Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Journey into Black History...Dr. Mae C. Jemison

It is the 6th day of February, and Black History Month has been on our mind, a lot. I believe that there is no need to single out the shortest month of the year to highlight people who have clearly shaped all history - but I am recognizing, after our relocation specifically, all history is not created equal. Our children have embraced our decision to increase our knowledge of history during this month, using it as a catalyst for a more focused dinner conversation. In just a few short days I have learned, they aren't the only ones who are learning.

Dr. Jemison was destined to be an early topic in the month, because I was intent on talking about living legends. Our living legends are people who are alive today and making a difference. Often times when we talk about history, the focus is on the top 5 names that we all should know. (We have also learned that we don't know as much as we thought on that front either.) We are science nuts, and when I thought about celebrating my Soror and a hero, I thought I knew the direction to come. Dr. Jemison is so much more.

Mae C. Jemison blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, September 12, 1992, the world's first woman of color to go into space and the city of Chicago's first astronaut in U.S. history.

At 16 she graduated from High School, and was encouraged to read and excel in school by her parents. My children were particularly interested in her younger life, and relocation to Chicago - as much as her many achievements. Jemison attended Stanford University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering, and fulfilled the requirements for an A.B. in African and Afro-American studies. She completed her medical doctorate at Cornell University. This could have been enough to start a conversation with my children, until we discovered her tremendous commitment to service and giving back. Jemison was a General Practitioner in Los Angeles with the INA/Ross Loos Medical Group, and then spent 2 ½ years as Area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa.

One of 15 selected from 2,000 applicants to NASA, Jemison was selected after the fatal Challenger launch which ceased any new applications to the program. Her resilience to pursue her own path and to explore outer space was consistent throughout her entire life. Applying a second time gave a great lesson that even the best of the best have challenges. I thought I would have talked about the pink and green banner she carried into space, but I spent a lot of time talking about the facts I discovered along with my children. There's so much to know about the heroic giant - a woman of grace.

Honors and awards include induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame; selection as one of the People magazines' 1993 "World's 50 Most Beautiful People"; Johnson Publications Black Achievement Trailblazers Award; the Kilby Science Award; National Medical Association Hall of Fame; selection as a Montgomery Fellow, Dartmouth College; and numerous honorary doctorates. She was the host and technical consultant of the "World of Wonder" series on the Discovery channel, appeared in an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation, and was the subject of the PBS documentary The New Explorers. She marked our 4th day of Black History month, but reminded me the season isn't for the children or anyone else. February has served as a catalyst, a good reminder, all of our history lessons are not yet learned. And surely, we are unable to teach what we don't know. We celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Jemison!

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