To the editor,

I can not think of a single endeavor of human ingenuity or accomplishment, since World War II, that has not been enhanced or improved upon by people of African descent – especially by American Africans of sub-Saharan descent.

Isolated instances of excellence from around the world notwithstanding, African Americans have led the way, in far greater numbers than black citizens of other nations, to the betterment of life for everyone – and in so very many arenas.

In no small part this is due to the advancement of opportunity for ever growing numbers of people of color.

Given those opportunities, every field of work and recreation is better today because of the unleashed innate intelligence and skill easily discovered in all people of color and especially among African Americans.

To name a few areas that come to mind: science, math, technology, medicine, education, philosophy, politics, sports, entertainment, military and law.

One prime example is highlighted in the true story that undergirds the 2016 movie, “Hidden Figures.”

Astronaut John Glen may have orbited the earth on the backs of white male aeronautical engineers, but his safe re-entry and spot-on sea landing was due to the beyond exceptional mathematical skills of a group of black women, one of whom could calculate complicated equations several decimal points farther than the best IBM computers of the day.

Think about that for a minute: 1950s. Black. Women. Florida.

All of that screams racism.

It was pre-Civil Rights, the era of Jim Crow laws and the days of “separate but equal.”

Integration was just a dream. The KKK was alive and well. Dixiecrats blanketed the south. Black people “knew their place.” Women “knew theirs.”

In the 1950s, I saw firsthand an example of racism on public display in Central Florida, about an hour’s drive from Cape Canaveral – the site of Glen’s liftoff.

That in-your-face display was the 24/7 presence of a large sign painted on the roof of an unpainted frame house alongside of a U.S. highway. That solitary sign shouted out in far cruder terms than I would ever quote.

I had to ask my dad the whats and whys. He defined the harsh slang by humanizing the categories with nationalities, but I will never forget that ugly painted roof or those horrid racial slurs.

My own internal sense of justice then led me, even as a boy in the late-1950s, to drink out of every “colored only” water fountain and use every such toilet I could find in my little part of Miami.

Intentionally, I made loud slurping noises to gain the attention and reactions of the housewives and other children passing by in the stores.

It was a pitiful, shameful time in our nation. And I thank God for that past tense verb, “was,” even as the present tense “is” of national racial outrage shouts forth in cities across the country.

And yet, against all odds, those women of color made travel in space safer. Doable. Repeatable.

Their work also vaulted the United States and NASA to global prominence in those early Cold War era days of the “Space Race.”

And that is but one of thousands of similar stories.

And how did that happen? Education, employment, opportunity, recognition, dignity (In that order).

Those women. Those black women, with their amazing minds, had been educated in sophisticated math, hired to tackle difficult equations, given the opportunity to solve impossible problems and were recognized for their excellence. Then came the dignity.

Today, we must reverse that order and start with dignity. Dignity for all. Including dignity for all black lives, for truly, every black life matters.

Then, we must follow the trail of dignity to the many places where it intersects with the highways of opportunity.

A word of caution: There can never be equality of outcome because not everyone has the same IQ and not everyone has the same grit. And, quite frankly, not everyone from any defined population makes wise choices, despite the opportunities offered along the way.

But the more we strive for the availability and equality of opportunity for all, the better we will be as a nation and the less overt racism we will see in the streets and on the news.

At least, that’s how I see it.

Mike Womack


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