I met Ray Tesi on Instagram of all places. At the time, my Instagram account, on which I was posting images of my Spock art, was anonymous. He sent me a message that simply read, “Where are you?” I’d like to say it was the strangest message I’d gotten to date on Instagram, but it was not. A stranger one yet read, “Who are you?”… and that message had come from an old friend of Leonard Nimoy’s.
I responded to Ray that I was in British Columbia, Canada. To which he replied that he was having an open house at his Star Trek TOS filmset (then called Stage 9 Studios) in Kingsland, Georgia. He had been hoping that I could have a showing of my Trek Art there, but we both agreed that this was too great a travel to undertake…especially with short notice.
Soon, however, Ray and I worked out a way for me to show my art ‘virtually’, wherein I, and my pieces, were ‘beamed in’ via Skype to his event. It was great, but for the fact that I myself could not see the fans there (just the nature of the technology at the time).
That was October 2018. And in early 2019, Ray decided to open up the set (now called Neutral Zone Studios) to fans once more. He again asked me to present on my work, and the process of becoming licensed by CBS and I promised that this time, I would not miss the opportunity to be there in person, to see both the set and the fans!
I flew down to Orlando, Florida a few days before the Neutral Zone Fan Appreciation event. Just before my arrival, Ray texted me, “Do you want to meet Nichelle?”. He was referring to Nichelle Nichols, the Trek legend who played Uhura in the original series, and whom he happened to be hosting at his booth at MegaCon. There was only one answer possible for me… YES!
I landed at the airport, headed straight to my hotel to check in, and then immediately headed out to find my way to the Orange County Convention Centre where MegaCon was being held. There, Ray introduced me to Nichelle, showing her a photo of the portrait I had painted for her Farewell Convention coming up in May 2020. Her eyes widened as she looked up from the photo at me, “You’re FANTASTIC!” she said. It was surreal hearing this level of enthusiastic praise from her! She was incredibly gracious, engaged, and genuinely affectionate with me. I sat with her for a bit and we talked about my gratitude for what she had done for so many, about her journey and my work (which she insisted on getting a print of and which I have promised she will). The connection was so comfortable and genuine… like sitting down with my grandmother… an unexpected gift.
A few days later, my husband and I drove from Orlando to Kingsland, Georgia amidst wildfires which shut down the I-95 for a good time and distance, causing our travel time to triple. Despite our late arrival (just before midnight), Ray himself met us at the front desk when we arrived.
Over the next three days of Fan Appreciation Weekend 2, fans flooded in to visit the filmset and to meet the presenters (Vic Mignogna, Michele Specht, Chris Doohan, Lisa Hansel, Sarai Duenas, Jack McDivitt and myself). They came from all walks of life, places, ages, and stages, but their smiles and love of the world created by Star Trek moved beyond all of this. I was amazed by the ease with which everyone interacted with each other, despite their superficial differences. In fact, those differences seemed to add to the relationships that blossomed at the event!
Recently, with the divisive political climate in the US that appears to be spreading to other countries, the breakdown in civility on social media, and other global issues, I admittedly have experienced a dulling of my faith in humanity. But the experience I had in the Trek world, the manner in which everyone welcomed and respected each other, restored my faith in humanity in a way I did not see coming.
Reflecting on my time spent with the fans, my fellow presenters, Ray, and Nichelle, I was struck by a thought… this was Gene Roddenberry’s vision come to life! Gene created Star Trek because he believed that humanity was in its infancy and that it could grow into something noble, inclusive, and positively far reaching. He believed that we’d be able to not only tolerate each other’s differences, but take joy in it!
“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas, and differences in life forms. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.” – Gene Roddenberry
Was this not Gene’s vision being demonstrated by all of these Trekkies? Was this not the true voyage that he had hoped we’d embark upon? I believe it is. And I, myself, am grateful to those who uphold Gene Roddenberry’s vision by the virtue of their humanity. After all, I believe an evolved and noble human race is a final frontier that’s worth exploring!