Lena Waithe, Writer & Actor
Lena Waithe made history in 2017 when she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Writing for “Master of None.” How she went from sitcom-obsessed kid to sought-after writer and actor is TV-show worthy and proof that busting your butt for what you want pays off big time.
Peggy Whitson, First Female Commander of the International Space Station
Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician
Lena Waithe, Writer & Actor
Maya Lin, Artist, Architect & Memorial Designer
Sandra Day O'Connor, First Female Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
Arianna Huffington, Founder of HuffPost & CEO of Thrive Global
- Everything I've ever done, I was like, I want to be the best at. If I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna put everything into it. I grew up in Texas. I actually like to call myself a Texican because I am Mexican American. I grew up in a large family of powerful women. I never had to look far for role models. Every single woman in my family was educated, independent. I grew up the youngest of four girls, and I was considered the black sheep of the family. People used to come up to my mom and go, "Your daughters are so beautiful. "And who's this?" I remember actually entering a beauty pageant in college and telling my mom, "Mom, I'm gonna enter this pageant." And she goes, "Oh, honey, "are you sure you want to put yourself through that? "Like, you're not gonna win." They said, read this script, we may make this into a pilot, and it was Desperate Housewives. And I read it, and I was like, oh my god, that's cool and it'll never get picked up. And I remember sitting down at the first table read and going, "This is special, this is magical. "I wonder if anybody else feels this." And everybody did. Carlos, you son of a bitch. I am pregnant, and it's all your fault. I don't think I could have done it without Marcia and Felicity because it was this runaway train that we were all on. I was always turning to Felicity and Marcia, who just took me under their wings and was like, we're gonna stick together. We're gonna do this together. I always loved the business side of entertainment, and I used Desperate Housewives and being on set for nearly 10 years as my film school. When I decided to direct, I was actually terrified. Nina Lederman, who was a president of Lifetime at the time, she goes, "You're gonna direct an episode," and I go, "Okay, yes." And then, I go home and I go, ah. What I found helped ease my nerves was preparation. So, I just prepped the shit out of my episodes. Now, I just encourage so many other women to just do it. My goal with my foundation was how do we arm Latinas with the ability to have economic mobility in life. How do they get ahead? How do they become independent? And education is key to economic mobility for women. I gotta tell you, I have been on a lot of stages in my life, but none as important as this one. If you look at the fastest growing demographic of the United States, it's Latinos. It's the women in that community that are leading the way. We know the barriers. I want to know what's working, what's successful, and let's replicate it.
- I was hanging in my sleeping bag on the wall of my sleep station, and I had gotten on the computer and printed off a couple of things that I needed for the day and floated through the lab, and I'm like I live in space. It was like this is my place of work. This is phenomenal! I was nine years old when the first guys walked on the moon and our folks put us to bed relatively early, but woke us back up so that we could watch that but I thought wow, cool job. I had a great mom who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. I said something about being an airline pilot and my sister said you can't be an airline pilot, you can only be the flight attendant. My mom said no, that's not true. You can be whatever you want. It wasn't until I graduated high school in 1978 when they selected the first female astronauts that I think becoming an astronaut really became a goal of mine. Of course Sally Ride was influential in developing my image of what a female astronaut was. It became much more motivating to see that there were women there, that women could do this job. I didn't tell a lot of people that that's what I wanted to do because I thought you know they'd think I was just dreaming something that's not even possible. Bob Cabana who was chief of the astronaut office at the time called me, and so I was expecting a rejection and he's trying to make small talk with me and I'm like I don't have time for this, just tell me I didn't make it. But he's like would you like to come and work for me? And I went yes!
- [Narrator] Three new residents headed for the International Space Station. Commander Valery Korzun and flight engineers Peggy Whitson and Sergei Chekov.
- As a woman doing space walks is more challenging mostly because the suits are sized bigger than the average female, and yes it is risky. You're going 17,500 miles an hour around the Earth. Some people have a sense that they're actually falling off of the station. I never had that sensation. I opened the hatch and I was just like wow! I was going out there so fast. It was so beautiful, so incredible. I was commander of the station and then the second female shuttle commander actually arrived to the station, Pam Melroy, so we had the first two female commanders on orbit at the same time. One of the Russian bosses said it was because there were two women on board, and that was in spite of the fact that the previous crew, which was all male, had had the same problem. I've been on three selection boards now. We don't have enough applicants in the female categories. That's why one of the big pushes for NASA is this STEM education primarily focused on young girls because we want more women to understand that yes, you can do these jobs too. You just have to get the right education and training so that you can apply and make it happen.
