By Anicca Harriot
In November, I was thrilled to learn that VanguardSTEM would be highlighting the women of Hidden Figures, hosting an online book club, and speaking with Hidden Figures author, Margot Lee Shetterly. Though I was excited about the opportunity to re-read the book I had fallen in love with as part of the VanguardSTEM community, I had no idea what I would truly gain by the end of the experience.
When I was younger, a family friend once told me that her favorite book was one she was able to read endlessly over, but always gain a new perspective from.
Reading Hidden Figures as part of #VSdoesHF gave me new perspective on who I am as a woman of color (WoC) in STEM and what that means in the context of this country.
The introduction of #VSdoesHF directly followed Dr. Jedidah Isler’s piece, “Why Do We #VanguardSTEM in Times like These?” Her response, “Because we believe that women of color in STEM matter,” was the perfect transition into a month of reading the story of women who showed that WoC in STEM mattered in a time where they were severely undervalued and underestimated.
Of course, the apogee of #VSdoesHF was the trip to New York City for the prescreening of Hidden Figures and the discussion panel featuring VanguardSTEM’s Dr. Jedidah Isler. She shared the stage with Aldis Hodge, who plays Levi Jackson in the film; Dale Davis Jones, IBM Distinguished Engineer and their Director of Global Technical Community Development; Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures; and Theodore Melfi, the director of the film. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Knatokie Ford, Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The movie was outstanding and completely lived up to the excitement surrounding what has truly become the cultural phenomenon of Hidden Figures.
While I won’t spoil the film, I will say this: for me, the Hidden Figures movie was about how these women exemplified a mindset that allowed them to play influential roles in a historic event.
They saw men walking on the moon before we even left Earth.
This idea of prolepsis – the not yet now, the essence of the future which exists in the present – was one that was carried on into the panel discussion as well. Jones encouraged students to “look beyond” and to see the possibilities that STEM presents to those who do not set limits for themselves.
Hodge spoke to the importance of understanding that potential is not finite, that just because people of color are not often seen in the light that Hidden Figures presents us in, does not mean we do not have the potential to achieve greatness in STEM.
Dr. Isler advised the audience not to seek permission to follow their dreams and not to wait to pursue their goals. The Hidden Figures team, author Margot Shetterly and director Ted Melfi, wrapped up the panel with the message that we are all part of the American Dream – we all get there together or not at all.
In the end, the takeaway message from the panel was that vision and inclusion are necessary factors for achievement. What I came to realize was that greatness is about seeing possibilities when faced with problems. As a child I was taught to “reach for the stars”; VanguardSTEM and Hidden Figures encouraged me time and again to go a step further and “touch the stars.”
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