Dreaming of the Stars at Pleasant Hill Elementary
Oftentimes during Black History Month, the focus becomes limited to a few central figures to the American Civil Rights Movement, and for good reason. While their importance to history can never be over-stated, the Thunder on Tuesday took the opportunity to highlight African-American women who have charted their own special paths in America.
At Pleasant Hill Elementary, Thunder Digital Content Reporter Paris Lawson huddled up some third graders to read them a special book called, ‘Mae Among the Stars’, by Roda Ahmed. In tight formation in the library focusing intently on Lawson, who sat on a Thunder-themed blanket and expertly told the story, the kids were rapt with attention. The picture book is about Mae Jemison, a native of Decatur, Alabama who became the first black woman to travel into space. She served as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
In the book, set when Mae was a child, lays out three crucial steps that Jemison’s mother told her when she was a child. Lawson had the third graders repeat back to her the phrase, “If you can dream it, if you believe it and you work hard for it” as the mantra for success. That’s what Mae followed, and it led her to make history in outer space.
“We have a small school so I think sometimes we think that people don't realize that we're here,” said Pleasant Hill School Counselor Kari Dyer. “We have an amazing community and by teaming up with the Thunder that also reminds our kids that they are important to other people, not just to us. It's just an amazing opportunity to not only partner with a wonderful organization but to also show the community that we are a big deal and to remind our kids they're a big deal.”
Bringing the lesson home on a personal level, Lawson, the 23-year old reporter for the Thunder and former basketball player at Belmont University, told the students about her grandmother, Yvonne Clark. Clark became the first woman to get a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering at Howard University and the first woman to earn a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Vanderbilt University. After completing her education, Clark worked for NASA, Westinghouse and eventually served as a faculty member at Tennessee State University for 50 years.
“She loved engineering, she loved like airplanes and aeronautics. It was during that time where nobody had done that before that looked like her. And so one of the things she always told me was, ‘they forgot to tell me that I couldn't do it’,” Lawson recalled.
“Our kids loved it,” said Dyer. “Not only did it tap on science and space which is always something really interesting for elementary students, but she was able to tie it into some of her personal life and to give them a personal story, which to me resonates really well with our students, to remind them that this is not such a far off dream or somebody that they've never met.”
“It's even closer than they've ever imagined and I think they will take that to heart and remind them that they are capable of more than what they thought possible if they just put forth the effort and dream about it,” Dyer added. “It's just very uplifting and very helpful for our students.”
After graduating from Belmont and excelling both on and off of the basketball court, Lawson joined the Thunder at the beginning of the 2019-20 season and has thrived in her role as a digital reporter. From writing game previews and recaps, penning feature stories, delivering on-camera practice reports and hosting a pair of podcasts, Lawson has pursued her goals in just the same way that both her grandmother and Mae Jemison did.
“It was just really important to try to portray the message of, you can follow your dreams and do anything you want,” said Lawson. “It was such a relevant book, and just a relevant time of year, and it was such an engaged group of kids to who really bought into the message.”