- I'm going to turn command of the International Space Station over to Dr. Peggy Whitson. She now becomes the first two-time female commander of the International Space Station.
- I've had great jobs at NASA, but the most satisfying job I've ever had is being a member of a crew on board the space station. Every day, every task I felt like I was contributing to space exploration very directly and it's one of the great wonders.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: Math. It's just there. It has always been a part of whatever I was doing.
- All engines running.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: You're either right or you're wrong. That I liked about it.
They tell me I counted everything. Everybody studied at a big table, and after I finished mine, I helped them get theirs. And I was the youngest. I wound up ahead of my brother, maybe two grades. I don't remember how many. I entered college. I was 15. I was gonna be a math teacher because that was it. You could be a nurse or a teacher.
He said, you'd make a good research mathematician. I said, oh? What do they do? He said, you'll find out. So he had me take all the courses in the catalog. Sometimes I was the only person in the course. I said, where will I find a job? He said, you'll look till you find it. Took me seven years, but I found it.
He said, you're very lucky. Langley has a post for black mathematicians, just opened it up to women. They had a pool of women mathematicians. They just wanted somebody to do all the little stuff, while they did the thinking. We were called computers, women computers. I had been there less than a week, when this engineer came in and wanted two women computers, and Mrs. Vaughn sent me over to the flight branch. And we never went back.
- Today, a new moon is in the sky, placed in orbit by a Russian rocket.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: Oh, they felt terrible that, here we sat, and the Russians had a vehicle riding around, looking down on you. So we set out to send somebody up there and look down to. They'd called up a group of engineers and have a briefing as to what they were gonna have to do. And I asked, could I go? They said, women don't ever go to those. I said, is there a law against it? They said, no, well, let her go ahead. I wanted to know what it was they were looking for. So I wound up doing what it was they were trying to find out.
- Commander Alan B. Shepard was to become the first man sent into sub-orbital flight. The Mercury capsule is right on course.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: Our office computed every mission that went out at that time-- the height, the speed, and so on. It became a geometry problem.
- Ignition sequence start.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: I felt most proud of the success of the Apollo mission.
- Zero. All engines running--
KATHERINE JOHNSON: They were going to the moon.
- We have a lift off.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: I computed the path that would get you there. You determined where you were on Earth when you started out, and where the moon would be at a given time. We told them how fast they would be going, and the moon will be there by the time you got there.
- Beautiful, just beautiful.
KATHERINE JOHNSON: We were really concerned when they were leaving the moon, going back. He had two adjusters, we said. If he'd missed it by a degree, he doesn't get into orbit. I was looking at the television. I said, boy, I hope he's got that right.
And I was sitting there hoping I'm right, too.
John Glenn said, tell her. He knew that I was the only woman that worked on it. He said, if she comes up with the same answer that they have, then the computer's right. It took me a day and a half to compute what the computer had given them. Turned out to be the exact numbers that they had.
It was my job. And I did my job correctly and well.
LENA WAITHE: When you're an artist and you're making whatever it is you're making, I think the mission is to walk to it as vulnerable as possible, so that somebody will be able to connect to it.
LENA WAITHE: I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I was in a house full of women. It was my mother, my grandmother, my older sister, my aunt come by a lot. There was a similar thing that they all had, which was a lot of strength, a lot of pride, a lot of integrity, and a nice amount of sass and swag, too. I know a lot of kids watch television, but I really felt like I was immersed in it. I watched, like, "A Different World," "The Cosby Show," "Saved By the Bell," "The Fresh Prince." Even though they were multicam sitcom characters, they still felt very honest and real. And I just kind of got lost in all of those different kind of worlds.
LENA WAITHE: Getting a chance to work for all these talented black women, who were just sort of playing hacky sack with me for a couple years, just being the most excited person on set, and having a really great attitude and there being nothing that I would say no to doing, it was really the beginning of my life in scripted television.
LENA WAITHE: I went to New York to talk story ideas with Allen and Aziz and some of the other writers. And in the midst of just having a conversation, Alan asked how I came out. And I proceeded to tell them not thinking it was that interesting. And I got back to my hotel, and they both called me and said, we want to do an episode about that. And Aziz was like, you have to help write it, because it's so specific. And it's your story, and I can't write that by myself.
DENISE: I'm gay.
- You what?
DENISE: I'm gay. I've always been gay, but I'm still the same person. I'm still your daughter.
