5 Gems From 'Hidden Figures' Every Black Millennial Needs In Their Career

No spoilers, I promise.

Hidden Figures computers
Photo Credit: Photo: 20th Century Fox / Hidden Figures

| January 14 2017,

05:08 am

Back in November, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Hidden Figures star, Janelle Monae about the impact and historical value of the black women who were mathematicians portrayed in the film. In all her enthusiasm about the then upcoming release, Janelle told me, "I think we have heard and seen some of the same stories recycled and regurgitated. This is fresh. We get the opportunity to be inspired by new women. These women went through obstacles. They didn't have it easy and I think that all of us can relate to that." In our interview, Janelle referred to the film's protagonists, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Mary Jackson (Janelle) as her heroes. 

Once Janelle and I said our thank yous and ended the call, my curiosity further peaked about the soon-to-be blockbuster film. Were these women true superstars or did Janelle just tell me this because, well, she's one-third of the principle cast? No, she was right. These women are heroic and vital to American history. Hidden Figures introduces us to the real life unsung heroes of NASA.The title and untold story are a reminder of the blemishes on America's resume and the repeated erasure of black women's contributions. 

                 Photo: Hidden Figures

If you're early in your career or even at mid-level, feeling defeated by nonstop adversaries in your respective fields, then hear me when I say, Hidden Figures is a mandatory viewing. 

For those of you that lived the nightmare called 2016, you could probably use a beam of hope to douse the flames from a year of confusion and frustration. Less than a month ago, a dear friend of mine from college died in a car crash and a few days before New Year's Eve I experienced a disruption in my professional life. The universe showed its player hating self. I had a choice to either wallow in despair or drown my sorrows in my favorite dark liquor as my best friend and I counted down the last moments of 2016 at a party. I did a little of both. But the next day, January 1, 2017, I realized I couldn't start the New Year as I did years before. You know the "new year, new me" routine. 

I needed a jolt of energy, something that could sustain me well beyond a month of broken resolutions. 

Just as my best friend and I were about to hit the highway in Atlanta to return home,  I pulled over and browsed Fandango to see if any local theaters offered an early release of Hidden Figures. I wanted to experience the same feeling that Janelle had described in our interview. We were in luck. There was a theater with a showing to being in less than 30 minutes. Once we got lost in the parking garage, ran in the rain, stood in the long line and finally made it inside the theater, I sat down with the expectation of more than just great entertainment. I needed a life changing movie watching experience. I got just that.

And I want the same for you. I'll spare you any spoilers and, instead, share a few notable themes from the courageous women portrayed in the film that will serve as motivation in professional decision making. 


1. Be unafraid to stand out.

                 Photo: Hidden Figures

Black women did the calculations to propel American men into space. Seriously, reach for the stars in all you do. The working class African Americans of the 1950's and '60s were direct descendants of parents and grandparents born at a time when learning how to read or write could result in a brutal beating, or worse. Therefore, this generation had all the odds stacked against them, especially with the effects of Jim Crow running rampant in the South. Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary were among the great thinkers ahead of their time. 

And so are you. Woke and unapologetic. There will be plenty of instances where you'll start a new job and be the only black person on the payroll. Look beyond what they see. They'll ask about your hair texture. Why Donald Glover gave a shout out to Migos during his Golden Globes speech. Your personal politics on Donald Trump and President Obama will be brought to the table and blah blah blah. They're doing it just to make you feel uncomfortable and ready to resign for that matter. Don't waver. Show what you know. Had the women of Hidden Figures backed down and shunned away their genius all because their white colleagues tried to shut them down, who knows where the country would be in the space race.

You earned your spot. Rattle their curiosity about what it means to be a black millennial.  

2. Stay ready so that you won't have to get ready.


                 Photo: Hidden Figures

One of the greatest lessons to be learned in your 20's is that people do not have to like you. You can have the spirit of Gandi and a heart like Mother Teresa, and still, someone will find fault in you. The women in Hidden Figures each had their own set of obstacles to overcome by both the system and racist colleagues. Katherine knew more analytical information and configurations than most of the white men in any room she ever occupied. Her paycheck did not reflect this nor did her job title. In several occasions in the film, her presence went unacknowledged and unwanted.

