Quentin Keller

I was in the fifth grade when I first became aware of my blackness and my emerging womanhood. I was sitting in the classroom and we were learning about science. My teacher, Ms. Woods, told us about a scientist named Dr. Mae Jemison. Now, Dr. Jemison was not any old scientist. She had made history as the first black woman to go to outerspace. I held the glossy photo in my textbook close to my face, trying to see every detail of Dr. Jemison in the Space Shuttle Endeavour.  

That’s when I thought to myself that “I want to be the second black woman to go to space.” I had no idea what it really meant to be an astronaut, but it was the first time I knew what it meant to be a black woman.

That was the first time I thought of myself in those terms. Me, a black woman. I later realized I had no interest in studying physics and engineering beyond a basic level of understanding, so I started to wonder what I could be. What was my potential?  What would follow “first black woman to…” when they speak of me? From that day forward I felt as though my life was me trying to figure this out. Would I be the first black woman president? Will I be the first black woman to win an Oscar in some category? Who knew. But the possibilities were now endless because of Dr. Jemison. If she could go to the moon, then where would I go?

For me, Dr. Jemison and her accomplishments have been a motivation for me in my life. When I am struggling with feelings of unworthiness and impostor syndrome, I remember the ten year old who looked at that photo of the space shuttle and knew she could accomplish all she set her mind to.  

Black History Month is not only about invention of peanut butter, traffic signals, or revolutionary hair products. It is not just about the products or the usefulness that has come from black minds. Black History Month is a reminder for one month out of the year that as a community, black people have turned coal into diamonds, lemons into lemonade, and scraps into food that nourishes the soul. It is a reminder that with every challenge that each era brings us, we always manage to rise above. We continue to create, revolutionize, and forgive. It is a reminder that no matter how far you have fallen or been knocked down, that you will rise once again. You will not only rise to where you were, but to heights far beyond.

So what is your moon? What is it that you never thought you could accomplish? It could be going to college, writing a novel, or making a scientific breakthrough. Whatever your moon may be, take February to dream and plan big. Begin taking the steps needed to get you there. Black History Month is also prime time to look back at the Black folks who did the impossible. They paved ways so that you could do the same.

Need Inspiration? Check out these Black women who have shaped history.

Dr. Mae Jemison (Astronaut)

Zora Neale Hurston (Anthropologist and Author)

Dr. Bernice King (Activists and Reverend)

Shirley Chisholm (Politician)

Marie M. Daly (Chemist)