LENA WAITHE: Telling the coming out story, I had to step in my mother's shoes as well. And I think it actually gave me a greater understanding of what it's like to be come out to. It was about telling an honest story about two people who are trying to figure something out. And I think that's what most coming out stories are. I really wanted people to see the love more than the fear or confusion, and I think they really got it.
LENA WAITHE: My LGBQTIA family, I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world, because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren't in it. I do think the things that make me different are my superpowers, because there is no "Thanksgiving" episode if I wasn't born black, gay, and female.
LENA WAITHE: "The Chi" is about being black and human on the south side of Chicago. It's not about drugs. Nobody's singing or rapping. I was more interested in the middle class, the working class community, because that's what I'm from. When you're a working class person with a dream, it's like a pressure cooker, because every day is a choice to fight the good fight, to chase the dream. I know we're not perfect, but we're not all bad either. There's always these demons that we're wrestling with, and I wanted to show that in a real way. So that way people start to care about these communities and these people that make them up.
I think there's a lot of storytellers that don't look like the storytellers of yesteryear. A lot of young, black, queer, different people that have never been a part of the culture in a mainstream way. That's the way I want to change the business is by helping to usher in new voices. There's still a lot of others who haven't been included yet. And so until everyone is in the room, I think we still have work to do.
- You do a lot of research. You put all that research aside, and you wake up with a moment's inspiration.
- My parents immigrated from China. My mother, she always said in your generation you should do whatever you feel like doing.
- My senior year at Yale, someone saw a poster for a competition for the Vietnam Memorial. And we said, well what a great way to end the class, we'll all design Vietnam memorials for the class, which is what I did. And I saw the site having researched for about six weeks to eight weeks. And the next morning, I thought let's cut open the earth and open it up. That's all it was.
- Some of the highest priced architecture firms in the country did enter this competition, and they all lost.
- I thought that the most insulting and demeaning memorial to our Vietnam experience that was possible. One needs no artistic education to see this memorial design for what it is, a black scar.
- You know, I will never know how much my age, my gender, my race, played into the controversy. We'll never know.
- I knew I was right. It wasn't just about the aesthetics. It was about I knew that if that project was built it would help people. I cannot answer why I knew that. I'd never known anyone who died. All I knew is if we could face death, face it honestly, only then can we get over it.
- The idea of running long distance was always considered very questionable for women, because an arduous activity would mean that you're gonna get big legs, and grow a mustache, and hair on your chest, and your uterus was gonna fall out. So, I filled out the entry form. I signed my name with my initials, I signed KV Switzer. When I signed it that way, obviously when the form went in, they couldn't tell it from a guy's. [Announcer] The World's most famous foot race even attracts a leggy lady, Katie Switzer of Syracuse.
- So, there we were with my coach Arnie Briggs and my boyfriend and All-American football player, Tom Miller. When other runners would come by they would say, oh it's a girl, and they were so excited. And Arnie was saying, "yup, I trained her." And all of a sudden, the flatbed truck is in front us and I heard the photographer saying slow down, slow down, slow down, and they were taking pictures of us. On this truck was the race directors. One of them was a feisty character by the name of Jock Semple. He just stopped the bus, jumped off, and ran after me. Suddenly, I turned and he just grabbed me and screamed at me, "get the hell out of my race "and give me those numbers." And then he started clawing at me, starting to try and rip my numbers off, and I was so surprised. And he had the fiercest face of any guy I'd ever seen and out of control, really. I was terrified. And all of a sudden my boyfriend, Big Tom, gave Jock the most incredible cross-body block and sent Jock flying. And all of this happened in front of the press truck. The journalists got very aggressive, what are you trying to prove? Are you a suffragette? Are you a crusader? Whatever that is, and I said what? I'm just trying to run. They finally left, then it got very quiet, snow's coming down. Nobody's saying anything, and I turned to Arnie and I said Arnie, I've gotten you into a lot of mess here, I guess. But I said, I don't know where you stand in this, but I said, I'm gonna finish this race on my hands and my knees if I have to, because nobody believes that I can do this. And suddenly I realized, if I don't finish this race, then everybody's gonna believe women can't do it and that they don't deserve to be here and that they're incapable. I've got to finish this race. I finished in four hours, 20 minutes. That race changed my life. It wasn't until about midnight when we were driving back from Boston to Syracuse University and we stopped on the throughway to get an ice cream and some coffee did we see the newspapers and they're covered front and back of all the different additions with pictures. I realized that now this was very, very important, and this was going to change my life, and it was probably going to change women's sports.