Pioneer spirit makes Black History Month special
Feb 05, 2014 | 726 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

In 2007 at age 75, Barbara Hillary became the first known African-American woman

to reach the North Pole. Not long after, she reached the South Pole just one

year shy of her eightieth birthday, earning the distinction of being the first

African-American woman to reach both North and South Poles.

Here is one audacious woman who reimagined her life and went on to do something

unique and personally meaningful to her, long after many of us have retired. As

we observe Black History Month throughout February, this pioneering spirit is

alive and well in the contributions and accomplishments of African-Americans of

all ages, as it has been throughout our history.

I can see examples of this in the lives of individual Texans and Americans who

have made great strides and accomplished great things personally and for

society. People like Thurgood Marshall, who was instrumental in the Brown v.

Board of Education decision to integrate our public schools and became the first

African-American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court at age 59.

Or Ralph Bunche, who was in his 40s when he became the first African-American to

win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for helping end the first Arab-Israeli war in


Or Texan Jamie Foxx, a Grammy and Oscar award winning musician, actor, and

entertainer who has also been an avid philanthropist and has used his fame and

resources to give back to the community. Born and raised in Terrell, Foxx has

worked with over 15 charities representing causes like AIDS, Down Syndrome,

poverty and more.

Or consider Mae Jemison, a physician and scientist who, in her 30s, became the

first African American woman to travel into space in 1992. Ms. Jemison, who was

also a dancer, epitomizes the challenge we at AARP are issuing to all Americans

today: We can all reimagine, and even recreate, our life at any age—whether

we’re 30 or 100. It all boils down to following your passions and living life to

the fullest.

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your

curiosity,” Ms. Jemison said. “It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go

on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”

This year, the theme of Black History Month is Civil Rights in America. The

first thing that brought to mind for me was a key Texas leader of the Civil

Rights movement -- Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Congresswoman Jordan was the

first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the

first black female from the South elected to the United States House of

Representatives. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous

other honors.

But even before Congresswoman Jordan’s election, we were inspired by people like

Hattie Mae White, a teacher turned PTA president and mother of five who decided

to run for the Houston school board. She won, and became the first black person

elected to public office in Texas since Reconstruction. A tireless advocate for

desegregation, Mrs. White held public office for almost 10 years before

returning to teaching, and she didn’t retire until age 70.

Mrs. White and Congresswoman Jordan saw considerable change and a lot of

progress in their lifetimes, but it was hard-earned. The experience of black

Texans has been paradoxical. While working to help build our state's unique

cultural heritage, we have also been subjected to slavery, segregation and

prejudice. In spite of the formidable obstacles, the African-American

contribution in Texas remains significant.

So this Black History Month, as we look back to the past, we also look forward

to the future. We’re inspired by the pioneering Texans who preceded us, and we

look forward to reimagining our own futures and the change we want to inspire in

the world. We want to hear your powerful stories from the Civil Rights movement,

and we want to hear about your dreams for the future. Please visit and and share them with us.

Charlene Hunter James is a member of the AARP Texas' all-volunteer Executive

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