I speak at a lot of schools across the country, and I’ve encountered a trend that drives me freakin’ nuts. I always ask students the following question:
“How many of you want to be a professional athlete or a rapper?”
At inner-city, mostly African American schools, nearly every hand shoots up. When I ask the same question in a white suburban school, maybe 10 percent of hands are raised. I speak to a lot of schools, and this happens without fail.
I tell black kids all the time, “You ain’t gonna be me.” Even if you’re any good on the court, the odds are stacked against you. But I can tell from the blank way they look back at me: They’re putting all their eggs in this totally unlikely basket. But I get why. Young black kids get from the media an unrealistic picture of African American success. Athletes and rappers, with Denzel and Oprah thrown in.
So to mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, I’m going to introduce you every day to my Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.
(born November 22, 1942)
The first African American to go into space is Philadelphia’s own Bluford, 73, who grew up here before earning an aerospace engineering degree from Penn State through the Air Force ROTC program. After flying 144 combat missions in Vietnam, Bluford became the first African American NASA astronaut in 1979, eventually going into space on the Challenger and Discovery. Bluford logged over 28 days in space and 5,100 hours on different fighter pilots. “I’ve come to appreciate the planet we live on,” Bluford said. “It’s a small ball in a large universe. It’s a very fragile ball but also very beautiful. You don’t recognize that until you see it from a little farther off.” After his retirement, Bluford joined private industry, eventually becoming president of Aerospace Technology, an engineering consulting firm.
- Penn State, B.S. 1964
- Air Force Institute of Technology, M.S. 1974, Ph.D. 1978
- University of Houston-Clear Lake, MBA 1987
- Earned honorary degrees from 14 universities, including Drexel University and University of the Sciences
- Inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997 and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010
- Over two-dozen awards and accolades for his years of service as a pilot and astronaut
- A part of the Tuskegee Airmen
- Ranked colonel in U.S. Air Force
In Guion’s International Space Hall of Fame biography, he says, “I felt an awesome responsibility, and I took the responsibility very seriously, of being a role model and opening another door to black Americans, but the important thing is not that I am black, but that I did a good job as a scientist and an astronaut. There will be black astronauts flying in later missions … and they, too, will be people who excel, not simply who are black . . . who can ably represent their people, their communities, their country.”
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/NASA