As most of the regular readers of the Parkside Journal know, I am the co-editor of the Parkside Journal. Having taught for over thirty years in the public schools (University City High) of Philadelphia, I feel forever bonded to Philly and share the city’s hopes, dreams, challenges, and traditions. However, I am also strongly bonded to my hometown of Hampton, Virginia. Hampton is also, of course, the home of the “HIDDEN FIGURES” phenomenon. Since March is Women’s History Month, I feel this is an appropriate time to ‘continue’ the discussion about the significance of both the book and the movie for our young people living in urban centers like Philadelphia.
HIDDEN FIGURES explains how women, both black and white, worked diligently at Hampton’s Langley Research Center during the 1950’s and 1960’s, but without the proper recognition of their vital contributions to America’s space program.
Black women in particular, however, in the West Computing Wing at Langley, knew that if they did not successfully endure the long hours and high stakes atmosphere at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the door of opportunity might be closed for future generations of African-American women.
When HIDDEN FIGURES was first published amid a flurry of expectation and hometown pride, I shared my feelings of excitement with Mike Burch, my colleague on this paper and the publisher of the Parkside Journal. Mike shared my joy that the accomplishments of these pioneering Black women finally being publicized and recognized for all the world to see. He said to me, “I have been teaching science for over thirty years. I have all kinds of books and materials about NASA and space exploration. During my youth Black History Month activities I have always made a special effort to seek out and share information about Blacks who have achieved in math and science. Yet, I have rarely come across the names of these women until now”.
HIDDEN FIGURES shows that stories of positive Black achievement no longer need to linger overlooked in the shadows of history. We only have to follow the example of Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly and take the time and effort to bring them to light.
I know that Philadelphia is rich in stories of ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things. Let’s take the time to seek them out in our families and neighborhoods. I feel that Hidden Figures can serve as an inspiration to our minority youth and female students who are still under represented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related studies and careers.
For me the highlight of this year’s Black History Month activities, was the dynamic presentation given to my church family by Dr. Christine Darden on the last Sunday in February. I was honored and pleased when she agreed to be our church’s 11 am Worship Speaker. She is a long time Hampton resident with strong ties of friendship to St. Cyprian’s Church. Dr. Darden is a key figure whose experiences are detailed in both the regular and Young Readers’ Edition of Hidden Figures. As a retired NASA data analyst and engineer, she had a wealth of information to share about the challenges she faced as a Black woman.
Dr. Darden also spoke passionately about the importance of STEM education. Despite President Trump’s promise to “bring back” traditional manufacturing jobs, Dr. Darden’s blunt message was that those days “are over” and that traditional assembly line work is being increasingly “taken over” by robots. She informed her captivated audience that in the “high tech factories” of the future, the good high paying jobs would go to those with the skills to PROGRAM the robots who are doing more of the work formerly done by humans.
Her message was encouraging and inspiring but she did not ‘sugar coat’ anything. She emphasized that achieving proficiency in math and science was hard work but that the end result made it worthwhile. You may access her inspiring speech by going to the You Tube Channel: St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church–Hampton, Va.
I conclude by strongly urging all our readers to not only see the movie but to also READ and DISCUSS the book with your children or the youth you regularly interact with. With fortitude and determination our stories can continue to be told and be HIDDEN NO MORE!!!!