Remembering A Barrier Breaker
Nichelle Nichols was a barrier breaker. In media and with her work with NASA she went on to bring Gene Roddenberry’s future to life.
By now you've probably heard that Nichelle Nichols passed away. As a result, I thought I would share my experience with Star Trek and Nichelle Nichols. As an only child, I made my own entertainment for the most part. I was born a nerd and grew up with He-Man, Thundercats, Voltron, and Star Trek toys under the Christmas tree.
I got into Star Trek in elementary school and became obsessed. I read all the books, had a ton of the action figures and trading cards, I joined the Star Trek Official Fan Club, and my mom took me to see Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier in the theater. Star Trek instilled in me some of my core beliefs and love of space that I still have to this day. I believe in the Vulcan saying “Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations” and a society that takes care of each other.
Watching Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, George Takei as Sulu, and Walter Koeing as Chekov, it never occurred to me that women and minorities couldn’t be involved in STEM fields and I wanted to be an astronaut until I found out I had motion sickness. After feeling like she was being underutilized in Star Trek, she was thinking about leaving the show until Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay after telling her how important the representation she was giving was. That turned out to be true. There's a famous story from Whoopi Goldberg, who would go on to play Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation, saying that when she saw Uhura on tv she ran to tell her mom that “she saw a black lady on tv and she ain’t no maid!”.
Up until Star Trek there hadn’t been meaningful representation for African Americans, women, and other minorities on tv. So, when Star Trek ended after three years, she was appointed to the board of directors of the National Space Institute and asked “where are my people?”. She was then approached by NASA to help with recruitment for their space shuttle program. She headed a national recruitment drive with her own company “Women In Motion”.
I remember sitting in my first-grade class in 1986 after a class on the solar system and watching the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. Sadly three of Nichelle Nichols recruits passed away when the Challenger exploded shortly after launch.
I had the good fortune to meet Nichelle twice and she was the nicest person ever. I bought a photo op with Nichelle and Walter Koening at Phoenix Comic Con and was able to go to her panel and get an autograph from her at FanX Salt Lake Comic Con and she was an absolute delight. I will always remember her kindness and the example she set. Live long and prosper.