Shari Nichole Thomas of Houston Texas, flashing the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign at the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention.
Photo by Barb Barton
By Barb Barton
TNCP Community Writer
In the fall of 2021, I learned there was going to be a Star Trek convention called Mission Chicago at the McCormick Place from April 8th through the 10th of this year. For those who know me, I am a nature gal through and through and avoid big cities like the plague. But for a Star Trek convention? I would boldly go where I have never gone before. I bought my train ticket, made my hotel reservation, and waited for what was sure to be one of the most exciting adventures of my lifetime.
Upon entering the enormous convention center, I stepped into a microcosm of the world that was dreamed of by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, more commonly known as IDIC. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw people dressed as Starfleet officers, Andorians, Vulcans, Klingons, Borg, Bajorans, and even a Ferengi milling about. But what really moved me was the diversity of people of different ages, races, physical abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations who had gathered to celebrate the ideals of Star Trek. IDIC was alive and well at McCormick Place.
There was never a dull moment at the convention. The weekend included appearances by cast members from all the Star Trek series. There were numerous panel discussions that dove into topics such as science and astrobiology in Star Trek. And there was a significant focus on social justice issues. One panel highlighted anti-bullying efforts and was led by Chase Masterson, who played Leeta in Deep Space Nine and is the co-founder of the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition. Women in Star Trek presented inspiring stories of Trek women after their time on screen. Trekivism was all about fan activism and showcased their work on a domestic violence project, insulin for people with type 1 diabetes, Lambda, and anti-bullying for girls in Zimbabwe.
But just who exactly are the fans and what drew them to Mission Chicago? Janet Gogins is a pleasant 70-year-old retiree and lifelong Chicagoan, who started watching Star Trek in 1966. When she learned there was going to be a Star Trek convention in her hometown, she “just went nuts.” Janet reminisced about the first time she saw Nichelle Nichols, who played communications officer Lieutenant (and later, Commander) Nyota Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the original television series (1966–1969). “To see an African American professional… to see her in that role, just made us proud,” Janet beamed.
She was very enthusiastic about NASA (National Air and Space Administration), the agency that Ms. Nichols worked with for over 25 years to recruit women and ethnic minorities to become astronauts. Janet reminded me that NASA was at the convention, presenting on the Artemis Program: Getting People Back to the Moon. What moves her about Star Trek is “how it addresses human issues – the things we have overcome and the things we have yet to overcome.”
Shari Nicole Thomas, 41, works in the energy industry and hails from Houston Texas. She has an infectious smile and says she was born into Star Trek and watching it together with her family is a beloved tradition. Like Janet, Shari was inspired by Ms. Nichols work both on and off the screen. Shari talked about how Martin Luther King Jr. had convinced Ms. Nichols to stay in the original Star Trek series because she was representing her people (she tried to resign to pursue musical interests). “That is how important the role was,” she pointed out. “A Black lady on tv, she’s not a maid, she not playing subservient or anything, she’s on the bridge of a starship!” Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Mission Chicago clearly showed that Star Trek continues to be more than just entertainment. It is an inspiration to people to bring out their best selves and gives hope for a future that is more evolved than what we are experiencing today. Trek fans are not waiting for that future, however. They are living the principles and actively creating change through their activism and volunteerism. In Part 2, we will explore how Star Trek has had a profound and life changing impact on several people’s lives.