The School Format

Bessie’s message to school kids today?

                                                                    “Deal with the drama, graduate school, take control of  your  life!”                                                                                                                                                       


Bessie Coleman was the first person in the world of African descent to earn an international pilots license. Although this was a remarkable achievement for a Black woman in race-torn America in 1921, what exactly does that have to do with helping children graduate high school nearly 100 years later? Everything – one only needs to understand Bessie Coleman and the times she lived in to appreciate it.

100 years ago education for African American was considered a blessing. After over three centuries of being kept illiterate, they knew the only way out of a life of poverty was education. Today many children look at school as a hindrance. If they don’t have the proper guidance, either at school or at home, a child can easily get sidetracked by the maze of today’s temptations they must navigate.

During her fame, Bessie Coleman visited hundreds of underprivileged schools. Although life was simpler back then, Jim Crow laws caused an overwhelming sense of oppression in the Black communities. To many school children this oppression translated as a feeling of “why bother”. Bessie understood this. As a child growing up she was no stranger to poverty and despair.  She always stressed the point “If I can do it…you can do it” But her message was more meaningful than that. Bessie understood the anguish they sometimes felt but she knew they had to have courage and tenacity in order to do what everyone else claimed was impossible for Blacks. She encouraged and motivated them, using herself as a guide, as an inspiration. There wasn’t any time for excuses but time for action and education was the key. It was time for them to take control of their own life – because if they don’t someone else will. This message is as good today as it was 100 years ago. It comes across loud and clear in the school version of the documentary and is examined in detail.

As a young girl Bessie Coleman, like our children today, heard and read the words of encouragement from scholars and leaders in their respected community… words that were uplifting and encouraging. But for most people words tend to fade quickly. Bessie Coleman believed in action. Just how did she turn words in to action?


  1. The South – turn of the century


The only work available for a person of color at that time in history was hard manual labor. It was dirty, backbreaking, in harsh weather, paying very little. Bessie had a better-than-most job of ironing clothes. It was clean indoor work from her own home in which she set her own hours and therefore, her own income. Was this by accident? No. Bessie needed to take care of her younger sisters plus the household chores while her Mother worked.  She also needed to earn a living.  She learned a desired skill that fit her requirements and became very good at it. She didn’t wait until she was forced to find work – she planned ahead.


  1. Chicago – 1919


Bessie just didn’t show up and hope things worked out. She moved in with an older brother until getting established. Again Bessie set her own working criteria. Growing up in the South Bessie was appalled at the way her people were treated and was driven to help uplift her race. Domestic jobs were plentiful in Chicago but Bessie wanted to be in the mainstream of the city where opportunity was more likely to be found. She took a course in manicuring and got a job in a downtown barbershop. The shop was on the Southside (the Black section of town) and the center of Chicago’s nightlife entertainment.  The shop had a diverse clientele of businessmen from all walks of life. Was this by accident? No. Bessie went to school to learn a needed skill and then marketed that skill. She planned ahead.


  1. Europe – learning to fly.


In her aspiration to help uplift her race Bessie Coleman could have followed in the footsteps of many Black leaders of the day: scholars, intellects and writers, who wrote and spoke volumes of words on the subject. Bessie, as were most people of color in America, was tired of words and wanted results.

Bessie was intrigued by aviation and knew the airplane was going to change the world. She wanted her people to be a part of that change. She would help uplift her race by example… not by words.

Once again the odds were stacked against Bessie and once again she put herself in a position to succeed. Flying schools in America refused to teach African Americans so she would need to go to France to learn. Bessie enrolled in a language school to learn French, was accepted at the best flying school in the world at that time. She arranged for the backing of two Chicago businesses that would profit by financing her.

Bessie Coleman coined the saying “I refused to take no for an answer” and her reaction to this situation was a classic example of it. She was faced with what most would consider insurmountable odds and yet systematically overcame them.

She knew being the first Black in the world to earn a flying license would propel her into prominence and her race with her. Was this by accident? No.

Bessie Coleman understood that a goal without a plan was nothing more than a dream. That is still true today. As the film points out, having a dream is not enough – it’s the plan that gets you there.

The School Version of the Bessie Coleman Story will be edited into 8, 12 minute parts allowing teachers to pull up specific segments of Bessie’s life as classroom needs and time allow. There will be teaching aids available for all segments dealing with specific points and events in Bessie’s life at that time. Each segment will also have a timeline of events taking place in America and the World at that time to let young viewers know that there was life before Television, Cell Phones and McDonalds.