I remember watching the movie Hidden Figures for the first time during a trip to Houston. Since I rarely go to the movie theater, I had missed it’s initial release and had to wait until it was available on cable. I remember the buzz about the movie and the incredible women they were depicting. And I remember thinking, “why hadn’t I heard this story before?”
Now I know through experience that public school education doesn’t offer much in the way of black history. But I’m also a product of an awesome HBCU, THE Howard University (the Real HU)! Why hadn’t I heard of these women working and contributing in NASA before? I put those thoughts aside as I got into the movie, watching Taraji, Octavia, Janelle and the rest of the cast tell the incredible story of some extraordinarily intelligent, innovative and courageous women!
I was so proud and inspired by their story, their work, their accomplishments! But I was feeling something else at the same time. Anger!
Angry at the fact that I was just now hearing about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Angry because their contributions had been willfully hidden from NASA’s long history. Angry because of the women and girls, like me, that were denied the opportunity to learn from their stories and achievements.
This is nothing new though. I remember walking the campus at Howard for the first time during a visit on a cold day in January of ’94. I learned more about my history reading the dedication plaques on the buildings than in my previous 12 years of grade school! As with most HBCU’s, each building is named after a notable person in black history, Douglas Hall, Childer’s Hall, Tubman Quadrangle, etc. If Howard taught me anything that first visit, it was how much I didn’t know!
And now here I was, over 30 years later, still learning our history! Still finding “Hidden Figures”. I thought back to the girl I was in highschool, smart but unsure of myself, loved math and English but often bored with school work. What could I have become if I had heard of these contributions of black women in NASA!! What could I have been inspired to do, to create or to invent if I had known who came before me?
I didn’t realize it at first, but this is the inspiration behind my art and my business. I love photography, my dad put a camera in my hand when I was about 8 years old and I’ve been hooked ever since. But when I decided to make photography a business, I knew I wanted to photograph black women. I knew I wanted to market to black women and showcase black women!
I’m gen-x, I grew up before the internet. I grew up in a time where we were just beginning to see ourselves in main stream media. But it was usually someone else controlling our stories and how we were seen. Now more than ever, we have the tools to share our own stories!
See, it’s not enough to do great work. Sharing your story and image can inspire the next generation to do great things as well. That becomes your legacy! As black women, it is critical that we show up and be seen. It is a must that we tell our own stories and help other women tell theirs. We have to control the narrative so we can share how we want and to who we want.
My tool is photography and publishing. It allows me to help black women craft an image that represents who they are and what they do. These images will live forever, they become apart of their narrative and legacy. I love what I do because I get to help black women Show up and Be Seen in a way that will inspire generation after generation of black women and girls!
The future is up to us, we are hidden no more. Will you Show Up and Be Seen?