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“I refused to take no for an answer” Bessie Coleman

Every February, we have the chance to honor the brave, innovative, intelligent and history-making African Americans who have contributed so much to the world today as we know it. We plaster Martin Luther King quotes all over our Facebook pages and stand united with Rosa Parks and marvel at the bravery of Harriet Tubman. But this February, we want to honor three African Americans who don’t get enough credit for the mark they’ve made on our country.  This month we are going to put the spotlight on 3 amazing woman and their incredible accomplishments that helped shape the world and continue to inspire us.

This week, we take to the skies with our spotlight on Bessie Coleman

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was born in 1892 and was the tenth of 13 children in her family. Born in Atlanta, Bessie loved school and completed the 8th grade in a one-room schoolhouse. When her father left the family, her mother found odd jobs to support the family. This is probably why Bessie took it upon herself to save up enough money to attend Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma. Although her passion and determination were there, the funds weren’t, and she only completed one semester.

When she was 23, Bessie moved to Chicago with her brother and worked at a nail salon. There, she started reading and listening to stories about pilots in the war, and she was instantly hooked. This is what sparked her fascination with aviation and where she started her journey towards earning her pilot’s license.

She applied to many aviation schools in the US but was denied because of her race. But just like all of the other obstacles in her life, Bessie didn’t let this stop her from pursuing her dream. An avid reader, Bessie taught herself French so she could move to France and enroll in the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation. While she was there, she excelled in her classes and studies and earned her pilot’s license in just seven months. She became the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license. Her goal was to head back to the states and open up her own aviation school, but instead, she made a living stunt flying and parachuting. In 1922, at the ripe old age of 30, she became the first African American to take a public flight.

In 1926, at the age of 34, Bessie tragically plummeted her death during a practice run before an aviation stunt show. Although her beautiful life was cut short, she paved the way for women and minorities to pursue their dreams and follow their dreams of flying.

The Bessie Coleman Park in Chicago is a beautiful tribute to her short but impactful life, A section of the O’Hare Airport is named after her, along with a gorgeous portion of the Chicago Public Library. Students who visit the Windy City can walk the same streets as the dedicated and brave Bessie Coleman. The house Bessie lived in is just a mile or so down the street from the park named after her.

Bessie’s drive to break barriers and follow her dreams regardless of the opposition is something we can all strive for. Her legacy surpasses the aviation world and serves as a reminder to everyone about the importance of persistence, dedication and unwavering determination.

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