This past weekend, I got to meet a personal hero and role model. Her name is Nichelle Nichols. If you don’t recognize her name, you probably recognize one of her most famous television roles – Lt. Uhura, of the original Star Trek series.
Back when I was in college, I did a term paper on the phenomena of Star Trek. I learned a lot of really neat things about it. Star Trek was cancelled after the 2nd season. But it had already generated a lot of fans. And one of them, a lady named Bjo Trimble, (I’ve actually met her once, not that she would remember me) started a letter writing campaign that caused the networks to change their mind. The show was renewed for a 3rd season, then cancelled again. But it wouldn’t stay gone. It went into syndication, and has been playing almost continuously, somewhere, since then. Star Trek is credited with the creation of the ideas for cell phones, computer tablets, tricorders, MRIs, and much more.
The producer, Roddenberry, had some grand ideas for his show. (I got to meet him, once, also) It was set in the future, in a time when all the nations had come together in peace and harmony. Roddenberry wanted to show that, so he picked an eclectic cast for his lead stars – there was the Japanese, the Russian, the Scotsman, the Irishman, the African, even the Alien. A diverse crew, all working together. Although Roddenberry pitched the show as a “Wagon Trail to the stars” he also wanted the episodes to be more – to carry morality tales. Many of the shows had very important messages to them. There were messages about the results of prejudice, fascism, control, power, love – and the only reason why some of these stories were allowed to be aired is the fact that this was a science fiction show. But the messages were applicable to the world of the 60s.
One of those messages was that of equality – equality of race, equality of sex – people were people, regardless of who they were. The network didn’t like the fact that the crew members, and the stars, were racially diverse. They were afraid that it would affect the marketability of the show. None-the-less, there she was, Nichelle Nichols. A beautiful black woman, who was treated just like anyone else, who had authority, respect, and who was not stereotyped. Nichols says that she was going to quit after the first season. Only she met a fan – someone who really liked the show. And when he heard that she was planning to quit, he looked at her and, in her words, said “You can’t.” Who was this fan that had so much power? Martin Luther King. He told her that she was the only black woman on television that was in a leading role, and that was not playing a stereotype. She was not a maid, she was not a slave. She was a role model. So she stayed on the show. And became a role model for many, many people, of many different ethnic origins. Whoopi Goldburg asked for a role in Star Trek, The Next Generation, partly because of Nichols influence. http://www.makers.com/moments/influence-whoopi-goldberg
She also influenced current space exploration. She became involved with a NASA program aimed at recruiting minorities and women. Sally Ride, Guion Bluford, Judith Resnick, and Ronald McNair were all recruited through this program. And she was part of what has been called the first interracial kiss broadcast on American Television. I met her at a conference and attended her question and answer panel. Someone asked her if the interracial kiss was difficult or hard for her. Her answer? Her great-grandparents were an interracial couple, so interracial kisses were normal to her. I hadn’t known that, so I looked it up. Her great-grandfather was Welsh.
So, what does all this have to do with Father’s day? We watched Star Trek when I was a kid. I remember it from the 60s, vaguely. At some point, Star Trek was on Wednesday nights. I don’t remember if this was first run or syndication. I just remember that my family would not skip church to watch Star Trek. But once I was sick on a Wednesday night. And my daddy stayed home from church to take care of me, and we watched Star Trek together. My dad was a sociologist. He really liked Star Trek. He really understood all those messages, some subtle, some fairly heavy handed, that Roddenberry put into his shows.
One of those shows, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” dealt with the ultimate results of racial prejudice. In this show, Bele, a police commissioner from Cheron, has been chasing Lokai, a political traitor, for 50,000 earth years. They take over the Enterprise and go back to Cheron, where they find that wars have totally devastated their planet, and they are the only two people left alive. They beam down to the destroyed planet, and continue to try to kill each other. Why were they so antagonistic? One of them was white on the left side of his body, and black on the right side. The other was the same – only reversed. And this made the difference that destroyed their world.
Despite the heavy-handedness of the message behind that episode, it has always stayed with me. One of the things that dad was very much against was prejudice based on race. I used to think he was “color blind” – that he didn’t really see color in people. I think now, that he saw color – and embraced it.
There is are a couple of passages in the Bible that I believe meant something to dad. One of them is from 1 Corinthians 12.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Dad saw that everyone was different – and that was a good thing. We were all diverse – but we were all important. We are all, red, yellow, black, white, brown, blue, green – we are all different. But we all bring important things to each other. We have different experiences that have made us different people, given us different insights, different understandings. And that is OK, and wonderful. Because there is another passage, also.
Galations 3:26-28 says
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
While the passage in Corinthians is a passage that shows our differences, the passage in Galations shows our unity. My dad truly believed that in Christ, we were all brothers and sisters. We are all united. In that sense, there is no difference between anyone. No rich, no poor, no male, no female, no slave, no free – we are all one.
Unity. And Diversity. It takes everyone, with all of their different talents, working together.
Like the Bridge on the Enterprise. A diverse group of officers, each with their own skills and knowledge, working together in unity.
This is my first Father’s day without my Father. He would have enjoyed meeting Nichelle Nichols and listening to her stories. I thought of him when I was talking with her, and shared the story of him staying home from church to take care of me when I was sick, and watching Star Trek together.
I hope that where ever I am, I always remember the ideas that my daddy taught me.
No Greek, no Jew, no slave, no free, no male, no female – all one, all in unity. Yet at the same time, hand, eye, head, foot – all with our own talents and knowledge to bring to each other.
Loving your neighbor as yourself. Different, yet the same.
I think the world would be a much better place if we would only take the time to celebrate our differences, yet remember our sameness. Like my dad did. Like I hope I always do.
I love you, Daddy.