Meet 12-year-old Taylor Richardson, an aspiring astronaut from Jacksonville, Florida who is on a determined mission to be the first African American woman to travel to Mars. So when the 6th grade honors student, triathlete, Girl Scout, literacy advocate, anti-bullying crusader, and agent of STEAM had the opportunity to meet her idol, physician and NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, she described the moment as “a definite dream come true.” We caught up with Taylor (aka Astronaut StarBright) to talk about this, the importance of dreaming big and, of course, her love of space, and this inspiring, articulate, wise-beyond-her-years girl blew us all away.
As one of the youngest kids ever accepted to Space Camp, and currently a Mars Generation Student Space Ambassador, the first thing we wanted to know was what it is about space and space exploration that excites Taylor. “I love everything about space. Space is everything, not just other galaxies and far off planets,” she told us. “Space is the tree I climb as a kid, space is every piece of art you’ve ever seen, and space is everything that happens in the universe including our little planet. Knowing that, not liking space would be crazy to me.”
Taylor’s fascination with space, particularly stars, developed around age 5 or 6. But she credits reading Dr. Jemison’s book Find Where the Wind Goes in the 3rd grade with sparking her interest in space exploration. So after reading every book she could find about the pioneering astronaut, who as a young girl knew she wanted to travel to space and refused to be discouraged, then attending the U.S. Space Center Camp in Huntsville, AL, Taylor’s mind was made up. She was going to be an astronaut “or at least work for NASA one day as a scientist.” It’s a dream she said is fueled by “the excitement of the unknown,” along with “the possibility of traveling to other planets and learning how to co-exist and better our own planet.”
“Seeing her makes me feel like I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. Having someone like Dr. Jemison who looks like me makes me feel good about myself.”
As for the woman who inspired this girl’s dream, the mere mention of Dr. Mae Jemison’s name ignites a palpable level of excitement in Taylor, and the passion with which she talks about her idol is both moving and contagious. “Most people may not know that she’s not only an astronaut but a scientist, a doctor and a dancer.” Taylor continued on, “She’s just brilliant! You know she’s now working on the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years; it’s called the 100 year starship. It’s about interstellar travel and research. I am so excited about it.”
The profundity of this 12-year-old’s perspective on the far reaching impact of Dr. Jemison’s game-changing achievements is nothing short of inspiring. “I love how in spite of what was going on during her time at my age she still dreamed big and worked hard to make her dreams come true. I think that’s what I admire most about her and plus I love that she looks like me. Because when you think of the STEM world you think males or you don’t see many African Americans, especially women. Seeing her makes me feel like I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. Having someone like Dr. Jemison who looks like me makes me feel good about myself.” What’s more, as Taylor astutely noted, “She’s not just an African American role model, she’s a role model for all people and girls like me who want to live their dreams of becoming astronauts.”
Considering the depth of her admiration, now imagine Taylor having the opportunity to meet her idol, face to face. That part of her dream came true two weeks ago at Clark Atlanta University where Dr. Jemison was giving the commencement address. Taylor’s biggest supporter, her mom Toni, called the school to ask if she and her daughter could attend (well played, Toni!). They not only got a green light to be there, but Taylor was invited by CAU to be the speaker who would introduce Dr. Jemison to the graduating class. Gasp… if this is not a “pinch me” moment, we don’t know what is.
Taylor described the incredible opportunity with one word, “Amazing!” And of meeting Dr. Jemison, something she never thought would happen at her age, Taylor shared with us that she felt “pure awe.” It’s a moment she says she’ll never forget, and one that she puts on par with meeting Oprah or President Obama (both are still on her “must meet” wish list).
So during their time together, the aspiring astronaut and the retired astronaut talked about space and Mars, at the close of which Dr. Jemison offered Taylor some excellent advice, “always work hard and never give up.” She also gave Taylor one of her DrMae.com bracelets, which reads “Daring Makes a Difference,” and signed a copy of her autobiography. Taylor said, “She signed it PASSION. And I will never let my PASSION to dream BIG and inspire others die.”
Already well on her path to making her own big dream a reality, Taylor spends her free time working on traveling to every U.S. Space Center in America. Her plan is to complete that tour, along with squeezing in a visit to NASA headquarters, all before she graduates high school.
A voracious reader and a change-making philanthropist, Taylor also volunteers her time to read to local children about Dr. Jemison (and space, and other fun subjects) through a book drive she calls “Taylor’s Take Flight with a Book”. Since launching in February 2015, she has collected over 3,000 new and gently used books for kids between the ages of 3 to 13 in Jacksonville, Florida. Her main goal “is to ensure all kids have books to read,” and her hope “is to inspire them to give flight to their own dreams one day.”
In recognition of her volunteerism, dedication to community service, and boundless charitable spirit, Taylor is the recent recipient of both the 2016 Hands On Youth in Action Award (the youngest honoree to date), as well as Florida’s Champion of Service Award.
Just last week, Taylor received one of the greatest honors of all, an invitation to attend the White House United State of Women Summit in Washington, DC on June 14. The esteemed event will focus on key gender equality issues like economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunity, leadership and civic engagement.
This girl is already rockin’ the world in a very big way and there is clearly no end to what this Woman You Should Know of tomorrow can and will achieve. Brava Taylor!
Taylor’s Powerful Advice For Girls
A statement that Dr. Jemison made during her CAU commencement address – “Make your place at the table and be a voice. Just don’t sit at the table, be heard.” – stuck with Taylor, and inspired her to offer her own nugget of powerful advice to her contemporaries. “Young girls, especially those of color, make your place at the table count; don’t be afraid if you’re the only one, just make enough impact so that more can join the table. And lastly, remember it’s not that it’s hard, it’s just that you have to work hard. DREAM BIG!”