Through all the prejudices, Katherine went above and beyond the call of duty. And so should you.

You can show up first and leave last, but don't expect anyone to throw confetti. You can exceed the core qualifications listed in your job description without a "thank you". You might even make your boss look good on several occasions without a single moment of recognition or a pay increase. That's the way it goes. 

What are you going to do about it?  Slack off and reject the system? 

Positive reinforcement is a beautiful thing, however, don't get into the mindset of expecting a participation trophy in all you do. There's a job to be done and sadly sometimes your best won't be enough. More than ever, Americans are revolutionizing the workforce by venturing into the entrepreneur world or taking a leap of faith into untapped industries.  We hear talk about quitting miserable jobs and finding happiness in another career. The fact of the matter is, not everyone has the flexibility to up and quit. Often times you have to create a professional situation that works for you. Here is the time for you to check your motivation. If you're reaching for excellence only to be complimented, you've already screwed yourself. Do a job well because you want to grow and get better. Even if your hard work goes unnoticed, work anyway. In the end, you're sharpening your expertise and will soon receive the biggest payoff you never thought possible. Tough it out. You never know how strong you are until you have to flex on folks.

Katherine's hard work made history all because she was ready when her time came to shine. Imagine your own possibilities if you continue to pursue greatness at every given opportunity (even the unfair ones).

3. Challenge the challenge.


                 Photo: Hidden Figures


Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary all shared an eagerness to advance at NASA. While they all began pretty low on the totem pole in comparison to their white counterparts, the women showed up every day with a desire to do better than the day before. When an opportunity came knocking, each woman presented her best self. Mary, in particular, fought tooth and nail to become an engineer, but two small things stood in her way; her gender and her race. This occupation was once reserved for white males.  Because she lacked the education, she was initially shut out from pursuing the job. Despite Brown v. Board of Education, a number of Southern states refused to comply with desegregation. Virginia, the birthplace of America's space program, was not too keen on mixing of the races, especially in schools. Mary was crafty enough to find a way around it. When her time came to make her case, she did just that. 

Institutional racism is alive and well in 2017. There is no doubt about it. You know the good old saying that to be black in America, "you have to do twice as much to get half as much as they have." If there's a door in your way? Knock that bitch down. Wrong door? Build your own. No matter what they tell you, you deserve more. There's beauty in opposition. Go after that promotion, take additional classes, build alliances. Do what you need to do to better yourself. They want you to get complacent. Don't do it. Always remember, you are greater than the forces that are against you. If you're doing valuable work that feels rejected, find solace in knowing that breakthrough is around the corner. Don't back down.

4. Find your allies.


                 Photo: Hidden Figures

The women of Hidden Figures had each other's backs. Because of her intellect and mathematic genius, Katherine Johnson became the breakout star at NASA so much so that John Glenn trusted only her to verify his calculations before setting out on what would become America's first successful, solo mission. And who was there cheering her on along the way? Mary and Dorothy. They weren't criticizing her growth, because, in all actuality, Katherine's success meant a leap forward for everyone.  These women challenged and motivated one another to succeed. 

The future depended on them.

Another black colleague in the same position as you is not a threat. I repeat. Another black colleague in the same position as you is not a threat. When you finally get a seat at the table, start building your own and pull up a chair for your peers who have been shut out. We are stronger when we work together. 

5. Embrace disappointments.


                 Photo: Hidden Figures

I'll be brief on this one. Your setbacks are designed to give you perspective and humility for greatness that is on the way. What's for you will never pass you. Know that your frustration is valid. Use it to your advantage. Tap into the energy needed to remove every hurdle in your way. Hidden Figures will remind you that you're worth the fight. Fight for your place in this world. Don't give up on you. When unfair surprises and disappointments happen, as they will, use these moments as an eye opener to get you to where you need to be in life. 

If you've ever been demoted, undervalued and underestimated, Hidden Figures is for you. Your intellect matters.

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