What Star Trek Meant for My Grandfather

Star Trek has meant a lot to me as a fan of pop culture, science-fiction, and television. It also has meant everything to me as a human being.

My grandfather, who was a WWII veteran, likely served in a segregated unit in the war. He returned home to a nation still refusing to deal with Jim Crow and other societal injustice.

When I was a very young, I recall him watching various genre programs like Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, Rat Patrol, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and countless other series. However, he especially loved Star Trek.

In the years before his death, he’d speak of how Star Trek was a kind of therapy for him; a respite from the darkness and unrelenting racial pressures he experienced on a daily basis. Star Trek presented a world where the color of a person’s skin didn’t matter, where people all over the world worked together for the common goal of education and exploration.

My grandfather believed — as I do — in those principles. I thank him for introducing me to the world of science-fiction via Star Trek. To say that science-fiction has been a guiding force in my life would be an understatement. In the same way that sports, fashion, music and art molds some folks, science-fiction literature, film, TV, and pop culture has shaped my way of life, my world view, and my work ethic.

As Kirk famously said, “I don’t believe in a no-win scenario.” Neither did my grandfather who survived and prospered despite the tremendous racial bias of his time. He worked hard as a longshoreman at the Bethlehem Steel docks in Baltimore. He never complained, he never begged and he never stopped working toward his goal of keeping our family intact.

His one dream, he’d tell me, was to live long enough to see me get to college. That was the one thing he couldn’t do. My grandfather passed away when I was in 8th grade, which was the same year that Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered.

As he passed from this world, I stepped into the world of high school and had TNG in the background of my adolescent formative years. I think of my grandfather often whenever I watch Star Trek. I remember him smoking his pipe while we sat on the couch at his house, staring at his massive color television as we’d sometimes fight with the rabbit ears to get a clearer picture from the UHF channel.

The world isn’t a great place right now, nor has it ever been “great.” The only thing that shines in the darkness is the ability of humanity to believe in a better future for their posterity. Star Trek provides the finest example of what we CAN be. I am beyond happy that my grandfather took the time to introduce me to the franchise.

Thank you. Until I see you again.

7 thoughts on “What Star Trek Meant for My Grandfather

  1. I think humanity’s single greatest strength is hope, our ability to overcome adversity because we are the only things on this Earth that is conscious that our time is limited so we strive to be better people tomorrow than we are right now. Star Trek was the most diverse thing decades before the word even came up in our national vocabulary. Imagine a Russian man, a black woman and an Asian man on a television show during the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s you can’t surpass that in my opinion.

    But what I liked most is that in the show humanity puts aside their petty differences for the greater good but some people don’t realize that the series is actually a post Apocalyptic one when the Vulcans made first contact with humanity the Earth was in shambles after WWIII that wiped out half a billion lives in the process. And that they have eerily prophetic in many instances and I liked how despite humanity’s distrust the Vulcans were still on Earth a century later despite humanity’s want to explore the cosmos I feel both humans and Vulcans underestimated/overestimated the other. Particular my favorite of the Star Trek races are the Klingons and Cardassians such complex societies they are.

    Some Astronomers have theorized the reason we haven’t met any actual aliens in real life is because they are avoiding us waiting for us to advance to a certain point.

  2. Thank you for sharing the story of your grandfather. I love StarTrek for the same reasons though I didn’t live through that era. It was (and still is) one of the few truly optimistic view of our future which I believed it is beloved by multiple generations.

  3. Your post struck a cord with me. I have been watching Star Trek since 1966, I was not even one, when my mom would sit down with me on her lap to watch the new Sci show that would come to hold a special place in my heart for the next fifty years. We watched it together through my childhood and often watched it in later years when I was visiting. She passed away this year I will miss her, but ever time I watch Star Trek I feel like she’s right there beside me.

  4. I found an article on here sometime back and one of the comments really made me think about somethings relating to this. How relevant do you think our different cultures, different ethnicity will be in the years and centuries to come as we become more multiracial? Even though several characters reference the turmoil of the past like human slavery, genocide none of that is present centuries from now in their time where hunger, poverty, crime is non existent. Captain Picard said ”All that nonsense is centuries behind us.”

    Roddenberry really presented a very optimistic view of the future that humanity can be better tomorrow than it is today.

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