Guest Commentary: Katherine Johnson is one of my sheroes!

ROMILA SITARA SHANKAR-BROWN

PHOTO BY WENDY FONTAINE

Editor’s note: Romila Sitara Shankar-Brown of DeLand wrote this essay for The Beacon for Black History Month. Her brother, Valen Siddhartha Shankar-Brown, also wrote us a Black History Month commentary, which will be published in a future edition.

BY ROMILA SITARA SHANKAR-BROWN

Katherine Johnson is one of my sheroes! She is one of the first Black women to work as a NASA scientist, and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015. I celebrate Mrs. Johnson’s life, not only during Black History Month, but all year long.

Mrs. Johnson loved math, just like me. Mrs. Johnson was so brilliant that she began college at the age of 15 and graduated from college when she was 18 years old. She was a mathematical genius, and she especially loved geometry.

After graduating, she became a teacher just like her mom. This makes me happy because my mom is an educator, too, and my mom is also a true inspiration like Mrs. Johnson. Later on, Katherine Johnson had a family and went on to be a research mathematician for NASA.

I admire Katherine Johnson because she was hardworking and determined. She was also brave, as she stood up for herself when she experienced gender discrimination at work. She also actively fought against racial discrimination.

She paved the way for other women to join NASA and made it possible for them to be a part of meetings where, at one time, only men were allowed to attend.

It makes me sad that so many people I talk with know who Neil Armstrong (the first person to walk on the moon) is, but have not heard of Katherine Johnson. The fact is that Mr. Armstrong and other Apollo 11 astronauts would not have been able to go to the moon without Mrs. Johnson’s math skills and her contributions to space travel, and we need to give her credit, too.

Katherine Johnson worked for NASA for more than 30 years and was known as the “human computer” because she was so good with math calculations. Fun fact: Some of my friends call me the “human calculator,” since I am good at math.

I love that she persisted even when facing so many challenges and she never gave up on her dreams! She lived to be 101 years old and accomplished so much during her life. 

Mrs. Johnson passed away last year on Feb. 24, 2020, but her contributions live on! In fact, today two NASA facilities are named after her.

Also, at the college where my mom and dad studied, George Mason University, there is now a science and technology building named after her, and there is also an elementary school in Washington, D.C., named after her, too.

Katherine Johnson is a true inspiration, and I am thankful for her! She broke many barriers for girls like me, and she worked hard to accomplish her dreams. And I plan to do the same!

— Romila is a fifth-grade student at Citrus Grove Elementary School in DeLand.