“A Luminary’s Journey: Mae C. Jemison’s Inspiring Story and its Significance in African American History”- Alaon Saulet

Alaon Saulet

Professor Miller 

African American History 

May 12, 2023 


On Wednesday, March 29th, I had the privilege of attending a Women’s History Month conference in the KIPJ Theater featuring Mae C Jemison, the first African American woman to enter space, as she was interviewed by USD professor Dr. Dominguez. As Jemison spoke, it was clear that she is a true trailblazer, having broken barriers throughout her career as a scientist and astronaut. During the conference, Jemison shared her journey, discussing her upbringing and the challenges she faced as a woman of color. Her insights and experiences were both thought-provoking and inspiring, and I found myself completely engrossed in her story. As Jemison spoke, she answered questions from Dr. Dominguez and the audience, providing even more insight into her rise to success. Not only was Jemison’s words inspiring as she recounted her story and accomplishments but it was also clear that her story is significant to our understanding of African American history, in several ways.

Breaking Boundaries: Dr. Mae Jemison’s Journey of Perseverance and Passion in African American History

First of all, Mae C Jemison is a Luminary in every sense of the word. As she shared her success story, she inspired the audience to pursue their passions and never let societal expectations limit their potential. Jemison recounted her journey of starting young, joining Harvard University at the age of 16, and paving the way for many young women of color to pursue higher education. Here Jemison’s story demonstrates the importance of education and the pursuit of knowledge in African American history. Her early admission to Harvard University at the age of 16 highlights the power of education in overcoming systemic barriers and providing opportunities for upward mobility. 

     Dr. Jemison also shared how she maintained her passion for science and exploration, which led her to join the Peace Corps and go overseas. Her experiences in the Peace Corps showed her that there was more to life than just science, and she developed a passion for the arts and culture. She encouraged young women to explore their interests and not limit themselves to one field of study. Jemison’s work with the Peace Corps and her passion for the arts and culture highlight the multidimensional nature of African American experiences. African Americans have made significant contributions to various fields, including the arts, education, politics, and science. Jemison’s accomplishments and diverse interests serve as a reminder of the complexity and richness of African American history. 

When Dr. Jemison decided to pursue her dream of becoming an astronaut, she faced significant opposition from society and a fear of heights. However, she refused to let fear and societal expectations sway her judgment. As she stated, “What do we do with fear, we have to put it in context.” She encouraged women to challenge themselves and take risks regardless of the fear that is present. Instead of letting fear win, she put her fear in context and used it as a tool to propel herself forward. This mindset allowed her to achieve her goal of becoming the first African American woman to travel to space.

Here Dr. Jemison’s message was clear – pursue what you ultimately want to do and don’t let anyone take you off that path. She articulated how she made some of her life choices by taking the next step, leaving where she was, and/or starting something new. She emphasized the importance of taking risks and following your passion, even when it is not the most conventional path. Dr. Jemison’s words serve as a powerful reminder that success and fulfillment come from fulfilling and following one’s passions. Jemison’s message of pursuing one’s passions and staying true to oneself is also a significant part of African American history. Throughout history, African Americans have had to overcome obstacles and societal constraints to pursue their dreams and passions. Jemison’s determination and conviction in pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut exemplify this spirit of perseverance and self-determination.

