There is so much power in continuing your family’s legacy!
Gigi Coleman is the direct descendant of Bessie Coleman, who was the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license and, in 1922, became the first Black woman to fly publicly. Still, in our exclusive interview, Gigi admitted that it took some time before she realized the impact her great-aunt had on society as a whole.
“I was in grade school when I kind of really realized who she was to me,” she told REVOLT. “Well, grade school, kind of going into high school. I know it seems weird because I should have probably known something, but I just didn’t think anything of it. It’s funny because the news people would come to the house and interview my grandmother, and I thought, I guess, that it was normal for people to come in and talk about Bessie Coleman.”
Now, not only do people continue to talk about and celebrate the life of Bessie, but Mattel has officially honored her legacy through its Barbie – Inspiring Women Series.
“Bessie Coleman broke monumental boundaries for women and people of color during her career as an aviator,” said Lisa McKnight, executive vice president at Mattel, in an official statement. “As the first Black and Native American female pilot, Bessie is a remarkable icon to inspire children everywhere to soar to greater heights. Barbie is thrilled to introduce the Bessie Coleman Inspiring Women doll and to continue to amplify Bessie’s passion for encouraging people of color to pursue careers in aviation.”
Gigi echoed the same sentiment about her great-aunt’s legacy, stating, “I’m so happy that Mattel did the Inspiring Women Series and that my great aunt was part of that because I feel that she has inspired a lot of women to think about aviation careers, not only now, but back in the 1920s when she got her license — which she actually received a couple of months before Amelia Earhart, but because she was African American, you know, she’s not in the history books.”
For Gigi, continuing her great-aunt’s legacy is just an extension of the work of her late mother, Marion Coleman, and her late grandmother, Georgia Coleman, who was Bessie’s youngest sister. In an effort to inspire the next generation of women in the aviation industry and beyond, Gigi has toured as a one-woman show to portray Bessie’s story.
“When I first picked out the doll heads and saw the doll, I was so excited. My mother and granny would be so happy,” said Gigi. “It brought tears to my eyes because I know what my mother wanted, what my grandmother wanted… to have the whole world know about the legacy of Bessie Coleman.”
She also hopes the doll resonates with young Black girls, just as it did with her. “I could just imagine the little young girls, you know, seeing someone with that cocoa brown skin, seeing her in her pilot outfit and how Mattel just got it all down,” Gigi continued. “From what she wore, her boots, her scarf, her hair, I’m telling you they really made Queen Bess look good. The doll looks amazing and it really represents Bessie. Barbie did a wonderful job.”
Along with the new doll, Barbie rolled out other initiatives to pledge its support of Bessie Coleman and continuing her legacy. They have partnered with Gigi’s Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars, a not-for-profit organization promoting the legacy of Bessie through STEM programming while also teaching students the fundamentals of aeronautics, introducing them to various careers in aviation, and exploring historical and cultural aviation figures.
Additionally, Barbie partnered with American Airlines — the first commercial airline to hire a Black pilot — on Bessie’s birthday, Jan. 26, when passengers were surprised with a flight operated by an all-Black female crew. “Representation in all career paths within aviation remains deeply significant, which is why we are intentional in our efforts to diversify the flight deck,” said Christina Flores, managing director of aviation recruiting and programs at American Airlines. “Our partnership with Barbie inspires young girls of color to dream of new career possibilities as pilots and leaders in our industry, building upon Bessie Coleman’s rich legacy.”
As Gigi told us, “The sky is not the limit.” Partnerships like these continue to prove that opportunities are endless, but she stressed the importance of having the proper avenues of support as well. “I just want to thank Mattel for everything, and I hope that more organizations will partner with us and help us because we need it,” she explained. “Anything in aviation is expensive.”