Growing up in Chicago I watched the sky—stars, clouds, moon, sun—determined I would travel among them. I accomplished that goal
and more in 1992 as the first woman of color in the world to go into space without knowing about
the path already set by trailblazing women. As a girl, while I had heard there were some women
pilots, I really did not know about the incredible roles women and especially women of color, played
in aviation and aerospace. If I had known then… Well, let’s just say I cannot think of many more
important tasks for me now than to bring broad public awareness to the achievements, since the
very beginning, of these women in flight.
Amazing women have been integral to our understanding of the heavens, as well as our dreams and capacity to explore it. While society begins to acknowledge and applaud some women, the myriad contributions of women of color from around the world to aviation and aerospace demand greater recognition.
African American aviatrix Bessie Coleman was forced to gain her pilot’s license in France in 1921 due to racism and sexism in the United States—but that is just a part of the story and not even the beginning. Numerous women of color before and after her made their marks as scientists, pilots, engineers, technicians and builders of our imagination. A faceless Dogon elder watched the sky countless generations ago in the Sahara and the world’s first novelist, Murasaki Shibuku, a Japanese woman, wrote of the moon goddess coming to earth in the eleventh century. Hazel Lee, a Chinese American pilot whose offer to fly support missions was turned down by a China that desperately needed pilots in WWII because she was a woman, became a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot). Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura on Star Trek brought women with technical knowledge to the forefront of our imagination and 40 years later an all female Kenyan aircrew took off from Nairobi. Ellen Ochoa, Ph.D. became an astronaut while working as a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center. Dr. Chiaki Mukai, a cardiac surgeon has logged more time in space than any other Japanese spacefarer. Kalpana Chawla, Ph.D. flew her second mission aboard the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle. African American Lt. Col. Beverly Armstrong flew military intelligence missions on the South Korean border.
Today women of color fly commercial airline jumbo jets, research the surface of Mars and the physiology of anyone who might travel there, maintain aircraft and ensure our safety, command and pilot fantastical vehicles inside a deadly computer generated matrix and fuel our possibilities as they tell about the worlds to come.
Through Reality Leads Fantasy—Celebrating Women of Color in Flight, we seek to expand public awareness of the incredible legacy of women of color from around the world in aviation and aerospace as well as highlight the wide range of activities involved in both fields that are essential to our world today. Bringing to life the stories of amazing women who, despite the odds, have been integral to our understanding of the heavens, as well as our dreams and capacity to explore it will inspire everyone. Primary to this effort is to expose students to the myriad career opportunities in aviation and aerospace, to identify the educational venues in science, technology and leadership that will set them on their courses and to promote the importance of science and math education.
Reality Leads Fantasy– Celebrating Women of Color in Flight will be held October 6-7, 2006 in Chicago—the hometown of Dr. Mae Jemison, Nichelle Nichols and Bessie Coleman. The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence is a 501(c)(3) educational foundation that promotes science literacy and social responsibility through its projects as well as its premiere program The Earth We Share (TEWS).