The Power of Breaking Down Stereotypes and Challenging Societal Limitations

One example that effectively conveyed Jemison’s message is when she told a story she remembers when she was young and she recalls a time in school when a teacher asked what she wanted to be. Jemison had said she wanted to be a scientist, to which the teacher replied “don’t you mean a nurse.” Jemison explained how she knew that the teacher was just trying to guide her to her best career as African American woman, but then encourages the audience not to fall into a category that people put you in, but to instead know that you have the choice to do whatever you want. In this statement, Jemison is acknowledging the good intentions of her teacher who tried to guide her towards a career that was suitable for African American women. However, she also emphasizes the importance of not limiting oneself to a particular category or stereotype that people may try to put them in. Jemison’s message is that individuals should have the freedom and agency to pursue their dreams and aspirations, regardless of their race, gender, or any other societal label. She believes that everyone should be encouraged to explore their interests and talents, without being confined to preconceived notions of what they should or shouldn’t do. Jemison’s own life and career serve as a testament to this message. As the first African American woman to travel to space, she broke down barriers and defied expectations, demonstrating that anyone can achieve their goals with hard work and determination. Jemison’s statement encourages individuals to recognize and challenge societal limitations and stereotypes, and to pursue their passions with the confidence that they have the power to shape their destiny. 

 The Resonating Messages of Mae C. Jemison and the Struggles of Black Women and Men in Overcoming Societal Norms and Achieving Success

As Mae C. Jemison spoke and answered questions, she constantly focused on the theme of breaking free from societal categories and pursuing one’s passions and dreams, regardless of what others may say or think. She emphasized that people should not let others define them or limit their potential based on their gender, race, or any other category they may belong to. This message aligns with the struggles and triumphs of the black women highlighted in Chapter 16 of Freedom on My Mind, who fought against similar societal expectations and restrictions.

In Chapter 16, the authors highlight the experiences of black women who fought against the intersectional oppression they faced as both black and female in American society. These women fought for their rights and recognition as individuals with agency and the ability to determine their paths, despite facing significant obstacles and opposition. For example, Ida B. Wells fought against the lynching of black men and women and worked to expose the injustice and violence of the practice, while Mary Church Terrell fought for women’s suffrage and equal access to education and job opportunities.

Jemison’s message of individual agency and self-determination resonates with the struggles of these black women, who refused to be confined to societal categories and expectations. Their examples inspire us to break free from these constraints and pursue our passions and dreams with determination and courage as Jemison did. 

As I analyze Jemison’s experience and speech another exemplary figure of black resistance from the documentary, A Choice of Weapons; Inspired by Gordan Parks, comes to mind. This exemplary figure is Gordon Parks, a photographer working during the Harlem Renaissance. Parks was the first black man to work for LIFE Magazine as well as have his work published on the front cover. Park’s photography captured the black experience and narratives, a perspective that fought to reject the white imaginary that perpetuated stereotypes, violence, and discrimination. Overall Parks broke societal barriers as he challenged systemic prejudices in his field. 

Gordon Parks and Mae C Jemison both show that barriers can be broken as African Americans defy societal norms and achieve success by pursuing their passions, breaking down barriers, and overcoming systemic and institutional challenges. Both Parks and Jemison defied societal norms and challenged systemic and institutional barriers to achieve success in their respective fields. They serve as role models for future generations and demonstrate that with hard work, dedication, and a willingness to challenge the status quo, barriers can be broken and dreams can be achieved regardless of race, gender, or social background. 

Overall Impact of Mae C Jemison’s Life and Career on African American History

In conclusion, attending the Women’s History Month conference featuring Mae C Jemison was a truly inspiring and thought-provoking experience. Hearing Dr. Jemison answers questions about her life and success truly inspires her, making her the luminary that she is. Dr. Jemison’s life and career serve as a reminder of the importance of education and the pursuit of knowledge, as well as the multidimensional nature of African American experiences and accomplishments. Her message of perseverance, determination, and self-determination was clear throughout the conference and serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of pursuing one’s passions and staying true to oneself. As the first African American woman to travel to space, Jemison broke down barriers and defied expectations, demonstrating that anyone can achieve their goals with hard work and determination. Her story and insights are significant to our understanding of African American history, and her legacy serves as a source of inspiration for generations to come.

Works Cited 


Maggio, J, (Producer). (2021). A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks [Documentary]. HBO Documentary Films 

White, D. G., Bay, M., & Martin, W. E. (2021). Freedom on my mind: A history of African Americans, with documents. Bedford/St. Martins. 


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