Last Thursday Let Us Learn was fortunate enough to be given tickets to attend a private screening of Hidden Figures. Hearing of this opportunity the night before, I practically leaped out of my seat with glee. I’d been waiting to see this film since September when I first came across it on Space.com. I could hardly sleep that night out of sheer excitement and anticipation. It was finally happening.
My excitement was for one reason. I want to be an astronaut. Only recently have I been able to admit to people that this is what I want to do in the future. It’s not actually as crazy as it sounds (something I’ve had to tell myself time and time again), as I’ve always been good at science and am quite the daredevil. I’ve always worked hard at school, because education is one thing I could always control and found refuge in, which meant that I finished my A-levels last summer with straight As in chemistry, physics and maths. I was even offered a place at Manchester University to study physics – a leading institution in the subject with such history in the field of science, which is the reason I fell in love with it in the first place. Learning last year that I couldn’t take up my place that September, devastated me. Although I’ve lived in this country since I was 4 years old, I’m ineligible for a student loan, which means that my dream of going to university with my friends and studying the subject I so love, has been put out of my reach for now.
Despite this setback, my passion for all things space has not been dulled, so I was very, VERY excited to see this long-awaited film.
The journey into central London that morning from my home in zone 5, for the screening, seemed to last for hours. As I walked in to the cinema, NASA top on and popcorn in hand, I could see the movie posters and cutouts in the distance. One of the other Let Us Learn campaigners, Lizzie, had to calm me down before I got too excited. When we walked in, the first thing I saw was the astronaut suit on the chair. A real-life astronaut suit! Right there in front of me. The day was already much better than I was expecting.
We finally got into the movie theatre and for the next two hours I was absolutely captivated. I cried, I laughed and I gasped. Seeing the lengths Mary Jackson went to be able to attend college to become an engineer really resonated with me. Because, just as she was not scared to fight the power and make a change, I have joined the fight with Let Us Learn to do the same and make a way for anyone who wants to attend university and reach their potential to have the opportunity to do so.
Not only did I get to watch this epic tale of three of the most inspiring women in science, I also got to meet a few in person, too. After the film, there was a Q&A with a panel of female scientists who are leaders in their fields, including Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Dr Christine Waata. Hearing them speak, I was hanging on their every word. They were where I saw myself in the future: successful, strong and making a difference. As an aspiring astronaut, listening to them taught me that my dream could one day become a reality.
I was heartbroken when I wasn’t able to go to study at Manchester last September, and currently have no concrete solution in sight. However, I have not given up hope. One reason is because of all of the amazing people I have met through the Let Us Learn campaign, who are in similar situations to me. We keep each other going despite the challenges and uncertainty we may face. Since joining the campaign last year, I have been part of the team going into schools and colleges, spreading awareness of this issue. I have also been involved in the universities campaign, which is helping set up scholarships at various universities; and much, much more that I’m proud to have helped achieve. We are already making a difference, with a number of universities recognising our situation and taking steps to introduce special funding schemes. Manchester, unfortunately, not being one of them as of yet.
The women whose stories feature in Hidden Figures, have shown us that being a black woman in the white man’s world that is STEM, isn’t impossible. A challenge, maybe, but a challenge we CAN overcome. I cannot express how truly inspired I am at this moment. So I say, let’s do this! #StillHiddenFigures