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A young Black aspiring astronaut from Chicago recently received a huge honor from the Library of Congress. After penning a letter to Margot Lee Shetterly—the woman who wrote the book that inspired the Hidden Figures movie—10-year-old Akosua Haynes won first place in the federal institution’s national writing contest, the Chicago Tribune reported.

In the letter Haynes detailed how reading the book Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race influenced her choice to become a NASA astronaut when she gets older, the news outlet writes. She wrote the note as part of the Library of Congress’ writing contest which encourages youth to pen letters to authors who inspire them. Haynes’ letter was chosen out of 47,000 submissions. The fifth-grader—who attends Hyde Park’s St. Thomas the Apostle School—took home the prize for the fourth- through sixth-grade division.

“When I read about the discrimination that Katherine and the computers had to put up with (people not trusting them, separate bathrooms), it made me think what it would have been like to live in the Jim Crow time period. I asked myself if I would have been able to work so well under pressure. I felt proud of Ms. Johnson,” Haynes told the Chicago Tribune. “I really want her to know how much her book inspired me and how it has really motivated me to push my math skills to a much higher level. I have a little STEM program on Saturdays and I’m trying to make myself more like Katherine Johnson every day.”

Haynes wasn’t the only Chicago student to win a prize. 13-year-old Rylee Paige Johnson came in first place for the seventh- and eighth-grade division after penning a letter to author Gabrielle Zevin detailing how her novel Elsewhere helped her mourn the death of her mother.


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