Here at MPOWERD we love pioneers, innovators, and people who say “no” to the status quo. So we decided to create a new mini series to shine light onto those unsung heroes who broke the mold and paved the way for the rest of us. Introducing Trailblazers.
Born: 1930, Virginia
Trailblazed: Part of the team that developed GPS technology
Gladys West was born in Virginia to an African-American farming family. Gladys knew she did not want to work in the tobacco factories, and used education to pursue a different career. She received a full-ride scholarship to Virginia State College after being named valedictorian of her high school. Four years after graduating from college with a degree in mathematics, a male-dominated field, West was hired at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia. She was a large-scale computer programmer and project manager for analyzing satellite data. At the same time, she was studying to complete her second master’s degree in public administration, with her first being in mathematics . After publishing an award-winning study comparing Pluto and Neptune’s motion, West worked from the 1960s to 1980s to both analyze satellite data and program an IBM computer to generate an accurate model of the Earth’s surface. As earth is a geoid, an ellipsoid with irregularities, West had to develop and use complicated algorithms to take the forces that distort the earth’s shape into account. West’s data became the backbone of the Global Positioning System (GPS) we use every day. Gladys West was one of the ‘Hidden-Figures’ who made huge contributions to electronic innovation and are only being recognized now, decades later.
Today, outdoor adventurers rely on GPS systems to map and navigate their latest journeys. Without Gladys West’s contributions to science, us explorers would, quite literally, be lost!
Born: 1921, Detroit
Trailblazed: Activist, songwriter, oldest ever Park Ranger
Betty Reid Soskin was born in 1921 to her father with a Creole background and mother with a Cajun background. Her family initially lived in Louisiana, but after her family’s home and business was destroyed in a 1967 hurricane, they moved to Oakland, California. In her 20s during World War II, Soskin was a file clerk for a Jim Crow all-Black union auxiliary. After founding a gospel music record label with her first husband and becoming an established songwriter for the Civil Rights Movement, Betty served as a field representative for California State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner and Loni Hancock. It was here that Soskin became actively involved in developing a national park to memorialize women’s contribution to the war effort in World War II. In 2000, Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park was established. In a 2014 interview with NPR, Betty discussed how she was the only person helping plan the park who could ensure that the Black women who worked in the segregated environment during World War II got unique recognition. Betty observed, “What gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering.”
Betty was the oldest serving national park ranger as of 2019 at the age of 98. In September of 2019, Betty suffered a stroke, but still returns to work in the park’s visitors center on a weekly basis. Betty Reid Soskin both ensured that the wartime experience of Black women is forever memorialized and gave us a new opportunity to connect with the outdoors.
Born: 2002, Mexico
Trailblazed: Youth climate change activist
Xiye Bastida was born in San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico to an Otomi-Toltec, indigenous Mexican, family. After drought and flooding strained her hometown’s resources, her family moved to New York City in 2015. It was there, upon seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that Xiye realized the widespread consequences of the climate crisis. Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Friday protests for action against climate change, Xiye took action as a leader of the Fridays for Future youth climate strike. She also led a climate strike at her high school, where 600 students walked out with her in protest. She continued the charge by leading The Global Climate Strike, a walkout paired with a week of events in 117 countries to inspire environmental change. Bastida is a member of the administration committee of three organizations: Peoples Climate Movement, the Sunrise Movement, and Extinction Rebellion. In her leadership, Xiye prioritizes minority voices within the environmentalist community. Although the environmentalist movement has been in America for 60 years, it has been a largely white space. She recognizes that there have been two sides of the movement, one for the environmental justice of minority groups and one with mostly white-led organizations. One of Xiye’s goals is to bring these two groups together.
Xiye has been guided by the principle of her Indigenous culture that the Earth will provide everything you need, as long as you protect it. She is a pioneer of her generation, working to ensure the outdoor spaces we love dearly will still be around in the next two decades for us to enjoy.
Born: 1909, Washington
Trailblazed: Businesswoman, mountaineer, co-founder of REI
Mary Anderson and her husband, Lloyd, were devoted mountaineers who scaled peaks all over the Pacific Northwest. When the Andersons couldn’t find the perfect mountain axe, REI was born. They had to buy the axe from Austria, and as purchases of this kind became more frequent, friends were signing up to buy gear together. Thus, the co-operative was created. When Mary co-founded REI, she was a businesswoman when women were excluded from business and their contributions were not valued. However, she persevered and took on several roles in the company, including product seamstress, head of distribution, and catalogue creator. REI has grown to a billion-dollar outdoor and sporting goods co-operative, and in 1993 Mary Anderson was inducted into the Cooperative Business Association’s Hall of Fame.
Mary Anderson is a role model for women in the outdoor space and business. Here at MPOWERD we are grateful to recognize REI as one of our largest retail partners.
These are just a few of the many Trailblazers that inspire us every day. Stay tuned for more....