Presenting PIONEEGROES, a virtual shrine to those luminaries of science, history and special achievement who have proudly worn their geek as a badge of honor. Each year, we honor a new class of distinguished gentlemen and women, seeking to resurrect past glories to those whom time has forgotten while reaffirming the role geeks of African descent have played in shaping the world we live in today. We also name Legacy Tribbles - people of note whose contribution to the culture we love transcends racial boundaries.

MAE JEMISON, M.D. - The first African-American woman to travel in space, and the distinguished holder of nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering and the humanities.

MORGAN FREEMAN - An Academy Award-winning actor who made reading as cool as sports ("Easy Reader" The Electric Company) and who gave God his soul back (Bruce Almighty).

LeVAR BURTON - For one generation, he's the face of slavery from his role as Kunta Kinte in Roots. For another generation, he's "us" in space as Geordi LeForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. And he touched all generations as the host of PBS' Reading Rainbow.

JACKIE ORMES (1911-1985) - The first African-American female cartoonist, whose renowned comic strip Torchy Brown showcased an image of a black woman who, in contrast to the contemporary stereotypical media portrayals, was confident, intelligent, and brave. Her legacy lives on in the listing of black female artists called The Ormes Society.

NICHELLE NICHOLS - An accomplished singer who shared stages with greats such as Count Basie in her early years, she put aside her misgivings about science fiction to embrace the historic role of communications officer Lieutenant Uhura in the popular Star Trek television series (1966-1969), as well as the succeeding motion pictures. Her grace and beauty provided inspiration to us all reaching for the stars and finding a hand like ours guiding us through the cosmos.

Col. GUY BLUFORD, Ph.D. - You know it's only right that the first African American in space, floating all care-free among the stars, would take off from the birthplace of freedom. Philly, Philly — Philly is where this man’s from!

Adm. MICHELLE HOWARD - A United States Navy four-star admiral (the first woman of said rank ever) who currently serves as the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations. She's the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Rushmore. In 2006, she was selected for the rank of rear admiral (lower half), making her the first female graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy selected for flag rank.

JACKIE ROBINSON (1919-1972) - He broke the baseball color line in 1947, starting at first base for the then Brooklyn Dodgers. He stood up to bigotry, racial epithets and violent threats (and actions) with grace, dignity and the other cheek, all the while playing the game "how it should be done; cuz his style was identical to none." (paraphrasing Rakim)

In 1997, Major League Baseball (MLB) universally retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. MLB also adopted a new annual tradition, "Jackie Robinson Day", for the first time on April 15, 2004, on which every player on every team wears No. 42.

JAMES EARL JONES - One of the greatest actors in American history, winner of multiple Emmy, Tony, and Golden Globe awards, and an honorary Academy Award — and he's Darth Vader. He is Mufasa of The Lion King. And being King Jaffe Joffer (Coming to America) doesn't hurt either.

MAURICE WHITE (1941-2016) - The producer / songwriter / musician / front man / creator of Earth, Wind & Fire, the multi-award-winning band that became the voice of a generation in the 70s-80s, the sound of sophisticated jazz-fused funk and purveyors of an Afrofuturistic aesthetic that lit a flame that burns even brighter today, 30 years later.

DWAYNE McDUFFIE (1962-2011) - A revered comic book writer and creator (Static Shock, Milestone Media) and television producer (Justice League Unlimited) adored for the stature of his character as well as his being.

ARTURO SCHOMBURG (1874-1938) -A black Haitian-Puerto Rican who was told at the age of 5 that black people have made no contributions to history, setting him on the path to chronicling the achievements of Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Americans for the rest of his life. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, named in his honor, at the New York Public Library branch in Harlem is a must-see.

President BARACK OBAMA - The first African-American president of the United States. The Tribble-in-Chief. The H.T.I.C. (Head Tribble In Charge. Duh!)

As Shaun Mullen noted about 'the most transformational presidency in 80 years' -- "He has implemented far-reaching reforms in a dysfunctional health-care system, raised school academic standards, legislated pay parity for women, revolutionized the way we produce energy through harnessing renewable resources, fought back against global warming, taken on the epidemic of childhood obesity with his First Lady, provided deportation relief to young immigrants, legalized same-sex marriage and opened new opportunities for women and gays in the military. He saved the domestic auto industry, has added nearly four million jobs, reduced unemployment to 5 percent and the deficit by two thirds to a puny 2.5 percent of GDP, engineered egalitarian tax reforms and eliminated the most usurious of credit card abuses, while today the U.S. is an island of relative calm amid the global financial crisis. He also took out Osama bin Laden, isolated Vladimir Putin, normalized relations with Cuba, stabilized relations with Iran and ended the war in Iraq."

The man did work.

CREE SUMMER - Leaving the mop-top effervescence of Freddie (A Different World) behind, the stunning actress-singer forged a powerful career in voice acting diverse characters in nearly 200 animated film, television and video game projects, including Codname: KIDS Next Door, Broken Age, Xiaolin Chronicles and Batman Beyond.

WILMA RANDOLPH (1940-1994) - In the 1960 Summer Olympics, she became first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. The Italians called her La Gazzella Nera ("The Black Gazelle"); the French - La Perle Noire ("The Black Pearl"). She was the fastest woman in the world but shined brighter still as a spokesperson for civil and women's rights.


GENE RODDENBERRY (1921-1991) - The sci-fi futurist best remembered for having created the original Star Trek television series and thus the Star Trek science-fiction franchise, his vision of racial harmony and equality as depicted by the crew of the USS Enterprise and the ethics by which they lived still serves as the hope of things to come.

GEORGE LUCAS - The visionary writer / director who married groundbreaking spectacles with legendary pulp storytelling to reimagine the rousing sci-fi adventures of yesteryear for the 20th century in Star Wars. His before-its-time marketing acumen propelled the film series into the history books.

OSAMU TEZUKA (1928-1989) - The 'Godfather of Anime' best known as the creator of the comics series Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, whose pioneering techniques and innovative style in art and animation defined then redefined "manga" and anime.

DAVID GERROLD - The science-fiction screenwriter and novelist who gave life to our furry asexual counterparts in his script for Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." I doubt his script directions called for there to be absolutely 'zero black tribbles' among the multi-colored menagerie that befell Captain Kirk, but we're happy to fill the void just the same.

JERRY SIEGEL & JOE SHUSTER - The prolific comic book creators of the genre's earliest days, writer Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Shuster (1914-1992) collaborated in 1938 to create Superman, the first great comic book super-hero and one of the most recognizable images of the 20th century.