The crowd of local students gathered at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC were in for a treat: a whole morning off to watch a movie.
The movie was Hidden Figures, the inspiring Hollywood adaption of a true story about a group of overlooked black women who played a pivotal role in putting America on the moon.
But the movie wasn’t the real reason why all these students were so excited. Rather, it was the presence of Ivanka Trump that caused the most stir. Young girls and boys craned their heads, gazing in awe at the president’s most famous daughter, who has emerged as a leading voice and activist for empowering women of all ages.
“The more we recognize the essential role of women and girls in our society and economy, the more we achieve as a nation,” Trump said to the audience of students. “The heroes of Hidden Figures truly were trailblazers for women in STEM,” she added, using the abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
“The more we recognize the essential role of women and girls in our society and economy, the more we achieve as a nation”
More than just empowering women, the movie also serves to show stories of black achievement in a media and cultural environment that is, according to civil rights icon Robert Woodson, sadly bereft of such stories.
“There are thousands of such stories embedded in the history of black America. Sadly, they are ignored,” Woodson wrote in a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. “The most powerful antidote to disrespect is not protest but performance. Stories that convey that idea, however, are considered ‘off message’ in the national narrative.”
Woodson went on to note that this national narrative attributes black failure to the “all-purpose invisible villain” of institutional racism, but also fails its audience by ignoring black achievement.
Ivanka Trump echoed that sentiment by urging the students to dream big and not let confines hold them back.
“I can only imagine where we’re going to be in another 50 years from now,” she said, “and where your generation will take us.”
One possible destination is Mars, as Trump said her father’s administration is designating the red planet as a top priority – a mission she said would require the hard work and passion of students just like those who had gathered in the audience that morning.
“Your generation fills me with hope,” Ivanka Trump said, but she admitted the demographic statistics of modern STEM fields cause her concern. Despite the fact that women make up 48 percent of the American workforce, they amount to just 24 percent of STEM workers.
“I dare you to beat those stats,” Trump said. “Women’s part in STEM… is critical for the fight for wage equality and empowering everyone moving forward.”
Trump was joined onstage at the event by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who shared her personal story about witnessing the moon landing as it happened, watching it live on television as a ten-year-old girl.
“I can’t tell you the feeling of pride I had at that moment, the pride we all felt,” DeVos said. “You can be a part of that. You can be great. Believe in yourself.”
Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.