American Experiment: What are YOU Doing?

People use double entendre to describe a phrase open to multiple interpretations, one of which is usually indecent. After seeing the Oscar nominated “Hidden Figures”, I realized the title has a number of meanings: the mathematics that made manned space flight possible;
the unacknowledged black women who actually crunched the numbers; and the fact that in segregated Virginia, these women were literally hidden from view, NASA’s dirty little secret.

The movie was a great reminder that even in the face of what must have felt like crippling oppression, I’m descended from people who overcame.

It also reminded me that there are many ways to overcome an unjust, oppressive system. One scene in particular really drove that point home.

After realizing the impending installation of an IBM computer could make her job obsolete, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, decides to learn how to program the computer. In the scene, Dorothy is on her way to the segregated (white) local library to get what she can find about the computer, when she encounters a group protesting the lack of civil rights for people of color. As she hurries her two children past the protesters, she says something to the effect of “That’s not what we do”. Dorothy’s protest was taking the book on Fortran that the librarian refused to let her check out.

She used it to teach herself, as well as her black female team how to program the brand new IBM mainframe, and when NASA needed a larger team to run the computers, her team was ready.

She didn’t join the protesters marching and holding signs yet her actions made a huge difference in the lives of black families in her community.

This Saturday while Chicagoans joined Americans all over the world protesting the illegal and immoral immigration ban of Muslims who are in this country legally, AeroStar Avion Institute Founder and CEO Tammera Holmes was hosting STEMtastic Saturday at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. Tammera’s activism is prepping young people of color to fill projected skill shortages in the aviation industry.

It may not look like what others are doing, but she is making and will make a huge difference in the lives of Chicagoans. Because in addition to an American justice system that is truly blind to race, in addition to an American education system that sees the potential in all children, Americans of all races need real opportunities to support themselves and their families. That is what Tammera is providing.

This weekend, we saw all hands on deck as activists, politicians, lawyers, judges, etc. used their talents and skills to fight an action many perceive as un-American. I’m celebrating them, their contributions and focusing on what I can do to protect our fragile democracy.

What are you doing to make a difference?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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