My best Black Friday deal was the movie Hidden Figures for $4 – and I was delighted to watch it again this weekend. If you don’t know the story, it is a movie about success despite obstacles, specifically for three women who manually computed trajectories for the initial NASA space missions. Set in 1953, it chronicles Katherine Johnson and two other women whose mathematical genius went unappreciated because of their gender and ethnicity.
In 2010, Margot Lee Shetterly began researching the female “computers” who worked at the Langley Space Station in Hampton, Virginia where she grew up. (At the time, computers were people, not machines.) It was an untold story that no one had pursued, but her curiosity and investigation led to the publishing of a book and then the Academy Award-nominated film. In addition to the artistic acclaim, it has resulted in recognition of Johnson and her contributions to the space program.
NASA, who initially would not allow Johnson to compute figures except from heavily redacted reports, recently dedicated the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in her honor. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015.
I wonder if Johnson, now age 99, would have lived her whole life without acknowledgment for her role in putting men in space had Shetterly not pursued a casual conversation with her father about his days at Langley…
…and I wonder what “Katherine Johnson” is lurking in your organization’s archives. Who was involved in the early days, maybe working behind the scenes, that has not received the recognition or accord that they are due? Do you have an untold story that needs to be shared?
Katherine’s story not only shines a light on her past, but it hopefully provides a beacon to inspire others to persist in light of challenges. Do some digging and see what figures are hidden in your organization’s history.