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[IN MY LIFETIME] Author Niya Brown Matthews on Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison

We are revisiting this article about the first Black female astronaut, Mae Jemison, on the 36th anniversary of the day the first African-American astronaut, Guion S. Bluford Jr., traveled into space, Aug. 30, 1983.

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 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 Endeavour space shuttle launching. In addition, my father and mother had always urged my two younger sisters and me 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 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  Jemison’s story.  —As told to Shantell Jamison


Follow the social media hashtag #EBONYBHM for more of our Black History Month content, including our monthlong “In My Lifetime” narratives. Click here for other entries in the series.

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