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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.

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