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Women in History: Holding Up Half the Sky

I had the pleasure of participating in a special event – Teaching Children to be Limitless - for Women’s History Month.  We rotated through a series of tables, answering questions from a group of school-aged children. I got one question at nearly half the tables – do you want to go into space? The first time I got the question, I answered, “No, I’m too old.” Then a group, led by an 8-year-old girl, yelled at me irreverently, “What? You can do ANYTHING you want to do!”  After that, my answer was YES.  There’s nothing like getting a taste of your own medicine by being yelled at by an 8-year-old after you just gave them a dose of inspiration. 

When I was their age, I wanted to go into space.  But I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in space.  By the time I graduated from college, I was convinced that an overweight, nearsighted African American urban girl could never be an astronaut.  But, had I done my part and reframed my own beliefs, perhaps, I could have been a first.

In her book It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, Rebecca Shambaugh challenges us to examine our beliefs, checking them to determine if they limit us in any way.  She goes on to say:

“…in order to reach your potential, it’s essential to acknowledge the beliefs that you hold about yourself, as well as your belief about other people and the world around you.”

 Shambaugh reminds readers to examine these self-beliefs periodically.  This sassy 8-year-old reminded me it was time to examine my own again. 

Bessie Coleman was an American aviator who became the first African American female pilot and the first African American to hold an international pilot’s license.  She challenged herself and the belief of others to lead the way for others. In a story about her life Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator, Doris Rich states:

“From the moment Bessie decided to become a pilot nothing deterred her.  She ignored all the difficulties of her sex and race, her limited schooling and present occupation.”

“Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.” — Lt. William J. Powell, Founder, Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs

A Chinese proverb says that “women hold up half the sky.”  It is essential for organizations to inspire the next generation of all of the sky-holders — scientists, engineers, and explorers– to aim high and reach new heights to improve humankind. If we are going to do our part in holding up the sky, we have to get beyond the notion of a glass ceiling and change our self-limiting behaviors to reach these heights.  


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