Black History Month takes flight early at Dr. Ronald E. McNair public school

American Airlines and partners host a Black History Month celebration honoring Bessie Coleman.
American Airlines and partners host a Black History Month celebration honoring Bessie Coleman.
Photo courtesy of Keith Forest.

American Airlines has partnered with Dr. Ronald E. McNair public school to honor the legacy of Bessie Coleman, the first black and native American to become an aviator, with a ceremony for young girls on Jan. 27, a few days ahead of Black History Month. 

According to Lena Gates, principal of P.S. 005, American Airline’s will bring in Gigi Coleman, the grandniece of the flight pioneer, to celebrate with their aviation center’s Lady Flyer’s, the Bed-Stuy girl group made up of elementary student pilots. Karyn Parsons, actress and author of Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight, will host a story time and the girls will be gifted a Barbie Inspiring Women Bessie Coleman doll.

Throughout the day pilots will work one-on-one with the young minds demonstrating the school flight stimulators, teaching them flight lingo and urging them towards a career in piloting.

“They were so happy about the idea of partnering with an elementary school,” Gates told Brooklyn Paper. “We’re proud to be able to create a program that not only is beneficial in supporting the elementary school students here but also supporting our community.”

Event organizers decided to host the ceremony on what would be Bessie Colemans’s 131st birthday, just a few days before Black History Month begins. 

Gates says the event will begin the school’s monthlong educational series, teaching student about black artists, leaders and innovators.

“We’re going to continue to highlight some of the different aspects of African-American history here at our school so this is going to lead right into it,” Gates said. 

This is not the first time the flight company has worked with the school as Gates and her team relaunched their aviation center last fall.  The school, affectionately named after the African American astronaut, Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, looks to prepare pre-teens and teens alike for a potential career in flying. After the school secures a motion- censored stimulator, students will be able to graduate with flight certifications, better equipping them for the field. 

Staff members also work with a program called Leveled Up to mentor and teach the kids what it means to fly, the different careers within aeronautics and encourage them towards academic success overall. 

“American Airlines is also supporting all of our students, especially our high school students that are closer to coming into the workforce,” the principal said. “They are helping them to make those decisions and to keep them focused.”