Inspiring Girls to Reach for the Stars

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Photo courtesy of the LA Promise Fund for Public SchoolsStriving to inspire girls to reach for the stars – literally and figuratively – Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Grammy winner Pharrell Williams and Grammy nominee Janelle Monae in screening the acclaimed film Hidden Figures to nearly 10,000 middle and high school girls from across Los Angeles County.

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Octavia Spencer. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The LA Promise Fund for Public Schools sponsored the screening for Girls Build LA, an initiative that challenges middle and high school girls to better their communities. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, through a motion approved in September 2016, committed funding from the Board of Supervisors to transport the students from their respective campuses to USC’s Galen Center. He said, “It is important that we empower girls and women to break the glass ceilings that remain, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Hidden Figures tells the story of African-American women mathematicians at NASA who were instrumental in launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit in the early 1960’s, despite the racial and gender discrimination that existed. Before the screening, Williams told the girls he decided to co-produce the film to “kill that very old school mentality that STEM is made for a male mind.”

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Dr. Knatokie Ford, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Aldis Hodge and Pharrell Williams. Photo courtesy of LA Promise Fund for Public Schools

Spencer, who plays mathematician Dorothy Vaughn in the film, urged the girls to “be what you want to be and don’t allow anyone else to tell you that you can’t.” Her co-star Janelle Monae, who plays engineer Mary Jackson, spoke of how her mother had been a custodian and how she herself used to clean houses to earn money to go school. Monae also appears in Moonlight, which recently won Best Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes. “Take advantage of every opportunity,” she told the girls. “Embrace what makes you unique.”

The girls also listened to the success stories of White House senior science and technology policy advisor Dr. Knatokie Ford and NASA/JPL engineer Dr. Diana Trujillo, an immigrant from Colombia who didn’t know any English and had only $300 in her pocket when she arrived in the U.S. as a teenager, but now is among the leaders of the Curiosity Rover mission to Mars. They also heard inspiring messages from Hidden Figures actor Aldis Hodge, as well as astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson, who delivered a video message from aboard the International Space Station.

Video courtesy of NBC Los Angeles.