“Star Trek’s” Sonequa Martin-Green continues the legacy of Nichelle Nichols

“I knew it would be hard to talk about her,” Sonequa Martin-Green said with tears in her eyes. The “Star Trek” actress was talking about the late Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers on the same show more than five decades earlier. “He’s very much a 1,000% hero.”

Nichols died this week at the age of 89. She was one of the first black actresses to star in a television series, paving 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 Nichols’ role before her.

There are many parallels between Nichols and Martin-Green – from their historical roles onwards

There are many parallels between Nichols and Martin-Green – from their historical roles onwards

Not only did Nichols inspire her as an actress, but also as an advocate for women and girls, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math – also known as STEM.

After “Star Trek,” Nichols devoted her time to recruiting women and people of color to apply to become astronauts at NASA.

Decades later, Martin-Green works to help women and girls in STEM. She has partnered with Million Girls Moonshot, an organization that aims to engage 1 million more girls in STEM learning opportunities and programs. Frito-Lay donated $100,000 to further the program’s mission and send girls to Space Camp.

Martin-Green surprised 16 girls, the first group the organization is sending to Space Camp, by presenting them with ceremonial stars bearing their names. “I was so excited for them to see my face and see my love and support for them,” she said. “I really hope it’s an experience they carry with them, something they always remember. I hope it sets them on their way.”

Sonequa Martin-Green slowly remembered

Sonequa Martin-Green slowly remembered

“There’s such a lack of women in STEM careers and especially black women, Latinas, Native women, it’s 10 percent in STEM careers today,” Martin-Green told CBS News. “Well, we need more of us out there and that’s why I jumped at the chance to do this.”

Martin-Green said programs like this one aimed at recruiting girls wouldn’t be possible without Nichols. “It’s all because of her, really. Because she’s the one who helped integrate NASA back then,” he said, crying at the thought of Nichols.

“She’s the one who said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not seeing what I need to see.’ I don’t see equality here.” And she dedicated the rest of her life to that — from 1977 to 2015 — establishing these programs at NASA,” Martin-Green said. “And now we’re here, and these girls can have this experience. And I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

Now, Martin-Green hopes to carry on Nichols’ legacy – on and off screen. “I know he said when he was still here, ‘If I’ve inspired you at all, I’m just asking you to carry on that legacy.’ Well, of course now all of us have been inspired by her. And I hope these girls can do it too.”

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