JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, MD
Every one of us has a story of people or moments that define who we have become as a person.
Growing up as an African-American, several names stick out like Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou or Barack Obama. Many of us often read about history, but few of us can actually talk to those who shaped it.
That isn’t the case for U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kiera Wiley, 633 Security Forces Squadron Pass and ID clerk. She was close to her grandmother, Eleanor Williams, who helped shape history for African-Americans and women by becoming the first African-American female air traffic controller in the United States in 1971.
Williams began working with her sister, who had a janitorial contract with the Federal Aviation Administration regional headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska in 1963. From there, Williams took numerous positions within the FAA before being employed in the standards and personnel office, helping to hire new air traffic controllers.
Seeing an opportunity for advancement, Williams took her controller entrance exam and passed. In 1968, she began training at the Anchorage Flight Service Station and received her certification in 1971.
“I can only imagine the obstacles that were in front of her at the time,” Wiley said. “To see her make history and go through everything she went through while making a good life for her kids is incredible to think about.”
Further paving the way for African-Americans and women, Williams helped to establish the Anchorage chapter of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women in 1976. The NFBPWC aims to develop the business, professional and leadership potential of women on all levels through education, advocacy, networking, mentoring, skill building and economic empowerment programs and projects.
According to Wiley, the lessons her grandmother instilled ring true and help guide her throughout her life.
“She taught me to chase your dreams no matter what,” Wiley said. “Don’t just do something for a paycheck, do what makes you happy and the rest will fall into place.”
For her revolutionary accomplishments, Williams was inducted into the Black Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001, cementing her place in not just African-American history, but in the history books of the United States.
Williams passed away in 2011 at the age of 73.
According to Wiley, it is never easy to lose someone close to you whom you love but she takes solace in knowing that Williams impacted not only her life, but the lives of future generations who strive for more than what people say they can do.
From starting out as a janitor to becoming the first African-American female aviator, Williams will be forever immortalized.
I am black, and this is our history.