“I knew she was going to be difficult to talk about,” Sonequa Martin-Green said tearfully. The ‘Star Trek’ actress opened up about the late Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers on the same show more than five decades earlier. “She’s actually 1,000% a hero.”
at the age of 89. She was one of the first black actresses to star in a television series and paved the way for countless others. But for Martin-Green, the connection to Nichols runs deep. Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, the first black female captain in Star Trek history – something that might not have been possible without the role of Nichols before her.
Nichols inspired her not only as an actress, but also as an advocate for women and girls, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math — aka STEM.
After “Star Trek,” Nichols devoted her time to recruiting women and people of color to apply to become NASA astronauts.
Decades later, Martin-Green is working to help women and girls in the STEM field as well. She has partnered with Million Girls Moonshot, an organization that aims to get 1 million more girls into STEM learning opportunities and programs. Frito-Lay has donated $100,000 to further the program’s mission of sending girls to Space Camp.
Martin-Green surprised 16 girls, the first group the organization sent to Space Camp, and presented them with ceremonial stars named after them. “I was so excited for them to see my face and my love and support for them,” she said. “I really hope this is an experience that they carry with them, something they always remember. I hope it gets them on their way.”
“There’s such a shortage of women in STEM careers and especially Black women, Latina women, Indigenous women, it’s 10 percent in STEM careers today,” Martin-Green told CBS News. “So we need more of us out there and that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to do that.”
Martin-Green said programs like this, which aim to recruit girls, wouldn’t be possible without Nichols. “It’s really all because of her. Because she was the one who helped integrate NASA back then,” she said, crying at the thought of Nichols.
“She’s the one who said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t see what I need to see. I don’t see equality here.’ And she devoted the rest of her life — from 1977 to 2015 — to setting up those programs at NASA,” Martin-Green said. “And now we’re here and these girls get to have that experience. And I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Now Martin-Green hopes to continue the Nichols legacy – on and off the screen. “I know she said while she was here, ‘If I’ve inspired you at all, all I ask is that you continue that legacy.’ So of course now all of us who have been inspired by her. And I hope these girls can too.”
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