While many young children often dream of becoming an astronaut one day, certain obstacles tend to get in their way: they might not get the grades, they might become more interested in other fields or they simply might just choose to go into an easier profession. However, Dr. Mae Jemison managed to take these obstacles head-on (and many more, as an African-American woman in a STEM field) to become the first Black female astronaut in space.
Dr. Jemison delivered a Keynote Address in Pick-Staiger on Monday night to round out NU's MLK celebration. After opening musical performances, she spoke passionately to the packed concert hall about her experience as a young child during the heart of the Civil Rights movement, her work in the space field and how the U.S. can continue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today.
"The question becomes, 'What will you do with your place at the table?'" Jemison said during her speech. "Honoring his legacy is one of the first ways you can unabashedly begin to do this."
Jemison spoke about how many view MLK as a peaceful figure who dreamt of peaceful integration among black and whites. While he did call for peaceful protesting, Jemison and other speakers at the event reminded the audience to remember he was actually quite a radical figure who worked tirelessly to overcome obstacles and make society better for future generations.
"Why do we celebrate his birthday more than any other day?" Evanston mayor Hon. Elizabeth Tisdahl asked, noting that the city and NU had two weeks' worth of programming to celebrate MLK. "It's because we haven't gotten to the promised land, but that's where we're trying to go."
Jemison, who grew up during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s on the South Side of Chicago, spoke about the importance of "moving beyond the dream" that MLK put in motion. When she was born, there were less than 50 African-Americans employed by NASA, and President Lyndon B. Johnson had explicitly told NASA not to send female astronauts into space, and cracking into the world of male astronauts seemed impossible. However, by the time she entered the field in 1987, things were beginning to change.
"The reason we're not in space now is beccause we left some people out before," Jemison said. "How we do extraordinary things is by including the full width and breadth of talent we have."
Jemison showcased dozens of her colleagues she'd worked with over the years in her slideshow, many of which were black and/or female and also managed to accomplish great things in space. Jemison herself has been the recipient of countless awards and recognitions, including being inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame. Notably, she was also in an episode of Star Trek in 1993.
"As an advocate for diversity in STEM myself," National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) president and McCormick junior Bobbie Burgess said, "I was honored to hear Dr. Jemison speak tonight."
Jemison currently works with an organization looking to achieve interstellar space travel within the next 100 years. She said she also hopes to continue fighting for diversity in STEM fields, across both race and gender lines, and make it possible for others to "move beyond the dream" like she was able to.