This week we learned of the death of Katherine Johnson, the trailblazing mathematician who reached for the moon.  She died at 101 having been born in 1918.

Johnson was a human computer whose exacting calculations launched John Glenn into orbit and, equally important, brought him safely back to Earth. Her work and life remained largely unknown to the public at large until Margot Lee Shetterly published her best-selling book, “Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” which inspired the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie, “Hidden Figures.” Taraji P. Henson starred as Johnson.

How interesting that this woman’s life and legacy are celebrated during the intersection of two special months set aside to recognize achievements made by African Americans and of women’s contributions.

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

Growing out of a small-town school event in California, Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. The United States has observed it annually throughout the month of March since 1987.

Our first session for the Class of 2020 kicks off this week in Columbia and Jefferson City. Included in this session is a presentation on understanding implicit bias. Our second session will include a presentation on diversity, equity and inclusion. Both of these sessions will be facilitated by Nikki McGruder, Director of the Inclusive Impact Institute and Alumna 2018.

Implicit bias can yield inequitable outcomes even among well-intentioned individuals. People are biased in the way that they treat the people and objects in the world around them. You might be predisposed to like other people who attended the same college that you did, or to gravitate toward products that you have seen in advertisements. Biased behavior has particular social significance when it leads to systematic negative treatment of people based on factors like gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Imagine how Katherine Johnson was treated during her incredible lifetime and yet look at her legacy.

As Heidi Stevens wrote in a special column in the Chicago Tribune about Katherine Johnson: “It’s impossible to measure the ripples made by a life, especially a life that lasted more than a century.  We don’t have an equation for that.  But as we pause, in quite wonder, to marvel at all that Johnson gave us, I hope we count the countless young people she inspired to chase their own dreams – into spaces that may have seemed off limits, into fields where they’re pioneers, into greatness, maybe even into space.”

That is my hope for our Challenge Participants too. The Board of Directors and I hope that the first session for the Class of 2020 is one of inspiration, conviviality, and the pursuit of increased awareness as a result of participation in the class’ experiences and training.