This Black History Month, I’m reflecting on an inspiring black woman who left an indelible mark on my life. In 2009, I knew within myself that I needed to make a change in my life. At the time, it was like I was letting life pass by me. I was working for an elementary school and helping kids, but it just wasn’t enough for me. Something was missing in my life. When I looked at everything I had done in my life, I thought I didn’t have enough accomplishments under my belt. It was either that, or I had forgotten my past accomplishments. Suddenly, it was like those past accomplishments weren’t enough for me. For a moment, I forgot what I was supposed to be doing in life. What can I say? This happens in life to all of us.
Life happens so fast, and as you go through your day-to-day grind, you can lose yourself. For a moment, I forgot that I hadn’t achieved all of my goals yet. I still had goals tucked away in my mind, and I ignored them instead of pursuing them. There were so many things that I wanted to do, and I allowed trivial things to come ahead of my dreams. Then, on that one day back in 2009, while I was facilitating a Language Arts Studies group for kids, we read this story about Mae C. Jemison, the first black woman astronaut.
As I was reading her story aloud to my students, I learned so much about this woman—this phenomenal woman. I mean, I knew of remarkable women; I honestly did. My grandmother was the most remarkable woman I knew. I recited The Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou to my grandmother on one of her birthdays. And when I worked as a substance abuse counselor, I had each of the women in my group get up in front of a mirror before everyone and read that same poem, The Phenomenal Woman. I wanted them to know they were extraordinary. So, I knew what a phenomenal woman was. I can remember this lady telling me at twenty-four, when she was forty-two, that she wanted to be like me when she really grew up. But was I truly phenomenal?
Mae C. Jemison is a real-deal phenomenal woman with so many achievements. Jemison was the first black woman to travel into space. She attended Stanford at sixteen and graduated with a BS degree in chemical engineering and a BA degree in both African and African-American studies. Then, she attended Cornell University while studying dance at the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater. After receiving her MD degree at Cornell, this exceptionally ambitious woman joined the Peace Corps, serving as a medical officer. And Jemison is an author, actor, dancer, professor, and so many other wonderful things. She is the definition of well-rounded and accomplished.
I didn’t see myself as being well-rounded. When I read her story, I felt like a loser! I didn’t do half of the things she had done, and I was in my early thirties! I felt like I hadn’t done enough or achieved enough. After reading her story to my students, I excused them to return to their classes, and I exclaimed out loud to the two teachers I worked with, “I’m a loser!” I asked those teachers while holding the book up, did they know all the things this woman has accomplished?
They didn’t know, and I read them their rights about Miss Mae C. Jemison and all the prestigious things she had done that made her a phenomenal woman. I told them I had to do more with my life. Jemison made me wake up and get my life back on track. It is because of her that I went back to college. I saw all of those degrees that Jemison had worked for, and I didn’t even finish getting mine. So, I went back to CSU Fresno to complete my education, and I only needed two more semesters. In 2010, I made the Dean’s list and received my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy with a minor in Psychology. After this, I started planning for my move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
I think if I hadn’t read her story, I wouldn’t have pushed myself. Perhaps my life would have stayed stagnant, but I knew I was much too good for that. I knew there was so much more for me to do in my life. I had purpose and gifts that others recognized, but this wasn’t enough to call myself phenomenal. The lady who told me I was phenomenal didn’t convince me—her words were not enough. I’m not done aiming to be my best; I want to be a phenomenal woman, and I want to inspire others just like Jemison inspired me. Yet, I’m not saying that life has to be built around how many degrees you get and how many accolades—I’m simply saying life should not be wasted.
Jemison influenced me to be a better person and woman. I have met a lot of important women in my life, and that includes average women, actors, and entertainers, but I had to know in myself that I had what it took to be better, to do my best, not to settle and go after my dreams. Jemison inspired me to do these things more than anyone. Again, I read her story back in 2009, and I have not looked back. Yes, I have stumbled and fell, but through the grace of God, I got back up!
Today, I am an author, educator, entrepreneur, and a student working on my MBA degree, and my inspiration guides me daily. Also, I’m trying to devise a mission to help end homelessness. There is nothing you can’t do in life if you allow yourself to be inspired, dream, and strive for your goals. I celebrate Mae C. Jemison for inspiring me through her gifts from God. Uncovering her story has truly been a blessing to me, and there are many others just like her to celebrate during this Black History Month.