This is part two of my two part series on space. Check out part one, “My Trip to the Space Center (Houston, TX), Part 1
Star Trek originally inspired my love of space, specifically Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series and Commander-then-Captain Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I was introduced to the latter first and then the former. Both characters resonated with me but Uhura because she was a black woman. I won’t get into my love of Uhura here but I will direct you to a post I wrote on my old site.
Prior to my Space Center visit, I started rewatching DS9 as part of a bi-monthly series I’m doing on Black Girl Nerds. As a result, my mind kept going back to my first love and that is space.
Seeing Sisko and Uhura was a transformative moment for me in my young life. I was only 8 years old when DS9 premiered and later on I would catch reruns of TOS on SpikeTV. The network would show a marathon or two during a major holiday weekend.
Once I saw Star Trek, I wanted to learn everything there was about space. More importantly, I wanted to go to space and I wanted to know everything I could about how to make that happen. My mom use to take me to the library every weekend and I would spend that time learning what I could.
Another important memory in my life was when I finally worked up the never to tell someone what I wanted to do. I remember I was in 4th or 5th grade and I told the teacher’s aide that I wanted to be a scientist. Anything thing I could do to get to space. I still remember what she said to me. She told me that I should consider an alternative career because being a scientist requires being really good at math. And, she commented, math wasn’t my strongest subject.
That hurt. That hurt a lot. There was a part of me that carried that knowledge and yet the part of me that was determined to prove her wrong.
The very next Christmas I asked my parents for a telescope and a microscope. My parents were surprised by my request but on Christmas morning what did I have: a telescope and a microscope. It’s this gesture that, as an adult, I think back fondly. My parents were supporting their smart, inquisitive, but ridiculously quiet daughter.
At that point, I progressed from wanting to be a scientist to wanting to be an aerospace engineer.
Unfortunately, the words of that teacher’s aide would haunt me. The sad thing is I started to believe her. I did struggle in math and it frustrated me. And it frustrated my parents to see me struggle. My dad suggested I get a tutor but I rejected that. He even borrowed some videotapes that had helped a coworker’s kid do better at math. I took the tapes but didn’t watch them. I didn’t ask for or accept the help being offered to me.
I accepted that math wasn’t my thing and I let go of the dream. It didn’t, however, dampen my enthusiasm for space. I would still look up at the night sky or check out any local astronomy clubs or read an article that announced some new space news.
Cut to freshman year college and I’m taking a College Algebra class and an Introduction to Astronomy class. I had a phenomenal teacher for Algebra. For the first time, math actually made sense and I didn’t struggle in that class. I breezed right through it with an A by the end of the semester. My astronomy class was similar. My professor was new and sometimes he would talk about the math behind the theories. I found myself more intrigued than most students. The way he explained it, I could follow it. He even commented on the fact that I understood concepts that most of his intro students didn’t. I patted myself on the back but ultimately I did nothing with it.
So I moved along my career path and ultimately become an archivist. But, I can’t deny that a dream position for me would be to work for NASA or even SpaceX as an archivist. After all, that information that they are generating has to go somewhere.
That brings me back to the title of this piece.
Representation does matter. When there are characters that look like you, it opens a world of possibilities. Suddenly, it does feel like you can do and be anything you want to be.
That brings me to my next point. Be mindful of what you say to others about their dreams. There’s a thin line between being supportive with a touch of realism vs. crushing someone’s dream. Words do stick with people.
I don’t regret any of my life choices or my career path but I would be lying if I said I don’t wonder what could have been.