Mae Jemison becoming the first African American woman astronaut to travel into outer space was a huge deal for me that I will never forget in my lifetime for a variety of reasons. I was in high school at the time and I remember the Today Show and other national media outlets covering the Space Shuttle Endeavour launching. Plus my father and mother had always urged my two younger sisters and I to pursue our education.

I think it was the first time it really resonated with me that my education really could matter in my path to pursuing success. So often our Black kids aren’t shown the correlation between education and real life success other than becoming a doctor or a lawyer. However if we’re honest about things, how many Black kids today have a lawyer on retainer or have a family doctor or see either on a routine basis in their neighborhoods?

When I saw Mae Jemison become an astronaut a light bulb went off in my head that said “Aha! My dad was right! I can become anything I put my mind and work into.” I never imagined in my lifetime that a Black woman would become an astronaut until that day. Today when I speak at schools I tell students especially young Black girls to focus on education as their platform to success and I mention Mae Jemison’s story.

— As told to Shantell Jamison


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