed Star Trek, I knew who Lt. Uhura was. I‘d read about her importance as a role model for Black children (really for everyone) and that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had told her to stay on in that role when she told him of her plans to leave the series. Representation Matters and Dr. King knew that only too well.
It is super important for kids of color and individuals from communities that have been marginalized and demeaned (eg. gay and trans kids), to see people who look like them living successful and fulfilling lives, even in outer space. These folks can be real people, sports figures like Venus and Serena Williams, public servants like President Obama, Congresswoman Patsy Mink, or Julian and Joaquin Castro. Or they could be fictional characters in mainstream movies and television or streaming programs. Representation matters.
I was aware of Nichelle Nichols' death having heard a radio news story about this. I learned so much more from Terry Baum's BAUMblog titled OBITS TO DIE FOR: Nichelle Nichols?
Some months ago, my friend Beth introduced me to the work of her neighbor and friend Terry Baum, a writer, director, and blogger. She forwarded me Terry's blog and I found the topics Terry tackled and her point of view very much aligned with mine. So I became a subscriber.
It was in Terry's blog that I learned Nichelle's name story and since I love name stories, I asked Terry’s permission to share this blog with my readers, which she granted.
Here are a few tidbits from the blog to encourage you to read the whole thing:
“Besides being a great communications officer, Uhura, along with Captain Kirk, were part of the first interracial kiss on network television. They were FORCED to do it by the inhabitants of a strange planet . . . The episode aired just one year after the US Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia decision struck down laws against interracial marriage. At the time Gallup polls showed that fewer than 20% of Americans approved of such relationships.”
“After STAR TREK was canceled, Nichols created a non-profit. Women in Motion focused on science education for girls. In 1977, Nichols gave a speech to the National Space Institute, challenging NASA to “come down from your ivory tower of intellectual pursuit, because the next Einstein might have a Black face – and she’s female. NASA responded by asking Nichols to lead a campaign to bring women and people of color to apply for the new Space Shuttle program.”
Check out Terry’s other writings by visiting her website, where you can also subscribe and read other thoughtful pieces she has published, and you can learn more about the work of Lilith Theater.
Nichelle Nichols was again in the news with the recent announcement that some of Lt. Uhura’s ashes and DNA samples will be launched into space on a memorial journey later this year. The ashes of four other dearly departed Star Trek pioneers will also be on that space flight. More here. Godspeed, Lt. Uhura.
Representation REALLY Matters
And while on the topic of representation, last month California Governor Gavin Newsom nominated Judge Patricia Guerrero to be the FIRST Latina Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. She has now been confirmed and holds that post. She is the first Latina Chief Justice anywhere in the United States. Read about Chief Justice Guerrero in Cal Matters.
I hope you’ve had a good summer; mine has been busy with some unexpected travel, and lots of work. And I’m now rehearsing my updated show, as it will be back on stage at The Berkeley Marsh for a limited five-week run, starting September 23rd, every Friday night at 7:30 pm for five weeks. Hope to see my Bay Area peeps there. I've got some interesting post-show talkback speakers on topics related to social justice. Tickets are now on sale. Use the magic of this QR code to buy yours.