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I’m A 26-Year-Old Pilot On A Mission To Inspire More Black Women To Become One Too

I would dream about flying, not knowing I would speak it into existence almost 14 years later.

As Told To

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 submissions@xonecole.com 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?!"

Checkmate.

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.

Did you know that xoNecole has a podcast? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify to join us for weekly convos over cocktails (without the early morning hangover.)

Featured image courtesy of Dana Rozier

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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