Experience

Black History Month 2024, Aerospace Edition Wrap-Up

February 29, 2024

Day 29 of #BlackHistoryMonth 2024, Aerospace Edition. We’ll be wrapping up the month with an overview of how it came together and maybe one bonus highlight.

First, I hope you enjoyed the series and learned something or about someone new. I wish I could say that this was well-planned in advance, but it wasn’t. Two things made it happen. I serve on the Board of Directors at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. This is a passion project – if you know me, I’ve had my heart in the stars since I was a kid, and serving a place that holds the artifacts of peak human innovation in aerospace is a dream come true. It’s also a place where you learn stories of courage, ingenuity, and confidence. At a recent meeting I asked how we were surfacing untold stories- those who did remarkable things outside the spotlight. Not a few days later, @Stephen Green posted his yearly challenge to do the work during Black History Month. I knew what I had to do.

Yes, this story starts with ChatGPT. I asked it for the top ten Black achievements in aviation and space. It produced a lot of famous, mainstream stories, such as the Hidden Figures. I asked it for lesser known stories but that represented firsts. This time, unlimited. It produced 35 names this time, most that I’d never seen before. I surfed Wikipedia for 2 hours and compiled a list I thought was super interesting. I had one for each day of the month and 32 in reserve.

My biggest takeaway from this is that there was never any shortage of black achievement, firsts or major inventions. But those stories never seemed to be told, even when searching for them. Honestly, that pissed me off. Each person I discovered did remarkable things even when the odds were double and triple stacked against them. And not only did the fight the good fight, they kicked the door open for others behind them.

For my numbers people, the stats behind Black History Month 2024 aerospace edition.

100 years of achievement
31 people (17 women / 14 men)
19 states / 2 countries
15 known to me / 7 in my network
13 different fields/disciplines
3 generations

And now, the full list:

1Mae Jemisonhttp://tinyurl.com/4mkp67es
2Guion Bluford Jr
3Jessica Watkins
4Ronald McNair
5Bessie Colemanhttp://tinyurl.com/2z4txv4n
6Cornelius Coffeyhttp://tinyurl.com/mwv7unr9
7Nichelle Nicholshttp://tinyurl.com/zy2c9wnv
8Celia-Rose Gooding
9Danielle Woodhttp://tinyurl.com/32vahtm6
10Beth A. Brownhttp://tinyurl.com/y7wwtdb9
11Camille Wardrop Alleynehttp://tinyurl.com/2kvpkmfn
12Jacque Njerihttp://tinyurl.com/4whtw3fy
13Sian Proctorhttp://tinyurl.com/3tx3phkr
14Dr. Katherine Johnsonhttp://tinyurl.com/3arx4v2u
Dorothy Vaughn
Janez Lawson
15Charles Boldenhttp://tinyurl.com/55pbuz7t
16Quincy Brownhttp://tinyurl.com/hchy358k
17AJ Jinkhttp://tinyurl.com/kc7arpds
18Lonnie Johnsonhttp://tinyurl.com/maxdk8cp
19Gladys Westhttp://tinyurl.com/yc82f3mc
Jesse Russell
20Warren Washingtonhttp://tinyurl.com/yc4pvx98
21Sydney Hamiltonhttp://tinyurl.com/4mbem33p
22Ron Gamblehttp://tinyurl.com/7hh36njr
23Maynard Okerekehttp://tinyurl.com/3bvk6k66
24Leland D. Melvinhttp://tinyurl.com/ynvrtnab
25Yvonne Caglehttp://tinyurl.com/47hzp8z5
26Levar Burtonhttp://tinyurl.com/yrv57ffm
27Corey Frazierhttp://tinyurl.com/y2w6sakt
28Leviticus A. Lewishttp://tinyurl.com/f6bpvjmv
Links to every person highlighted for #BlackHistoryMonth 2024

I became a history teacher for a month and I learned stories I’ll be re-telling to my students. I’ve developed a writing habit and found my own voice as well. I used my platform to highlight, but will also use it to elevate.

“In learning you will teach, in teaching you will learn.”

Phil Collins

You can do it too. Here’s how!

  1. Choose a month that matters to you. Black History (February), AAPI (May), Hispanic Heritage (September-October), Women (March), Native American Heritage (November). More here: https://edib.harvard.edu/heritage-months
  2. Select a theme. Aerospace is personally important to me and where I serve. Choose a theme important to you, where stories must be told.
  3. Create a list of names. Start with ChatGPT (or other Generative AI), but seek others from your own network and research. Organize them in a chart like this:
  4. Do the Research. Find other bios, the person’s website, TED Talks, Youtube videos, podcasts, and more. Learn what makes them remarkable and the causes / messages important to them. Identify the lesson we can learn.
  5. Create a short bio template that makes it easy for you to create momentum. Mine outlined the person’s youth, education, accomplishments, rounded out with a lesson I chose (and not always the obvious ones).
  6. Write 5 in advance so you won’t be under pressure. It’s more powerful to use your own voice here, so avoid Generative AI unless you’re really stuck.
  7. Bring others along to do the research and writing, and promoting. Thank you @Ragni Jayanthy, @Corey Frazier, @Lestarya Tuadi Molloy for your encouragement and support.

I set out to learn the hidden stories and became a history teacher for a month. In learning from me, I hope you will teach someone else- hopefully, someone who needs to hear them. Please do share freely in your networks and get in touch if you do this exercise yourself!


Today belongs to Ed Dwight, who was the first black astronaut candidate during the Apollo era.

Ed Dwight, born in 1930s Kansas, was captivated by aviation from a young age, a passion ignited by his the planes flying in and out of the airstrip next to the segregated farm he lived on. Despite the racial barriers of his time, Dwight’s ambition soared, leading him to a distinguished career in the Air Force and, ultimately, to be selected for astronaut training under President John F. Kennedy’s administration. As the first African American astronaut candidate, he faced discrimination, particularly after Kennedy’s assassination, which derailed his path to space. Despite this, Dwight’s contributions to aerospace and his pioneering status have garnered recognition in recent years. See National Geographic’s documentary “The Space Race.” Transitioning from potential astronaut to a celebrated sculptor, Dwight has immortalized influential figures from Black history in his art, some of which has traveled to space. His journey from aspiring astronaut to influential artist and mentor underscores the profound impact of perseverance and the importance of paving the way for future generations.

I learned about Ed Dwight in 2024. I studied the Apollo program in high school and on my own just after college. I actively sought information on diversity in the space program. It was like he’d been erased from history. At least for a time. Yet, he persevered in telling his story. I have been asking myself if I would have the grit to keep telling the story no one wanted to hear, until they were ready to hear it. Do you?

Sources:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/the-space-race-documentary-explores-black-astronauts-efforts-to-overcome-injustice

https://apnews.com/article/nasa-space-race-ed-dwight-9e87955f10331a2c32ecab6ca033a4a

https://films.nationalgeographic.com/the-space-race

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Dwight

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