MONROE – The City of Monroe will honor NASA engineer Christine Mann Darden by putting her name on the Monroe Science Center.
The center's name won't change but it will include new signage with the tagline “honors Dr. Christine Mann Darden.”
Darden retired from NASA in 2007 but interest in her career saw a resurgence following Margot Lee Shetterly's book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.” The book was adapted into a popular movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.
The Monroe City Council decided to honor Darden on July 13 after hearing from 13 people in favor of the proposal.
“Nobody doesn't recognize that this lady was an important part of the City of Monroe and that she would be honored by her city, but I personally believe that the Monroe Science Center should remain on it simply from the standpoint of sales, marketing and advertising,” Council Member Freddie Gordon said. “The citizens of Monroe are the ones who have supported this project with their tax money. I don't have a problem with the honoring part of Dr. Darden.”
The decision comes with financial implications. The city intended to offer naming rights for the building for $750,000. Staff said honoring Darden would take that off the table.
Ron Brown, who served on the fundraising campaign for the science center and Dowd Center Theatre, said he was proud Darden was from Monroe but he and his wife approached several donors with the idea of naming possibilities for both venues.
“I'm insulted and I'm embarrassed to find out that the city council is planning on putting someone's name on the building who did not make a donation to the gift center campaign,” Brown told the council. “How do we now explain to everyone we talked to and persuaded to donate that hey something you paid for is being given away?”
Tourism Director Pete Hovanec stressed the importance of keeping Monroe in the name as a destination, but he also acknowledged that Darden's name would also attract tourism to the city.
Several who spoke at the pubic meeting echoed the benefits of Darden's name on the building, including the importance of identity and representation for young children.
“Naming the science center after Dr. Darden for her significant educational and professional accomplishments will tremendously underscore for Monroe students that a STEM-related career is certainly possible and can be highly rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically,” said Cynthia Singleton of the Union County Democratic Party.
Other speakers were Mary Lindsay-Barber of the Union County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Tiffany Wilson of the Union County NAACP and W. Beatrice Colson of the Union County AARP chapter.
Monroe resident Bryan Lynip learned of Darden through her connection to the film, “Hidden Figures.”
“I like the thought that years from now, long after the movie becomes a distant memory, a student visiting the science center might be curious about its name and like me, do a little research and be inspired by the story and tell classmates and once again a hidden figure comes into view. “