Today is Whoopi Goldberg's birthday.
Did you know that Whoopi Goldberg was so inspired by Nichelle Nichols' performance as Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series that she wanted to play a character on Star Trek: The Next Generation? She reportedly watched Nichols on Star Trek as a child and called to her mother, "Come quick! Come quick! There's a black lady on TV, and she ain't no maid!" Nichols was the first African-American woman to play a non-stereotypical role on a popular TV show in an era where most minority actors were cast as maids or servants. The character Guinan was specifically created for Goldberg based on her desire to play "anything" on the show.
Guinan is a bartender and waitress in the Enterprise eating area. This profession is perfect for a character who belongs to an alien race of "listeners." She is an El-Aurian from the planet El-Auria—the root word from which we derive the word "aural"—and is hundreds of years old with an awareness that transcends the space-time continuum (she can sense alternate universes). Guinan is usually shown giving timeless advice and emotional support to those who come to utilize her role as an informal counselor on the ship (the formal ship's counselor is the Betazoid Deanna Troi).
Whoopi Goldberg is equally as inspirational as Nichols because she played an intelligent character on a science fiction show, a genre that is usually pretty stereotypical and geared toward white men.