Monday morning, Bessie Coleman, the first African American and Native American to achieve her international pilot’s license, landed at Max Westheimer Airport to encourage Oklahoma Aviation Academy students to chase their aspirations.
In some aspects, it was the same as 1925.
Bessie Coleman was represented by her great niece Gigi Coleman, who founded the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars, a non-profit that encourages youngsters to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to honor her legacy.
Gigi Coleman stated, “Like my mother, my objective is to encourage people to choose aviation jobs by telling Bessie Coleman’s story, as she is another hidden character.”
Marion Coleman, the mother of Coleman, was the daughter of Bessie’s youngest sister Georgia Coleman. Marion Coleman petitioned the U.S. Postal Service in 1995 to issue a Bessie Coleman stamp in honor of her aunt, and Gigi Coleman continues to remember her aunt by promoting aviation education.
Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 as the tenth of thirteen children in Atlanta, Texas. She read about aviation as a child, completed high school and some teacher’s college training, and then relocated to Chicago.
Due to her color and gender, she was denied admittance to US aviation schools, so she learned French and moved to France. In 1921, she was awarded an international pilot’s license by the prestigious Federation Aeronautique International.
Gigi Coleman stated, “She obtained her pilot’s license between six months and a year before Amelia Earhart.” She was also the first African American Native American woman to fly in the United States.
As part of its American Women quarter effort, the U.S. mint created a commemorative quarter to honor Bessie’s legacy, which was issued earlier this year; Coleman worked as a consultant on the coin’s design. Coleman stated that around 491 million Bessie Coleman quarters have been created.
“People will continue to learn about Bessie’s tale through these quarters for decades to come,” she said.
Roman Alfaro, a freshman at Norman North, was thrilled to learn about Bessie’s family legacy.
“Today’s event was very informative, and it was cool to see how aviation has evolved and how it has come down to such awesome people, and how we still have people like Gigi coming around and sharing Bessie’s story,” said Alfaro, who joined the academy in order to earn his private pilot’s license and join the military.
Bessie, an African American and Native American lady, was rejected numerous times throughout her career, according to Alfaro, who learnt that adversity creates learning chances.
“I will learn from her determination to never accept ‘no’ as an answer and to always move closer to ‘yes’ with each ‘no,'” he added.
Freshman Jade Ralph from Norman High School is enrolled at the program. She hopes to obtain her private and commercial pilot’s licenses and become an astronaut in the future.
As a young female student, Jade related to Coleman’s message, as the majority of pilots in the profession are men.
She stated, “Aviation is a male-dominated industry, if you know what I mean. Thus, there will be some difficulty, but we can overcome. The way I perceive it.”
Coleman was inducted into both the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001 and 2006, respectively. Mattel added a Bessie Coleman Barbie doll to its “Inspiring Women” series this year.
Coleman stated that Mattel believed Bessie to be an encouragement for young people all throughout the world and especially for young ladies to pursue their aspirations.
The director of the aviation academy, Terry Adams, deemed Coleman’s talk essential for students to grasp the industry’s history and the obstacles that some have experienced and continue to face while pursuing their aspirations.
“All I needed was perseverance. She overcame several difficulties to become the first African American and Native American to obtain an international pilot’s license,” as Adams explained. “Thus, I believe the message was born out of hope. If you have a desire and a dream, you must persevere in order to make it happen.”