Nichelle Nichols: An icon and inspiration

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On this International Women’s Day, I was presented with a picture of this famous woman and asked what she meant to me.

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols, sitting in the Captain’s chair of the starship Enterprise.

This was an easy one.

Nichelle Nichols… along with George Takei and Walter Koenig, her co-stars on Star Trek… showed me early-on in life how well a group of dedicated professionals could work together, each being the best in their fields and indispensable to the team, and race was never an issue between them. (To an extent, the same went for Leonard Nimoy, representing the alien on the bridge whose background didn’t impact his ability to work with the rest of the human team.) 

This ideal was only recently becoming a trend in American television, and it usually involved one African-American character (usually a guest star) whom at least one show’s character (usually the hero) would show companionship and ignore any race issues… or typically defend when some other racist (usually another guest) spoke up.  Star Trek was more unique than most shows in that it had a more varied makeup of races, meaning Nichelle didn’t stand out as the sole non-white face in the crowd.  And most importantly, she didn’t need defending from anyone.

UhuraIt was also personally inspiring to me that, when her character Lt. Uhura spoke, she didn’t sound like the stereotypical African-American that you usually saw on television (with the sharp southern or downtown accent or the overtly-affected phrasing and cadence common to TV-Africans). There was, in fact, nothing stereotypical about her character, which further helped give me confidence that I didn’t have to act like someone I was not just to get along in the world.

And finally, Nichelle was inspiring beyond Star Trek, encouraging not only African-Americans but women to study and work in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, and to help shape our future… a mission she continues to support today.

All of these aspects have served to mold and define me and the way I see the world.  Nichelle Nichols is a major part of the person I am.  She is an icon—not just to African-Americans, and not just to Americans, but to all the people of Earth.

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