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Bessie Coleman, first Black female aviator, inspiring students in Brooklyn

Brooklyn elementary school celebrates Black aviation pioneer
Brooklyn elementary school celebrates Black aviation pioneer 02:26

NEW YORK - Ahead of Black History Month, a Brooklyn elementary school is celebrating an aviation pioneer. 

Her legacy is teaching students to take their dreams to new heights. 

"My dream is to fly a plane," said 9-year-old Amiiyah Cain. 

Amiiyah is getting a chance to sit in the pilot's seat. She's among the P.S. 5 students getting hands-on experience using flight simulators in the school's aviation center, sponsored by American Airlines. 

"I'm so glad to be here with the kids today, because I didn't have anybody that looked like me," said American Airlines pilot  Capt. Tammy Binns. 

"It's very important for us to set this tone and send the message to the kids that you can do this, too," said American Airlines pilot Capt. Beth Powell. 

The pilots of today and tomorrow gathered to honor the pioneer who paved the way, Bessie Coleman. Coleman was the first Black and Native American woman to earn a pilot's license in 1921. She has since passed, but her great-niece has made it her mission to keep her story alive. 

"To inspire our next generation that they can do whatever they want to in life, just don't take no for an answer," Gigi Coleman said. 

That message was at the center of the presentation Friday, echoed by airline representatives. 

"At American, we're really looking to be intentional about diversifying our flight deck for the future, and so that starts by planting the seeds early on, today, for the next chapters," said Christina Flores of American Airlines. 

"Imagining that you can be anything, that's just the beginning. Seeing that you can be anything, that's what makes all the difference," said Krista Berger of Mattel. 

That's why Mattel created a Bessie Coleman Barbie doll, giving one to each of the students. They also got a copy of "Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman's Dreams Took Flight," read to them by author and actress Karyn Parsons. 

"Bessie said, 'Oh yeah, you just wait and see. There will be a Black female pilot, and it will be me,'" Parsons read. 

After hearing her story, the kids were confident that the sky's the limit. 

"I learned that no matter what people tell you, you can still keep trying," said third grader Gerald Smiley. 

"I learned that I can fly planes just like Bessie Coleman," said fourth grader Khloe Patterson. 

American Airlines says the goal is to bring the aviation program to other schools around the country so more kids can get a chance to see their dreams take off. 

To honor Bessie Coleman's legacy, the dolls were handed out on an American Airlines flight Thursday, which would have been her birthday. 

The airline also had a flight in August with an all-Black female crew. 

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