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‘Hidden Figures’ author as keynote speaker for Black History Month
On Feb. 8, best-selling author Margot Lee Shetterly addressed a crowded audience in the Burt Kahn Court to talk about her book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race.”
Shetterly went into detail on why she was inspired to write the true accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, the brilliant women who were shadowed from the limelight for decades.
Following her speech, she interacted with the audience with a Q&A session and a book signing.
A Virginia native, Shetterly is a graduate from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. She studied finance and media, and founded the English-language magazine in Mexico. Additionally, Shetterly also founded The Human Computer Project in 2013. Shetterly achieved many feats, and her book publication is no exception.
Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs Karla Natale helped in organizing the event by collaborating with the Cultural and Global Engagement Office.
“We basically work every year with the Cultural and Global Engagement Office on a Black History month keynote speaker and we look every year to what’s going on currently, popular figures that might be in current events,” Natale said. “This year we took a look and saw that the book came out, that the movie was going to be released in January and that it was a great tie in timing wise with when we would look to have a lecture.”
Natale said she believes the book tells an inspirational story about women-minority women in particular- and can be a tool for other people to follow their dreams.
“It was just kind of a no-brainer to just say this would be a great story to bring to our students and to make sure they’re aware as well” Natale said.
Shetterly grew up in the city of Hampton-the same city Vaughn, Jackson, Johnson and Darden lived in- and she never truly realized their contributions to the space program until several years ago.
“The thing that pushed me to write [the book] was my father talking about the women that he worked with and my husband then saying, well how come I don’t know this history?” Shetterly said. “So that was really the spark to get me to say, well, I don’t really know this history even though I grew up in Hampton.”
From that point forward, in 2010, Shetterly began the process of writing “Hidden Figures.” Throughout the years, she researched information about the lives of these four women.
“I think the very first meeting with Katherine Johnson, my mom just called her up and said, hey can we come over and that was it,” Shetterly said. “They were my neighbors, they were all apart of our community so they were just like normal people who lived in my community.”
From the time of World War II all the way to the Space Race, Vaughn, Jackson, Johnson and Darden were the “human computers” who were able to succeed in helping send astronauts like Neil Armstrong and John Glenn into space.
Shetterly said throughout her writing process, she was confident these women’s stories would eventually present itself into a motion-picture, yet it was still a thrilling experience to see that dream come to life.
“It’s been this very huge deal and it’s very exciting and a little overwhelming but I’m just very excited and I just think it’s a great job. I like the movie, I think they did a very good job,” Shetterly said.
Shetterly purpose for writing this book was the desire to give these women the recognition they deserved by telling their story and thanks to her efforts, “Hidden Figures” became the No. 1 New York times best seller and its film adaption ranked No. 1 at the box office for 2 weeks in a row since its official US release on Dec. 25.
The story of the amazing feats these women accomplished inspired many people like Sophomore Luna Charles.
“I truly loved the event. I was really satisfied with everything that she said. I felt like it was very moving and inspirational, especially being a woman of color,” Charles said. “I want to be able to say that I am making a change, I’m really making a difference in the world just by doing something in the world that I’m really truly passionate about.”
Shetterly said the stories of Vaughn, Johnson, Jackson and Darden can encourage others to continue chasing their dreams no matter the challenges they face.
“I think one of the morals of the story is, life is tough, there are things that happen to you that you have no control over,” Shetterly said. “There are people who will not like you simply because of the way you look or whatever, but you just have to keep moving and that’s what these women did.”