I have a special place in my heart for young millennials, not only because of my role as a mentor, but also because of the uncertainties they face in a world that has become more hostile and challenging to navigate. Postmodern America is experiencing a social and economic strain that has made it difficult for millennials to focus on the core architecture of their existence and their potential.
The last 20 years has produced several wars, economic uncertainty and an increase in worldwide terrorism that has denied them the opportunity for wealth formation and economic stability that their parents experienced. For many, that distraction robs them of the joy of self-discovery, cultural awareness and a respect for those who went before.
I don’t blame them entirely, because to some extent, the system has failed them. What I would encourage them to do is to contemplate more carefully the people and events that has brought them to this place and time. In my own young life, I stumbled upon a formula for success that still works to this day. I studied the lives of heroes, outliers and people that we call disruptors in today’s world. Their stories helped me to escape my self-absorption and self-pity and placed me firmly in the position to say, “if they can do it so can I.”
Great stories are transformative. Take the story of Bessie Coleman a young woman of African American and Native American descent, who decided she wanted to be an aviator. Mind you in 1892 she was born to a family of share croppers in Texas. How and why she developed such an early interest in flying may be a matter of destiny. Fact is, she did, and she went on a relentless quest to achieve her dream.
There was one big problem; in America in the 1920.s neither African Americans nor women, (all women) had any opportunity to attend a flight school in America. It was unheard of. The only option open to her in order to pursue her dream of flying was to make her way to France to train become a licensed pilot.
As you can imagine someone of Bessie’s color and ambition was a disruptor in her time. Being a woman she was considered overly ambitious and pushy, but she was prepared to make the sacrifice to achieve her dreams. So she moved to Chicago to live with her brothers where she worked as a manicurist in the White Sox barber shop. There she was regaled with stories from pilots returning from flying in World War 1, becoming more and more excited, she took a second job in order to make up the needed funds to travel abroad to get extra training and her license.
There were two people who became her mentors and financers; they were Robert S. Abbot founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender News Paper and a Banker, Jesse Binga. She took a Berlitz French course and travelled to Paris in 1920 to obtain her pilots license. On June 15th, 1921 Bessie Coleman became the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn an aviation pilot license. She also became the first person of her descent to earn an international aviation license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. But Bessie went further, she found a French pilot who was a noted ace and polished her skills.
In 1921 she returned the United States as a media sensation. Soon after returning Bessie realized that to make it as an aviator she would have to become a stunt flyer. Again she returned to France to further hone her skills and then to the Netherlands and Germany to learn aircraft design.
“Queen Bess”, as she was known increased her notoriety and was billed as the world’s greatest flyer; she unfortunately died on April 30th, 1926 pursuing her passion. Her own words sum up her short but unforgettable life. “The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation.” Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman, A REAL AMERICAN HERO.