As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer. If you have a story you'd like to share but aren't sure about how to put it into words, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "As Told To" for your story to be featured.
This is Dana's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.
So, funny story: I was once pulled over on my way home from work for driving 55 mph in a 45. Three male cops surrounded me, two of them with their hands on their firearms, all three of them with flashlights shining in my face. I was surprisingly calm, even after I was asked four times if I had been drinking, twice if I was on drugs or narcotics, and once if I had any weapons in my vehicle—all before even being asked to hand over my driver's license.
I instead got out my pilot's license and was "about" to hand it to them and looked at it and said, "Oh, wait...that's my pilot's license…" which I then handed them my drivers license. Head honcho asks, "Oh, you're a pilot?!"
I knew from that moment I had him in my pocket. "Yes sir, I am," I replied.
White men love that shit.
In typical fashion, we began to discuss some of the planes that I have flown and other general flight-related questions I'm always asked when people find out I fly planes.
Super long story short, I didn't get a ticket. Apparently, not only is white privilege a thing, but having a white male-dominated occupation or hobby is a privilege too.
The first time I had ever been on an airplane was a JetBlue flight from Orlando (MCO) to Newark. From the moment we took off, I knew I wanted a career in aviation. In middle school, a classmate and I would dream about flying, not knowing I would speak it into existence almost 14 years later.
My passion for flying was solidified as a kid on an overnight British Airways flight to Europe. I wrote a letter to each of the flight attendants and flight crew members, thanking them for the most amazing vacation that hadn't even really started yet. One of the flight attendants approached me a few minutes later and said in his silky British accent, "This note was very kind—would you like a tour of the airplane?"
It was a Boeing 747.
He took me to first class upstairs, shared the most delicious British chocolate, and introduced me to the rest of the crew, who were just as kind. Probably the closest thing to Heaven On Earth I had experienced yet. For years after, every time I got to a gate, I would always pick the brains of the pilots waiting for the airplane to arrive.
Down the line, I went on to graduate from Florida State with a degree in music. I got a boring post-graduate job where I would pass the Orlando Executive Airport every day on my way in. One day, instead of driving past, I drove into the parking lot. I walked in, went straight up to the woman at the counter and said, "I want to fly airplanes." She responded with, "OK, let's get you started."
Courtesy of Dana Rozier
When I told my parents I wanted to fly, they weren't surprised. They knew I always had a vast interest in many things, and they have always supported the life decisions I've made. I went from receiving a music degree, to paying my way through flight school. To be honest, I wasn't sure how it was going to happen; I wasn't sure if it was going to happen. To aim for something that was once so foreign to me, and because I hadn't known any pilots before deciding to pursue this profession, a little voice in my head told me that doing it wasn't likely.
Until I started doing it.
A year ago, on a flight from Orlando-Sanford International Airport to Deland, my flight instructor and I were practicing. And, after one of the landings in my favorite plane to fly (Cessna 172- P model), he had me perform what we call a "taxi" off the runway and park. We did the shut down and he hopped out of the airplane. I was about to get out as well, when he said, "No, stay in there. You're ready."
At the moment, I didn't have time to be nervous. I looked at the checklist, did my start up, and was off. My first solo flight. Those were some of the best landings I had toward the beginning of my journey. I was fearless. We had a mini celebration, and my instructor wrote on my backpack, documenting my first solo. One of the greatest days of my life.
I often reference my first solo when discussing what it takes to be a pilot because being one is directly synonymous to your focus, discipline, ability to multitask, self-trust, and pure fearlessness. Being thrown in the ringer suddenly had awakened the monster in me, and ever since, my sense of adventure intensified. I've swam with sharks and alligators, and I've parachuted on a whim. There have been times where I've even randomly hopped in a plane and flown from Orlando to Tallahassee (300 miles) just for pancakes.
Yet, through my adventures, I've become very mindful that stereotypes and assumptions plague black and brown women in this industry.
For some reason, when people see women and hear "flight school", they think "flight attendant", so supreme tenacity is required. My sister-queen and mentor once posted a photo of her flying a Boeing 737 with the caption: "Whenever you see a successful woman, look out for three men who are going out of their way to try to block her." (Yulia Tymoshenko) and this instantly became one of my favorite quotes; it has always stuck with me.
Because a pilot that looks like me is so taboo, being one means developing the skill of disregarding—and correcting—the microaggressions and naysayers that come with this industry. I'm routinely questioned, and surprised at how often people approach me with their questions and confusion—as if to wonder how I had the audacity to know how to fly planes. I've been asked, "Why are you here?" or "Wait, so you're going to be a flight attendant?" more times than necessary.
No. I'm flying the plane.
To decompress from the stresses, I surround myself with those who heal me. Any time spent with The Lord, my family, my dog, @OliviathePooch, and myself (which usually is in the car listening to audiobooks, or watching movies on Netflix before bed) are all priceless moments. Also moments of stillness fill my cup; the simple things. Sure, I work a lot, but I don't do anything that I don't enjoy—whether flying or reserving moments for self-care.
Courtesy of Dana Rozier
Today, thankfully, there has been a major shift in more POCs pursuing aviation, and this trend is so fulfilling. A majority of the pilots I'm acquainted with on social media are pilots of color, and almost all have influenced other POCs to start flying as well. Some of these wonderful women are ArabiaSolis, Flylady_Gizzy, AviatrixAddy, and so much more. The support is endless, it's a beautiful thing.
And I feel most beautiful existing in these moments. Contributing to something bigger than myself and proving myself (and others) wrong, going after something I want, and taking the initiative to get it.
Praise from strangers keeps me going as well. Acquaintances have told me on numerous occasions that they find the fact that I fly admirable, and how they've never seen a pilot of color—which, I, myself, have yet to have a black female pilot flying one of my commercial flights. But that's the point of it all, right? That's why we're here, that's why I'm here: to be or to get inspired, and to inspire, provoke and manifest change in our community.
Makes me glow.
Currently, less than 3% of American commercial pilots are African American, and even less than that are African American women. I am showing you in living color that we are, or are going to, progress in aviation. I'm committed to swaying these stats towards us.
And I'm bringing a few brown ladies with me.
For more of Dana, follow her on Instagram.
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Featured image courtesy of Dana Rozier