TheGrio’s 100: La’Shanda Holmes, first black female Coast Guard copter pilot flying high

Lt. JG La’Shanda Holmes’ claim that she “didn’t grow up with a silver spoon” is an incredible understatement. Raised in foster care with more than 12 siblings after her mother’s suicide, the ambitious aviator is rising above all expectations as the pilot of MH-65 Dolphins, making Holmes the first black female helicopter pilot in U.S. Coast Guard history.

La’Shanda Holmes is making history … soaring through glass ceilings, out over open oceans. Of the 1,200 pilots in the U.S. Coast Guard, only 85 are female, but these odds didn’t slow Holmes’s ascension to her wings. After two years of aviation, La’Shanda Holmes was pinned with her set of aviator wings, on April 9, 2010, by her mentor Lt. Jeanine Menze, who holds the distinction of being the U.S. Coast Guard’s first African-American female aviator.

WATCH THEGRIO’S 100 LA’SHANDA HOLMES ON NIGHTLY NEWS HERE
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Although Holmes is quick to downplay the significance of her achievements, emphasizing that she is still a junior pilot with much to learn, she’s already gained national attention with profiles in Jet Magazine and theGrio. Her position with USCG Search and Rescue may inspire the next generation of women to follow in her flight pattern.

What’s next for La’Shanda?

Holmes recently transferred to Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles, where she will pilot missions to protect the maritime economy, environment and national boarders, while responding to emergency situations where boaters’ and other individuals’ lives are in peril.

What inspires La’Shanda?

“When I think of my sisters (and young women) and the journey that they are about to begin, I know that I have to live to a higher standard for them. Young people are constantly watching and listening even when we think they aren’t. I don’t ever want them to stop looking at me with those wide eyes burning with inspiration and hope,” Holmes told theGrio. “When you have people in your life that love you so much and give you all the support you’ve ever dreamed of, a sense of responsibility is created toward them as well. Collectively, it all keeps me grounded, motivated, and inspired.”

In her own words …

“I don’t get wrapped around it too much,” Holmes says of her accomplishments, “because I have a bigger responsibility here at the air station. I’m the most junior pilot here; I have a lot to learn. I still study every day. I still ask a lot of questions.”

A little-known fact …

A 23-year-old Bessie Coleman decided to get her wings in 1920 after hearing about French female pilots flying in World War I. Through her work as a manicurist in Chicago’s White Sox Barbershop, Coleman met Robert Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender, and Jesse Binga, a real estate investor, who she convinced to fund her ambition, even though she wasn’t allowed to study in American flight schools. Before her aviation-related death in 1926, Coleman became the first African-American woman to hold an international pilot’s license.

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