Roddenberry. It’s a name synonymous with futuristic worlds, but for me it has become a portal to the future of our own world. My dad was Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Growing up, I only knew him as my dad, the guy who checked to see if I had done my homework. Star Trek wasn’t really a language spoken at home; it was my dad’s life outside. He passed away when I was 17. But before I could imagine how to live up to the legacy he left behind, I had to dig deep to get to know the man he was so I could make the most of the opportunity he left me.
My father was quite revered, often referred to as the Great Bird of the Galaxy—a genius and visionary. He was on such a pedestal that it was hard for me as his son to identify and connect with him. In fact, I never really got into and understood Star Trek until after he passed away in 1991, and as I witnessed the power of his thoughts and ideas as they lived on, I began to crave a deeper connection with him. I spent the years following his death slowly coming to understand not just Star Trek, but how far its ideologies had penetrated into society. All over the world, I spoke to fans, from politicians to religious leaders, doctors to teachers, astronauts to athletes, and everyone in between. They all believed in the Star Trek ideal of a future where humanity works together for the greater good.
My enchantment with their stories became the underpinning of a journey that allowed me to evolve my relationship with my father posthumously. And in doing so, I gained a sense of self that inspired me to embrace the vision he had for the world. A world where we no longer fear difference or change. A place where we seek diversity, not just in the physical world, but in the intellectual world of ideas and thoughts that make life interesting and worth living.
After my mother passed away, I was driven to honor my family legacy by creating opportunities to help make the future my dad envisioned a reality. I enlisted the help of close family and friends whom I respected and admired to establish the Roddenberry Foundation in 2010.
The Roddenberry Foundation is not about waiting for the future to happen. It’s about proactively making it happen. It’s a place where the words “Live Long and Prosper” literally come to life. The Roddenberry Foundation honors Gene Roddenberry’s legacy by funding game-changing discoveries that will make the world a better place. We genuinely want to work for the greater good of humanity and celebrate (not just tolerate) its full diversity. We want to support institutions doing cutting-edge work that will solve problems, not simply put Band-Aids on them. Our support focuses on four pillars: science/tech, environment, education, and humanitarianism.
For 45 years the Roddenberry name has encouraged people to think, question and challenge the status quo of the world in which we live. That philosophy motivates the work we do, and why one of our biggest contributions to date has been to establish The Roddenberry Center for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at Gladstone in San Francisco. If my father could have looked through its microscopes and seen the adult cells that could one day become a regenerated limb, a beating heart or a disease-free brain, he would have been thrilled to meet the passionate scientists who are boldly going where no one has gone before. I’ve seen a sheet of beating heart cells and it was truly other-worldly – just amazing.
And behind every great organization are the people who run it. Tomorrow’s leaders are today’s young people—kids—with great ideas, making life-saving equipment with their computers or in the basement. The Foundation is also exploring PRIs (program related investments) as one strategy for investing in young entrepreneurs. Even though PRIs have been around for 40 years, most foundations don’t take risks. I don’t want us to get stuck playing it too safe and missing the new breakthrough. I want us to be open to exploring uncharted territory, especially since we are just getting started and have so much to learn.
Being fairly new to philanthropy, I am sobered by the great responsibility it is to give away money. The hardest thing to do is to say “no” to the many worthy causes that need support, and likewise to make choices that will truly make a difference. There are promising solutions for the world’s problems but applying them is not easy. For example, even though a billion people are deprived of sanitation and fresh drinking water—what we consider basic human essentials—simply installing a toilet might not work in a village where women and girls might have to overcome a myriad of cultural obstacles just to get there. I also have to rein in my impatience with the slow motion of government policies and regulations. I admire people who don’t become discouraged easily, who find their way through the bureaucratic process.
When I need to re-charge my batteries or gain a different perspective, I like to go diving. The ocean is my Zen place, and diving is a great way to live the Star Trek mission of “exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life!” I founded the Roddenberry Dive Team to promote education, exploration and stewardship of our oceans. My passion for the ocean compels me to help bring awareness to others about the importance of our world’s ecological balance and generate a meaningful dialogue around the need to respect and protect our planetary habitats for generations to come. So much needs to be done, but it is critical that we take care of our most precious resource.
In the end, the Roddenberry name gives me access that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and I’m using it to look for ways to further our foundation’s mission. I’ve got a lot of learning, growing and evolving to do myself, but I’m doing what I can to bring about the world my dad envisioned. My hope is that people will do the same, and realize that anyone with passion, drive and faith in themselves can make an impact. It’s the new ideas in support of humanity and incredible people I encounter along the way that inspires me to uphold the Roddenberry tradition. With the next generation on the way—my son due this year—I need to kick it into warp speed.