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Cleveland native talks about being Delta's first black female captain

Posted at 11:54 AM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 11:54:23-05

Stephanie Johnson, a Cleveland native, has cemented her place in Black History by becoming Delta Airline’s first black female captain. She’s a graduate of Lakewood High School and Kent State University. Her passion for flying began at a young age when she attended the Cleveland Air Show with her parents. 

“I just remember Cleveland air show coming every year and just seeing the blue angels and the Thunderbirds screaming through the city and thought, that’s really cool, how neat”, said Johnson. She hadn’t even been in an airplane, but she knew that she wanted to be a pilot. 

Her studies at Kent State, though rigorous, proved to be a great foundation for her aspirations, and she even became a flight instructor during her senior year. Having no pilots in her family, and being the first to even go to college, it wasn’t an easy journey to being a pilot. 

“It’s very expensive to learn how to fly and we didn’t have really the means to pay for my education so I had student loans and scholarships”, she said. After college, she became an operations manager at Burke-Lakefront Airport, and later the first black female pilot at Northwest Airlines. 

She says she’s used to people marveling at her, but there’s one specific memory that will always stand out to her. 

“I was in the hallway and a mom said to me, they let us be pilots, and I was just shocked, this was 97 or 98 and it just wasn’t anything that would cross her mind as an opportunity.” 

She holds her position as a double minority proudly and loves being an example to people that they too can follow their dreams. 

Being Delta’s first black female captain has its perks too. She lends her time to youth organizations like Cleveland ACE Academy of which she is the director. The program introduces high school students to that field of aviation, and all of the careers that lie within. Knowing how difficult it can be when training with people who you don’t relate too, other black area aviation professionals attend the academy as well. 

Johnson has received a place in history, but she never forgets where she comes from, or the Africa-American figures she looked up to along the way.

“The first licensed pilot in the U.S. was Bessie Coleman and she had to go to France to learn how to fly, so that has always resonated with me”, she said. After 22 years in aviation, Johnson continues to give back to minorities, showing them the real possibilities that lie within the field, and holds just as much passion for flying as ever. Registration for the ACE Academy has already started and ends June 6th.