“Hidden Figures” unveils world of opportunity for women of color in STEM

“Hidden Figures” unveils world of opportunity for women of color in STEM

Hidden Figures” is the story of three African-American women at NASA – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – who serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and thrilled the world.

“Hidden Figures” tells an important story of civil rights and feminism in the United States. The movie, and real-life events, takes place in the early 1960s — a time when racial segregation was the law of the land, and gender discrimination was still the norm. Especially in Virginia, where the story takes place, local Jim Crow laws enforced segregation and discrimination against African-Americans, who were legally obligated to use separate facilities. Though NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia did hire women and African-Americans, offices, restrooms and other areas were kept segregated. “Hidden Figures” portrays the hardships that black women at NASA faced in the years before the Civil Rights Act.

A group of young women from Central, Cleveland and Summit County attend "Hidden Figures"
A group of young women from Central, Cleveland and Summit County attend “Hidden Figures”

A group of eleven girls from Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and nine young ladies from Cleveland and Summit County went to see the film on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. The group included girls from second grade through high school.

Sponsored by White House Champion of Change Sonya Pryor-Jones and State Rep. Stephanie Howse (D) District 11, the trip gave the young women an opportunity to speak with both sponsors, NASA Aerospace Engineer Lizalyn Smith, and Case Western Reserve University Macromolecular Science Ph.D. student Taniesha Deans.

“As an educator using STEM as a vehicle to support under-served communities, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for girls to see this film and be inspired and be reminded that wherever they come from and whatever barrier they face, they can be successful and make a difference for themselves and their community,” said Sonya Pryor-Jones, who is also the CEO of Synchronicity Consulting, a Cleveland based professional services firm.

Statistics show African-American women are still largely underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. According to statistics the number of women in STEM jobs generally hovers between 10 and 30 percent, with the number of African-American women being even less.

“I believe it is important for everyone to see images of themselves doing great things for our society.  Far too many times, girls and women of color are fed negative imagery of who they are and what they can be.  Hidden Figures is an inspiring story that shows the brilliance and beauty of black women in STEM excelling under very challenging circumstances,” said Rep. Stephanie Howse. “This is what our girls need to see, understand and know every day. No matter what your present circumstance may be, you can achieve greatness.  I’m glad Sonya Pryor-Jones and I were able to help girls from Central see such an important and empowering film.”