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LCDR Brenda E. Robinson is used to leading the way.

She was the first black woman to graduate with a degree in Aeronautics from Dowling College. In 1977 she was selected by the Navy as one of only 10 women in the nation to start boot camp followed by flight training. She was the first black woman in the history of the US Navy to graduate Aviation Officers Candidate School. And in 1980, she became the first black woman to earn her flight wings upon graduation from flight school.

During her Navy career, Robinson flew seven different kinds of aircraft including T-44, C-1A, C-12, T-34, T-39. C-20, and C-9. She participated in both Gulf wars — Desert Shield and Desert Storm — and completed 155 aircraft carrier landings.

After her Navy career, Robinson became one of a handful of black female pilots at American Airlines, a position she held for 17 years until her retirement.

Although the odds may have seemed stacked against her from the get-go, as a black woman in a traditionally white male-dominated field, Robinson learned from a very young age to look above and beyond.

In her book, Success Is An Attitude: Goal Achievement For A Lifetime, Robinson writes, “At my dinner table, my father used to say, you can do anything you want to do, and you’re going to college. And although I grew up knowing that my father had to go through plenty of indignities based purely on the color of his skin, I could only hear the words he kept telling me. You can do anything. You can do anything. You can do anything, and I totally believed him.”

Throughout her flying career, Robinson knew she was going to have to prove herself. “ Any kind of situation where I’m flying with someone new, they are always surprised that I can do exactly what everybody else did,” she said.

In her book, Robinson shares her very fundamental thoughts about race and people’s preconceived notions:

“Human nature, played out in every home on the planet, is not really based on racial differences. It is simply based on what you grew up with, what you’re used to, and therefore what you believe. You have been persuaded to think a specific way. And as long as you think that is right, that is the way you will think for the rest of your life. Realize that others grew up with that same influence. You just don’t know yet what their influence is. Be ready to deal with human nature in everyone you encounter. And later, learn how to use that to your advantage.”

It’s not that she didn’t face obstacles, prejudice or challenges. But Robinson looked at these issues as strategic problems to solve rather than insurmountable barriers.

Of her achievement as the Navy’s first black female pilot Robinson said, “They were opening a door I didn’t know was closed.”

Ma’am, we salute you, and the inspiration you continue to provide to all those who look above and beyond.



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