Janet Harmon Bragg is not a common household name but most of us can experience the essence of her story.
Mrs. Bragg was born in 1907 in Atlanta and was raised to believe “if Jack can do it, Jill can do it, too.” Mrs. Bragg received a nursing degree from Spelman, moved to Chicago, and became a nursing supervisor and then a health inspector. But, in the then home of Black Aviation (Chicago), Mrs. Bragg yearned to fly.
She did all the right things. She was the first Black woman enrolled in a grounds school of flying, earned two pilots’ licenses and purchased a plan, but was denied entry as a WW II Women’s Auxiliary Service pilot because of her race.
Despite her disappointment, Mrs. Bragg earned a commercial flying license. She denied the opportunity to fly commercially because, at that time, those paid opportunities did not exist for African-American pilots.
All the right credentials and experiences couldn’t get her to make a living soaring through the air. Seemingly, her dream and passion were grounded.
Later, an opportunity arose for Mrs. Bragg to purchase an apartment building that she converted into a recovery home for patients receiving public assistance. Another opportunity came and she went on to provide nursing care in a 22 room mansion that also housed students visiting from Ethiopia.
In 1955, the nurse by trade and the pilot by passion was a three-month personal guest of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
While Mrs. Bragg may have dreamed to be in the clouds, her story shows that with coming through disappointment, opportunities and untapped talents can travel and form in emotional and physical places never before imagined. While her physical plane was grounded, Mrs. Bragg allowed other dreams to soar.
Opportunities can bring forth multiples dreams.
In “Dreams,” Langston Hughes wrote:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
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