AKA sorority turns out in force to support ‘Hidden Figures’

You may notice a sea of pink and green during the opening weeks of the highly praised film “Hidden Figures.”

In real life, the three main characters were all members of one of the nation’s leading black Greek organizations, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which was founded in 1908 at Howard University and was the first black Greek letter sorority.

Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), all mathematicians, began working for NASA at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. They crossed racial and gender lines and were instrumental in helping propel astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962, turning around the U.S. space program.

The movie, which filmed in metro Atlanta, is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

“We’re all in, totally,” said Charmagne Helton, president of the Phi Phi Omega chapter, who plans to take her son and daughter to see “Hidden Figures” on Sunday at AMC North Point Mall. “We’re very proud and excited to see this film. It’s very inspirational to see women — particularly black women — who have historically been so influential in the space program.”

There are more than 20 AKA graduate and undergraduate chapters in metro Atlanta. Nationwide, the sorority boasts more than 283,000 members, according to its website. Many have organized special screenings of the film.

Nationally, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority has invested in programs to interest African-American youths in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.

Dawn B. Griffin, president of Nu Lambda Omega Chapter, which has more than 500 members, emphasized the importance for young African-Americans to see the film. She will join others on Sunday, which is also the sorority’s Founder’s Day, at an Atlanta movie theater.

“It’s a time for us to bring in our STEM students to come and see how these women, while unknown for so many years, played an integral part in the NASA program,” said Griffin, a scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Spelman College graduate. “All we know about NASA is the astronauts and outer space. We never hear about the people behind the scenes. Who would have thought that African-American mathematicians would have an integral role in sending Mr. Glenn to outer space? One number off and it could have been a different story.”

“Hidden Figures” is considered a top contender for one or more Oscar nominations. (It had two Golden Globes nominations.) The movie, which had a $25 million budget, had earned more than $30 million at the North American box office by the middle of this week.

Paula Baker, president of Psi Alpha Omega Chapter in Clayton and Henry counties, said her chapter will meet Friday in McDonough.

The chapter is inviting members of the sorority as well as youths in their mentoring programs, their parents and friends. “It’s a feel-good story to motivate the kids,” Baker said. A percentage of tickets sales will benefit the mentoring program and the sorority’s Debutante Cotillion.


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