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R.I.P. Nichelle Nichols

By Derek May:

I got to meet her once. It was probably about 30 years ago now. I was just another kid at a Star Trek convention here in San Antonio (back when conventions were small, rare, and a lot less expensive). I don't remember much, to be honest, but I do remember her kindness and warmth. She autographed a picture for me, smiled, and wished me well, and I think she meant it.

Before that moment, she was mostly just the pretty actress from my favorite series. I respected her for that, of course, but I think the warmness she presented in person left an indelible mark. Because after that, slowly, I found myself drawn to discovering more about her impact on this fragile world.

I first learned what everyone learns, about how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself had convinced her to stay on this dinky, floundering sci-fi show that seemed to be bigger than its ratings suggested. That alone was pretty astounding.

And of course, she stayed to give the world its first televised interracial kiss. If you've seen it, it's surprisingly awkward for the outsized effect it had, but it made its mark nonetheless (and the stories Nichelle would later tell of it were even more incredible!).

But really, it would be years (decades, actually) before I learned of her even-more noteworthy contributions. This masquerading space officer in fact worked for NASA, helping select the women and other minorities who would actually go where she had only pretended: space. She may have inspired people such as Neil deGrass Tyson and Whoopie Goldberg to pursue science and acting, but here she was actually taking people out of this world!

She continued to make waves both large and small for the rest of her life. Sometimes it was reaching millions of viewers over the invisible airwaves, sometimes it was smiling at a small fan in Texas.

When celebrities pass, we often lament for a moment online and post memories of our favorite works. But now and again, there are those who truly moved beyond our screens and had real-world, long-lasting effects. Nichelle Nichols was one of these rare figures who may have been known for something singular but found a way to expand that into a reach that extended beyond time and space. She called upon us all to be better, to open our hearts and minds, and to allow everyone a chance to touch the stars.

I can't think of a better legacy for a communications officer.

This poem was found unattributed online, and our search for the poet came up empty. But if anyone knows the proper citation, please contact us so we can add it here.


Derek May, of San Antonio, TX, is Editor-in-Chief and occasional writer for Flapper Press. He has written nearly 50 movie reviews for and completed 13 original feature film and television screenplays, many of which have been winners or finalists in such prestigious competitions as the Walt Disney and Nicholl Fellowships, the Austin Film Festival, and the Creative World Awards. He served as a judge for 10 years for the Austin Film Festival and Texas Film Institute screenplay competitions. His latest project has been the highly acclaimed stop-motion animation fan series Highlander: Veritas, which will release its second season in July 2022.

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