“Star Trek’s” Sonequa Martin-Green carries on Nichelle Nichols’ legacy

“I knew this was going to be hard to talk about her,” Sonequa Martin-Green said with tears in her eyes. The “Star Trek” actress spoke about the late Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers on the same show more than five decades earlier. “She’s actually 1000% a hero.”

Nichols died this week at the age of 89. She was one of the first Black actresses to star in a television series, and paved 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 and beyond

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

Not only did Nichols inspire her as an actress, but as an advocate for women and girls, especially in 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 as well. She has partnered with Million Girls Moonshot, an organization that aims to get 1 million more girls into STEM learning opportunities and programs. Frito-Lay has donated $100,000 to further the program’s mission and to send girls to Space Camp.

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

Sonequa Martin-Green remembered late

Sonequa Martin-Green remembered late

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

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

“She’s the one who said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t see 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 — to 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 continue Nichols’ legacy – on and off screen. “I know she said when she was still here, ‘If I’ve inspired you at all, I just ask that you carry on this legacy.’ So of course now all of us who have been inspired by her. And I hope these girls can do it too.”

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