Photo credit: Curtiss Field, L.I./Cradle of Aviation Museum

Since the start of the pandemic, it seems companies have insisted on staking their flag in “diversity.” 

The term has become a buzzword and an insistence on attempting to prove that in the death of George Floyd, black people suddenly matter to these institutions.

However, companies like American Airlines have continued to allow their actions to speak, without the empty promises their employees would say.

In May, the airline hosted its inaugural Legacy of Firsts events, celebrating the ‘Soul Patrol’ and their contributions to the aviation industry for past, current and future black and brown pilots.

Recently, the airline celebrated a milestone by celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first black woman to earn her pilot’s license in 1921, Bessie Coleman.

In honor of this feat, American hosted Gigi Coleman, Bessie’s great niece, on a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Phoenix. 

The flight was operated by an all-Black Female crew — from the pilots and flight attendants to the cargo team members and the aviation maintenance technician.

Cheryl Gaymon is the longest tenured flight attendant in American history at 56 years and counting and gave The Dallas Weekly a little bit of insight into her journey and the commemoration of Coleman being the first, while opening the door for others.

TC:I watched the video where you said you had been a flight attendant 56 years. I would love to know more about your journey; the hardships and how it led to such a monumental moment that you recently experienced as a member of the first all black flight crew in AA history.

CG: My journey started when my aunt took my sister and I took us to the Newark airport when we were 12-13 years old on a helicopter ride and when I saw a flight attendant I said, “I want to be one of them.” It was my dream at the time at age 20, I am now 76. My first interview was with American Airlines at the Newark airport in June 1967. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but everything has come full circle. The world has become more inclusive and welcoming.

TC: What does this moment mean to you?

CG:    That moment was unbelievable. I thought about it while we were taking off— I said to myself, “56 years ago I was the only person sitting in this a jump seat on the entire airplane and now I have a maintenance crew that got the plan ready, mechanics to make sure everything was in working condition, I had pilots who were going to safely steer us to our destination, flight attendants to care for our customers and even many Black passengers.

”I felt very proud that American stepped up and said we’ll be a part of this and we need to show people at American that representation matters. They showed me and all the flight attendants there that this can actually happen one day without the planning behind it.

TC: Being that black women are historically underrepresented in aviation, how do moments such as this you think inspire the next generation in pursuing these careers?

CG: This moment helps open up endless possibilities for Black women interested in pursuing a career in aviation. Bessie’s story and the all-Black female crew in her honor, helps inspire and share the various roles available within this industry.

TC: What is the best moment of your 56-year career thus far?

CG: There have been several, it’s been a great feeling to wake up one day waking up and realize I’ve been here over 50 years. I truly enjoy my job and because of that the years flew by.

TC: What does Bessie Coleman mean to you?

CG: She was a woman who found her passion and made it a reality without hesitation. I think back to 1967 and how hard it was for me and I was just becoming a flight attendant— I can only imagine how tough it was for her to go to France and become a pilot and come back in the 1920’s with all the barriers she faced. She represents a sign of perseverance—showing everyone that if she can do it, so can we.

The All-Black Ground Crew for Bessie Coleman Aviation Flight | Photo credit: American Airlines