I had just started elementary school when a new television show premiered, promising that each episode would allow both viewers like me, along with the crew of the USS Enterprise, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
As the lead actor, William Shatner, who portrayed the role of Captain James T. Kirk, informed us during his voice-over introduction during each episode’s opening credits, we were invited to join him, along with Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and Uhura, as they traveled in space, “the final frontier,” where they would “explore new worlds” and “seek out new life and new civilizations.”
The show only lasted for three seasons, but the franchise would go on to make television and later film history. Every week, I’d sit mesmerized in front of our brand new color television. I’d brag about the TV because one of my cousins had to watch it with multi-colored crepe paper taped across the screen — no joke!
“Star Trek” allowed me to dream about things that at that time were far from reality — or so I believed. It opened up a world of creativity that would spawn my love for reading and writing. And it introduced me to a world where, despite my reality as a little Black boy in Detroit during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement, to see myself and my world, recast in an entirely different form.
Uhura was a Black woman, beautiful, talented, articulate and definitely in charge. Sulu was an Asian man with skills and gifts — and I’d never even seen an Asian in the flesh at that point in my life. They had special weapons and gadgets and a technology that seemed far from possible. Yet, today we see almost all of the tools that they used on “Star Trek” as common features of the 21st century.
Of course, back then, the essential tools utilized by Captain Kirk and his crew were toys to little folks like me. Naturally, I demanded that my parents buy me models of the Enterprise as well as action figures of the crew, and a nifty little lunchbox that showed all of my favorite characters in their uniforms.
And, by the way, Kirk, who routinely garnered the amorous affections of every alien woman whom he encountered, paved the way for interracial relationships — another “no-no” during the 1960s.
As I look back, and given today’s emphasis on STEM education, it’s amazing to realize how we can blend science with imagination to develop new ways of life, new ways of thinking and new avenues on which we can travel faster, farther and more expeditiously.
I wonder what new frontier my two grandsons will embark upon. I hope I’m still here to see witness it for myself.