Hope for a Brighter Future: Star Trek Mission Chicago

Jasmine Mina of Chicago, IL at the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention in April of 2022.

Photo by Jasmine Mina

By Barb Barton

TNCP Community Writer

This is Part 2 about the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention held in April 2022 and focuses on the influence, Star Trek has had on the lives of several of its fans. A favorite at Star Trek conventions is the cast panels, where actors sit on the stage and share stories about their experiences. At the end of the discussions, audience members are given the opportunity to ask questions.

One of the most memorable events of Mission Chicago involved British actor David Ajala, who plays Cleveland Booker in Star Trek Discovery. Booker suffered the loss of his entire family and home planet and the show did an excellent job portraying the intense personal struggle he went through. During the final moments of the Discovery cast panel, an audience member stepped up to the microphone and then took a few moments to compose himself. He struggled to talk about the death of his best friend last fall and how difficult it had been for him. The young man directed his words to Ajala and said the actor’s performance and the way his loss was portrayed in the series helped him deal with his own grief. David Ajala jumped up from his chair, leaped off the stage, and wrapped his arms around the young man. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Not only does Star Trek inspire hope for a brighter future but it is also a beacon for those struggling with difficult life situations.

Neeraj Bharwaj lives in the Bay Area in California and has had a rather unique relationship with Star Trek. Neeraj’s grandfather was a professor of English and Eastern Literature at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and used to trade poetry back and forth with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock). Neeraj’s parents were involved in social protests regarding war and civil rights in State College and were inspired and deeply influenced by the ideals of Star Trek. When Neeraj was young, the only television program his parents would let him watch was The Next Generation because it had no violence, sex, or drugs. Little did they know what an impact Star Trek would have on their son.

Recently, Neeraj experienced an unthinkable traumatic event and entered the darkest time of his life. To get through his pain, he looks to Star Trek for comfort – a soothing balm for his soul, an anchor. He described Star Trek to me as “inspirational and hopeful,” and said, “It brings different cultures together and teaches forgiveness and acceptance.” Slowly but surely, he is finding his way out of the darkness by embracing this hope.

Star Trek’s influence on peoples’ lives is unparalleled, especially when their first exposure happens when they are young. Jasmine Mina is a therapist from Chicago and as a young teen, saw herself represented in Star Trek’s mixed-race characters – something she didn’t see on other programs (she is half Filipino/half white). “You’re like me, you’re half and half!” she would exclaim as she saw mixed-race beings such as Worf, B’Elanna Torres, or her favorite character Deanna Troi appear on the screen. Jas says the show was cathartic for her as the characters learned about their identities and how others around them handled it.

Alanna Whitestar was strongly influenced by the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) as a young teen, so much so that she made it her personal philosophy when she was just 14 years old. Alanna grew up in a small town with “lily-white schools and lily-white churches” and was never exposed to anyone that looked different from her. Alanna enlisted in the Air Force in 1973 and was sent to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

“When I first got there,” Alanna said, “there were a lot of black women there. I thought, oh my God, I don’t know how to talk to them, I don’t know how to respond to them.”

She knew they were all away from home for the first time in their lives, and “we were all scared, all new at this.” She thought of IDIC and that gave her the courage to reach out to each woman individually. In fact, it was from this group of women that she met her best friend of nearly 49 years.

Star Trek also inspires service to others. In the 1960s, a young Navy navigator named Rob Mack started watching a new science fiction show called Star Trek. At first, the show was just entertainment for the sailor, who now lives in Dewitt with his wife Melany.

Later, Star Trek became much more and gave him hope for a better place, “at least better than the sixties were.” Star Trek has helped him to be more accepting of different people and cultures because of all the different characters and races that are presented. During our interview, Rob paused thoughtfully then softly said, “I’ve always felt our purpose as intelligent beings on this Earth is to work towards the greater good of not only all mankind but of everything that exists on this planet.” And that is exactly how he lives his life.

Live long and prosper.

Left: Dewitt resident Rob Mack, a lifelong fan of Star Trek.

Photo by Barb Barton

The show dates for Star Trek: Mission Seattle, will take place at the Washington State Convention Center on May 26-28, 2023. This announcement comes off the heels of a successful Star Trek: Mission Chicago.