Heroes Past and Present: Designing a New Future for Us All

This winter, the film Hidden Figures was nominated and received recognitions for its acting ensemble, directing, production, and even costume design. In my opinion, however, its biggest triumph was its storytelling. If you have not seen it, I suggest you do.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of a group of African-American women, so-called “computers,” who were key to the success of the U.S. space program at the beginning of the Mercury project. Their important contributions culminated in John Glenn’s first orbiting flight.

One can discern many subplots in the movie. Foremost are the women’s courage, loyalty, and determination in the face of racial and gender discrimination. They were true heroes. I have seen and experienced personal discrimination, and I cannot imagine maintaining composure and being willing to work within a system that treats me with such disrespect and disdain time and time again. There are millions of such heroes among us. If for some reason you need to be reminded, visit the impressive Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

Another subplot is the ultimate triumph of facts and science. Facing failure, prejudice has to give in to knowledge. A third subplot addressed the power of an individual. It reminds us that we should never underestimate what one person can do to effect change. An inspired, courageous leader can make a difference by empowering the disfranchised and resisting institutionalized injustice.

Finally, the movie reminds us of a period in history when the nation, led by scientists and engineers, embarked on a journey to achieve the seemingly impossible — and did it. Our nation and humanity are facing enormous challenges. Issues such as nuclear weapons proliferation, poverty, sustainable energy, climate change, cybersecurity, public health and its management, catastrophic diseases such as cancer, and clean and abundant water require investment in education, the sciences, and engineering. Meeting such difficult challenges will also require the inclusion of bright individuals from underrepresented groups all over the world to collaborate in the invention and design of a new future for all of us.

- Rafael L. Bras

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