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Sweet Blackberry's Inspiring Animated Short About Bessie Coleman

The triumphant story of the first African-American woman to become a pilot

by Katie Olsen
on 11 July 2017

Rooted in the belief that stories are powerful and able to inspire young people, non-profit organization Sweet Blackberry's mission is to shine a light on little-known African-American achievements. Founded by activist Karyn Parsons (perhaps best-known to many as Hilary Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"), the organization is currently funding their fourth animated short; about the incredible story of Bessie Coleman, the first woman African-American pilot, and they are (at time of publish) just shy of their goal.

Parsons tells CH, "I've wanted to tell her story for a long time, but was reluctant as there's probably more on her than the other stories we've told so far. Still, I couldn't believe how many people hadn't heard of her." Born in 1892, Bessie Coleman lived during a time when women and people of color weren't allowed to enter aviation school, yet she was the first woman of African-American descent and Native American descent to hold a pilot license. She achieved this by working several jobs, learning French, and going to Paris to earn her license.

"We're talking about a black woman in the US in 1921. Not only did she dream big by anyone's standards, but she let nothing get in her way. When no one in the US would teach her because of her race and gender, she learned French, and moved to France to get her license. I find that incredibly inspiring," Parsons says, "And she received her International Pilot's License two years before Amelia Earhart!" Coleman traveled through Europe and learned to be a stunt pilot—ending up with the nickname "Queen Bess" in the United States.

Coleman's story is one of determination, rebellion and success. Of talent and hard work, spirit, audacity and adventure—it's nothing if not inspiring. And, as Parsons tells us, "The thing is these are American stories. They are for all of us. We should all know them. I'm talking about people who shaped the country. Not just for black people, but for every American and beyond. It's important that we all know our history."

The 20-minute animated film is set to be narrated by Laurence Fishburne and will be distributed to libraries and schools, and available to watch at home. The aim is, of course, to have as many children see this film as possible—encouraging them to believe that regardless of the obstacles in their way, they can be anything they want. And if funding such a great project isn't enough, Sweet Blackberry has some exciting rewards for Kickstarter backers—from digital downloads of the film, to totes, and even a Will Smith voicemail and dinner with the cast of Fresh Prince.

Parsons hopes that every child in the country sees the short film. "Every child. Really," she affirms. "Seeing her story will help kids realize what they are capable of—against all odds! They can do and be anything. Nothing has to stop them. They don't have to accept, 'No, you can't because you're the wrong sex or the wrong color, or the wrong shape or the wrong whatever.'" She wants children to know that "tremendous obstacles are actually opportunities for greatness."

Head to Kickstarter to make a pledge before the campaign ends in eight days.

Images courtesy of Sweet Blackberry

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