From a young age, Mae Carol Jemison had a vision of going beyond our atmosphere to explore outer space. As an adult, she would become the first Black Female Astronaut, and a symbol for women everywhere.
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decature, Alabama. She is the daughter of Charlie Jemison, a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization, and Dorothy Green, an elementary school teacher. Like many African Americans at the time, her family saw opportunities in the North that the South didn’t present, and so her family took advantage of the better educational and opportunities in Chicago.
Before she was orbiting in space, she practiced her medical education, serving in the Peace Corps before being selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps.
In an interview she says, "I thought, by now, we'd be going into space like you were going to work".
Her interest in learning would only keep growing. While her parents were very supportive of her pursuit of being a scientist, her teachers were not. When she was in kindergarten, she told her teacher she wanted to be a scientist, only for her teacher to advise her to become a nurse. Fortunately, her teacher didn’t have much influence over Jemison's dreams.
Aside from being an astronaut, she is a big fan of the arts. She has been dancing since the age of 11 and has taken classes in ballet, jazz, and even modern Japanese dancing.
Jemison has expanded her career to work in different industries and received multiple awards in her line of service. She appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lieutenant Palmer, becoming the first real astronaut on the show. Since then , she has appeared on several programs on stations like PBS and the Discovery Channel. In 1996, she was honored by being on the Azeri postage stamp. In 1988, she received the Essence Science and Technology Award. In 1991, she received an award from the Japanese Magazine as "One of the Women for the Coming New Century". In 2004, she was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame, and received the NASA Space Flight Medal.
Jemison says that her influences came from not seeing women in the male dominated fields of science, Civil Rights, and space exploration. She mentions in an interview that she did not see Dr. King a jolly "Santa" figure like most people imagined him, instead seeing him as fierce with attitude along with bravery. In Jemison's eyes, the Civil Rights movement was about breaking down barriers to what people could accomplish.
Like many, Jemison experienced many obstacles in life. While attending Stanford University, she often faced discrimination from her professors who did not acknowledge her as a student. She mentions that when she would ask a question to one of her professors, the professor would act as if it was the most stupid thing to ask, while when a white male student asked the same question, he would be praised.
Jemison used what was held against her as a stepping stone to greatness.
Jemison was destined for greatness from an early age. She is not just a role model for blacks and women, but an icon for the underprivileged, underestimated, and unheard. She worked hard to be a successful figure in a male dominated field, and has respectfully earned everything she has.
Although her time orbiting our planet is over, she is still exploring the world inspiring people from all walks of life.
Alexander Walker-Griffin, Head Messenger