Let your work speak for you
Who has seen the movie Hidden Figures? Well if you haven’t or you want a reason to watch it again, I am going to try my best to fish out the hidden message from this movie so we can apply it to our lives. I love covering underdog stories here at Let's Talk Nation. There is just something about these sorts of stories that always leave me encouraged. This incredible movie was released back in 2016, and it won multiple awards including MTV award for best hero, BET award for best movie and SAG award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.
Image courtesy of Hidden Figures movie (The stars at the SAG award ceremony)
Based on true events and a book by non-fiction author Margot Lee Shetterly, this story started off in White sulfur springs, West Virginia in 1926. Although this story followed the brilliant minds of three women (Mary Jackson depicted by Janelle Monae, Dorothy Vaughan by Octavia Spencer and Katherine Johnson by Taraji P. Henson) that made a difference during their time with NASA, I am just going to focus mostly on Katherine Johnson.
Katherine was a gifted child with impeccable math skills. Her parents were advised to enroll her in a school for specially gifted children since she was smart beyond her years. As she grew older she was then portrayed by the talented academy award nominee, Taraji P Henson. Katherine and her friends worked for NASA. The women worked as ‘computers’ which meant they calculated mathematics which enabled the launch and landing of space programs.
Because they were black, they were referred to as ‘colored computers’ they did all the calculations by hand and worked on special projects. There was a huge segregation that went on in NASA and the United States at the time. The black people were separated from the whites. They had their own entry and exit points, together with bathrooms in the NASA facility as portrayed in the movie.
An opportunity opened up for a mathematician who could handle analytic geometry in the space task group department within NASA, and Katherine’s name was mentioned as she was one of the brightest at what she did. She was then given the opportunity and was loaded down with do’s and don’ts-You must dress modestly, no jewelry, don’t talk to the boss except he talks to you (who is he?, Jesus?).
Her supervisor told her not to embarrass her because they had never had a ‘colored’ work in that department before. The supervisor also doubted she would last long there. As soon as Katherine got into the office to what seemed like a sea of white males, a trash can was handed to her to empty, because they thought she was the janitor (the nerve!)
Image courtesy of Hidden Figures movie
The men stared at her like she was the 7th wonder of the world. She was immediately thrust into a high-pressure work environment and the boss (Mr. Harrison, played by the amazing Kevin Costner) told her to check the math of the other staffers. If you ask me I would say he took a liking to her immediately. The lead engineer (Jim Parsons) was somewhat mad that Katherine had to crosscheck his work, he felt insulted because he was an engineer and she was a darn ‘computer.'
One time she had to use the bathroom and asked Mr. Harrison’s executive assistant where it was, the assistant refused to tell her, claiming she didn’t know where it was located. So Katherine had to go all the way to her old building just to use the ‘colored’ ladies bathroom. This is absurd right? To think that it happened back in the day, I can’t even imagine that happening now. Although people still suffer some level of discrimination, but at least not up to the capacity portrayed in the film.
Katherine was very hardworking.
She had to give her work her all, because she was a single mom of three lovely girls. She lost her husband earlier on and needed to do everything within her power to cater for her girls, even if it meant taking crap from work. She was so good at what she did, that she was one time asked if she was a Russian spy because of how smart and intuitive she was. Bear in mind that she had to work ten times harder than her male counterparts because one; she was a woman and two; a black woman with no engineering background whatsoever.
Image courtesy of Hidden Figures movie
As time progressed she always had to go to the bathroom at her old building where she could use the colored only bathroom and whenever her boss looked for her, he couldn’t find her. So one day she disappeared for an ample amount of time and he got pissed because whenever he needed her, she wasn’t there. He didn’t know she had to go all the way to the other side of the facility just to relieve herself. She had to open up to her boss informing him that there was no bathroom in the building for her to use. Then she lost it! She told him about all the segregation she suffered. And he was speechless. After letting all the frustration off her chest, she left because she figured after her outburst that she was done for the day, at least in that department.
Mr. Harrison then took it upon himself to take the sign off her coffee jug that said ‘colored’ and the signs from the restrooms that said colored as well. He did his own part to put an end to the disparity at least within his department. The lead engineer didn’t want her to be a part of the closed door meetings or even have her name on the reports she worked on- He will have her work on reports and type them up, then take the credit for the work she did. Their boss overruled his decision for her not to attend the meeting and she was given the all clear to be a part of it. She needed to be present at these gatherings so she could do her job effectively.
Katherine proved herself in the meeting that day and all the top players in NASA were pleased with her contribution. When the special project she was working on eventually came to an end, she returned to her old job as a computer. But things started falling apart without her in that department, and the astronaut wasn’t going to make a move without her go ahead. After she confirmed the numbers on a particular project, she gave her go ahead and they launched their friendship 7 project.
Because of the strides, Katherine made in her calculations, the astronaut John Glenn was able to complete 3 of his 7 orbit flight; the mission turned the tide in the space race, propelling NASA to the moon in 1969. Mary Jackson also went ahead to become NASA’s and America’s first female African American aeronautical engineer, while Dorothy Vaughan then became NASA’s first African American supervisor just as she had dreamed. She was also regarded as one of the most brilliant minds at NASA.
Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson who graduated as the first black female aeronautical engineer
Katherine Johnson went on to perform calculations for the Apollo II MISSION to the moon and the space shuttle. In 2016, NASA dedicated the Katherine G. Johnson Computational building in honor of her groundbreaking work in space travel. And at age 97 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and celebrated her 56th wedding anniversary with her second husband Jim Johnson according to the synopsis at the end of the film.
The real Katherine Johnson (Image gotten from the movie)
Let your work speak for you; Katherine was underestimated because of her gender and skin color, even her new boss's assistant who was also female didn't think she was going to last up to a week in that department. Her male counterparts had no regard for her, but she did not let all of that deter her. She knew the stuff she was made up and kept on believing in herself. She kept working hard and in the end, her work spoke for her. The Bible in Matthew 5:16, records Jesus saying “Let your light shine before men, so they can see your good work and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus in a sense was saying- focus on working on your craft so well, that people will begin to see the stuff you are made of and give thanks to God.
You can’t be mediocre and great at the same time, if people refuse to see your worth, don’t take it to heart. As long as you believe in what you are doing, one day your work will speak for you and they will be drawn to you, just as it happened for Katherine in this story.
Katherine Johnson went from being the hidden underdog in that department and in NASA really, to becoming the backbone that held the department together. Thankfully she had a great boss in her corner, who didn’t look down on her abilities.
Taraji P. Henson & Kevin Costner (Katherine and Mr. Harrison)
“Two people are better off than one because they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who is alone when he falls, is in real trouble." Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Have a community of great people to do life with; although I did not focus on the other two stars in this story- Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan because I don’t want to give everything away; Katherine had her friends who she could share her burdens with. They shared their struggles, and also pushed each other to be better. That is why I believe they all became great achievers in the end. God did not create anyone to be an island; He created us and placed us in communities because He clearly knows the importance of human interaction, and the need for a group of people to do life together. Because when one person is weak, the other person can pick up the slack. So just a few good people in your corner and you will be good.
Katherine and her friends (Mary & Dorothy)
My desire is for everyone to live the lives God has blessed us with to the fullest and it starts with believing completely in the gifts and abilities that you have, because if you don’t see your worth, who else will? I love it when phenomenal stories like this one is told, because it helps us realize that we too can make a difference regardless of the opposition, we might face.
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