I was born in 1976 and by this time, Star Trek, The Original Series had already completed its three season run by several years. The strength of Trek-love it had left in its wake, however, had also by now brought about reruns, a cartoon series, and conventions. It’s hard to say exactly when my love of Star Trek began, but it was early enough that it seems to have been there my entire life.
I am Canadian, but of East-Indian descent. Having been born more than a decade after the landmark US Civil Rights Act of 1964, I took for granted the appearance of Nichelle Nichols in the series as both an equal and a leader. That was not to say that she did not have value in that role for me. Quite the contrary! Her value was in the very normalcy and unquestioned naturalness of her presence in this universe. Because I did not spend my time grappling with her, and therefore my own, right to exist in the universe, I could focus upon the far deeper philosophical conversations presented by the show.
This benefaction of normalcy was not an experience constrained to just myself. In 1967, after the first season of Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols had decided to leave the show to take up an offer of singing on Broadway… something that was a dream to her. But she was approached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., himself a huge Trekkie, who Nichelle recounted as saying,
“Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become an symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.”
Nichelle later said, “That got me thinking about how it would look for fans of colour around the country if they saw me leave. I saw that this was bigger than just me.”
And so it was that Nichelle Nichols gave up her dream of being a Broadway singer, in service of others, continuing in the world of Star Trek. She furthered this work when she took on a role with NASA during the late 1970s to the late 1980s. In this role, she recruited new astronaut candidates, many of which were women or members of racial and ethnic minorities, who went on to make history in their own right.
When I was approached to create the official painting of Nichelle for her upcoming farewell show, I was moved, to say the least. In many ways, my piece became a “thank you” to Nichelle for stepping up and into a role of service for so many, becoming a normalizing force so that they might have an unquestioned place in the world around them.
Interestingly, to say that my parents never quite understood my childhood love of Star Trek would, in many ways, be an understatement. They themselves had not been drawn to it as I had, and they could not as yet see the person I was and would eventually become. And to an even larger extent, they could not yet see just how much Star Trek would influence my evolution, in my mind, for the better.
Star Trek was built upon a strong philosophical foundation, and if there was one word that I could use to summarize that philosophy, it was “Nobility”. Gene Roddenberry’s vision centred firmly upon the exploration of two very important questions: 1. Who are we as human beings? and 2. How can we choose to rise to our highest natures in the face of our challenges and differences?
The depth and direction of this philosophical conversation spoke deeply to me then, as it does now. It has driven my ongoing desire to rise beyond my ego-based responses to challenges in life, and to live a life of responsibility and service to the world around me, much like Nichelle Nichols chose to do. It has challenged me to be kinder, more broad in my vision of possibilities and viewpoints, and to come to terms with the dualistic aspect of logic and emotion that rules my inner world. It has challenged me to become, I believe, a markedly better human being.
In my 40-something years on this planet we call earth, my love of Star Trek and its challenge to nobility has not diminished. In fact, it has grown over the years to the point that two and a half years ago, I was so inspired by this philosophical conversation, that I began a series of Spock, and eventually, Star Trek Character paintings, now officially licensed by CBS. The widespread enthusiasm with which these paintings were received across the globe revealed one very important thing to me: the love and desire for Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a noble society is still very much alive half a century on.