Thank you Gene - and not just for Star Trek


Imagine you’re watching a new TV show. It’s about a vessel of sorts, traveling through space on previously untold adventure. Imagine the bridge crew, corn-fed Iowa home-town hero for a Captain, and a mixture of people from different entho-cultural backgrounds. There’s an African American communications officer, an Asian helmsman, a Russian navigator, and an alien first officer.

No big deal – right?

Now imagine it’s 1966.

Only 3 years previously, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I am a Dream” speech – he will live another 2 years until 1968. The Vietnam War is beginning to peak, pitting capitalism against the North’s communist agenda. It has been only 4 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War is in full swing.  

I certainly have a hard time putting myself back in that time and place to imagine what audiences must have thought about Captain Kirk’s multi-national crew. Gene had a powerful vision for the future – a future whereby all of man-kind live together in peace, off to new adventures together in the exploration of space.

A fact I did not know until recently (oddly enough courtesy of William Shatner’s YouTube channel) – Star Trek also had TV’s first interracial kiss.

Today, Gene’s opening cast would not even so much as raise an eyebrow. When Star Trek TNG first aired, we were surprised to see a Klingon on the bridge more so than any nationality or ethno-racial background. In the 20-odd years between the 1966 original Star Trek and the 1987 premier of Star Trek TNG, we’ve come to accept Gene’s vision of humanity working together in the depths of space as the only logical conclusion to our planet’s future.

I wonder how much of this new expectation of humanity’s future should be credited to Gene? Certainly the work of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and political figures like Mikhail Gorbachev, have a direct hands-on role in changing the path of humanity towards greater tolerance and understanding; but how much of it happened subtly, generation by generation. As we watch Captain Kirk or Captain Picard we quietly accept Gene’s vision of the future.

I believe that Gene’s example is one of how having a vision and sharing it with others can improve our world. So, in closing, I say Thank You to Gene for sharing his vision of the future with the rest of us.