The lights dim on a barren stage except for two lone chairs in the center of the stage at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Davis Learning Center auditorium. A radio broadcast is heard announcing the death of Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. The announcer continues, telling the world of her many accomplishments and inspiring stunts. Then the broadcast starts to fade and a woman dressed as an aviator steps on stage ready for one last chance to tell the story of Coleman.
This was the setting on Tuesday, March 26 when Madeline McCray presented her one woman play, “A Dream to Fly: The Bessie Coleman Story.” This Harlem-born actress, producer, and playwright started writing “A Dream to Fly in 1987” after talking to a friend about how there were not many plays about accomplished black women. That friend then suggested she write her own, and so she did. Her inspiration was Coleman, the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license and fly publicly as a black woman in America. Coleman was an inspiration to young black girls everywhere in the 1920’s and continues to be a pioneer in aviation for women today. Her memorials were attended by thousands. McCray brought Coleman to life in a spellbinding and inspirational performance.
“God, why am I even here?” This question has been asked in some form by everyone at some point in time and it rang out throughout the auditorium. The play seemed centered around this question and what Coleman’s answer to it was. Coleman left for Chicago in 1915 to see what there was outside of her family home in Texas. As a manicurist in Chicago, stories of the pilots of World War I inspired her to become an aviator. However, racial and gender prejudices in the U.S. would not let her earn a pilot’s license. “God wanted me to fly” and no one would tell her differently, so she found a benefactor who sent her to France. In 1922, she had her licence and was ready to take the world by barnstorm. Many roadblocks were put in her way but her response was to pick herself up and plow right on through. The audience was drawn in by the sheer power of those words as they spoke to everyone in that room of hopes, dreams, and obstacles. This short one act play kept the audience entranced and thoughtful of their own dreams.
Coleman in life was a passionate, sassy, and driven woman. Her mantra was “I refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer” even when everyone was against her. The audience left ERAU’s DLC auditorium with misty eyes and new determination in their steps. This play didn’t just address an amazing woman’s life, it gave Coleman’s greatest message to an audience young and old, male and female; to be passionate in what you do, follow your dreams, and take chances. When you overcome your fears and challenge yourself, you can get anywhere.