Lessons from “Hidden Figures”

Sunday, Molly and I discovered the matinee selection of the local theater and enjoyed ourselves watching “Hidden Figures.” A brief synopsis, the movie tells the true story of three fierce and brilliant African American women working for NASA in the 60s, whose audacity and mathematics shape the race to space.

hiddenAt one point in the movie, Mary Jackson, arguably the fiercest of the bunch with irreproachable tenacity, decides to apply as an engineer at NASA following a higher positioned colleague’s promptings. After submitting her application, her supervisor directs her to the fine print of the employee handbook where she can read for herself that she is unqualified for the position. Indeed, she lacks coursework that can only be completed at a local white-only high school.

Later, when Mary vents about the injustice, Dorothy nearly silences her with her bluntness: “either you stop complaining, or do something about it. I’m trying to play cards.”* Mary, rather than move on, decides to bring her case to court. Having done her research, she harnesses all her spirit into an appeal to the judge on a personal level. “You know what it’s like to be the first. You were the first in your family to attend college…the first judge to be re-elected….since I cannot change the color of my skin, I will be the first female African American engineer in this country, with your help.”*

Following Dorothy’s example, she states the facts then calls the judge to make his choice. She invites him to something bigger, something greater. “Your honor, of all the cases you will listen to today, which one will people talk about 100 years from now?”*

Two thoughts. First, we have a choice and we are lying to ourselves if we pretend otherwise. It boils down to this. Will I talk, or will I live? Will I say my vote doesn’t count, settle for anger and despair, or let the world shape me? Or will I cast my vote, courageously give what I have to offer, and fight like hell to live for the greatness I was made for? And, if I don’t like the routes others are taking, what better alternative will I offer?

Second, her honesty is a part of love, even when it hurts. Mary’s friends love her enough to be honest. No “there,
there,” just a blunt kick in the pants. Dorothy loves her too much to let her beat around the bush, and in short tells her ‘you have two choices, so don’t act helpless. Now chose.’ Tough love at it’s finest.

In the words of Gandhi that both inspire and haunt me, “Be the change you wish to see.”

By Hope House resident, Sara Haines.

*quotes are respectably paraphrased

Photo courtesy of The New York Times


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