"I knew this was going to be difficult to talk about her," Sonequa Martin-Green said, tears in her eyes. The "Star Trek" actress was talking about the late Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers on the same show more than five decades earlier. "She's very much 1,000% actually a hero."
at the age of 89. She was one of the first Black actresses to star in a television series, paving the way for countless others. But for Martin-Green, the connection to Nichols runs deep. Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, the first Black female captain in "Star Trek" history – something that might not have been possible without Nichols' role before her.
Not only did Nichols inspire her as an actor, but as an advocate for women and girls, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields – also known as STEM.
After "Star Trek," Nichols dedicated her time to recruiting women and people of color to apply to be astronauts at NASA.
Decades later, Martin-Green is working to help women and girls in STEM too. She has partnered with Million Girls Moonshot, an organization that aims to get 1 million more girls into STEM learning opportunities and programs. Frito-Lay has donated $100,000 to further the program's mission, and to send girls to Space Camp.
Martin-Green surprised 16 girls, the first group that the organization is sending to Space Camp, presenting them with ceremonial stars named after them. "I was so excited for them to see my face and see my love and support for them," she said. "I really hope this is an experience that they carry with them, something that they always remember. I hope it sets them on their path."
"There's such a dearth of women in STEM careers and especially Black women, Latina women, Indigenous women, it's 10 percent in STEM careers today," Martin-Green told CBS News. "So, we need more of us out there and that's why I jumped at the opportunity to do this."
Martin-Green said programs like this that aim to recruit girls wouldn't be possible without Nichols. "It's all because of her, really. Because she's the one that helped integrate NASA way back then," she said, crying at the thought of Nichols.
"She's the one that said, 'Wait a second, I don't see what I need to be seeing. I don't see equality here.' And she dedicated the rest of her life to it — from 1977 to 2015 — to establishing these programs in NASA," Martin-Green said. "And now here we are, and these girls can have this experience. And I'm grateful to be a part of it."
Now, Martin-Green hopes to continue Nichols' legacy – on and off screen. "I know she said when she was still here, 'If I've inspired you at all, I just ask that you continue this legacy.' So, of course now all of us that have been inspired by her. And I hope these girls can do that too."