Many women have broken barriers all over the world. Each time I learn of a female pioneer or powerhouse, I’m reminded that I can be just like them; any of us can, honestly. We’re that amazing.

Katherine Johnson, who was recently recognized for her vast contributions to NASA, has been added to my list of heroes. “Hidden Figures” is a movie about the life and work of Johnson, who played a crucial role in getting astronaut John Glenn into space and around the world safely.

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Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, left), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) in a scene from the movie “Hidden Figures” directed by Theodore Melfi. (Source: Tribune News Service)

In fact, when it was time for Glenn’s mission, he specifically asked for Johnson to calculate the latitude and longitude of where he would land, successfully blowing away every other engineer and mathematician in the room.

During the mid-50’s, when segregation was no longer legal, Johnson, while at work, could not use the restrooms or coffee pot in the building because they were still considered “Whites Only.” She could not attend important briefing meetings because she was not a white male and often faced discrimination and sexism.

Segregation was over, sure. The overwhelming belief of separating races was not.

Through these trials and tests of patience, she was one of the most valuable members of NASA. At the age of 98, she is finally getting the recognition deserved for her work and for being an intelligent, strong-willed and beautiful black woman.

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Katherine Johnson, NASA employee, mathematician and physicist, in 1966. (Source: NASA / Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t want to give away too much because I recommend everyone watch it at least once.

The movie has changed how I view opportunities for success because people like Johnson have opened doors for people like me. How encouraging is that?

Yes, we have come a long way since the 50’s, but no, everything is not perfect now. Better, but not quite where we should be.

This is why women speak so passionately about gender issues. This is why women march and here in America: It’s pretty damn amazing we have the right to do so.

I am optimistic about how successful women can be. I have role models to refer to, and that list continues to grow.

Men are an innate part of society, there is no denying that. But so are women, and it’s important to recognize and applaud this. There was a time in history in which this concept was pretty much unheard of.

If Johnson’s situation wasn’t enough of an example of why recognition and respect for a job well-done matters, then I don’t know what is.

So, my question to you, male or female, is how you can uplift the women in your life?

Mother, sister, girlfriend, aunt or whoever it may be. Let them know you’re proud of all they do. It goes a long way.

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” — Ella Fitzgerald

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