Joint Staff celebrates black history

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One of the women featured in the popular book “Hidden Figures” was a speaker at an event celebrating Black History Month at Joint Staff Suffolk on Tuesday.

Retired NASA aerospace engineer and mathematician Dr. Christine Darden was the first African-American woman to be promoted into senior executive services at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

Her early work revolutionized aerodynamics design in the 1960s, which lead her to become one of NASA’s experts on supersonic flight and sonic booms.


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Darden’s story was featured in the Margo Shetterly book that was adapted into a critically acclaimed 2016 film. She said that she wants her story to be an inspiration for young women students to follow them into these fields.

On Tuesday, Darden was one of the featured speakers for a ceremony at the Lakeview Parkway Joint Staff complex. The theme was “The Untold Stories of Hampton Roads’ Finest,” and there were video presentations and guest speakers.

More than 100 military personnel and civilian staff listened as speakers discussed their pioneering achievements as African-Americans in their respective fields. U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Morina Foster organized the event and was impressed by the audience.

“I thought the turnout was outstanding,” Foster said. “A lot of people gave up lunch time to attend.”

Darden received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics at Hampton University in 1962 and an doctorate in engineering at George Washington University in 1985.

“I fell in love with mathematics in my 11th-grade geometry class,” Darden said.

She hopes her story will help other young women to fall in love with math, too.

“We’re all hoping they stay inspired,” Darden said. “We all need role models. If I can inspire them, that’s a proud moment.”

Foster said she’s passionate about organizing events that highlight African-American history locally.

“We can look right here in Hampton Roads,” she said.

Brenda Andrews, president and publisher of the New Journal & Guide in Norfolk, said that it’s her newspaper’s responsibility to record history as it’s happening and to make sure that African-Americans can tell their stories.

“People have to stories to tell,” Andrews said. “People need to be heard.”

The New Journal & Guide is Virginia’s oldest weekly newspaper for the African-American community. This month marks its 117th anniversary, along with Andrews’ 35th year as owner.

Andrews said that journalists can’t tell the news as it should be told if they don’t own the outlets.

“Black press has always been the voice that’s allowed the black community to tell its stories,” Andrews said.

From the Tuskegee Airmen to the women portrayed in Hidden Figures, she said, the accomplishments of African-American culture today need to be recorded for the inspiration of future generations.

“We’re recording black history every week we put out a publication,” Andrews said. “However people reacted and responded will be history in 50 years. The black press offers what it means to be black at that point in time.”

“We are black history,” she said.