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Sheila L. Chamberlain Receives Black History Month Honors

February 2024

Shelia Chamberlain 1

Sheila L. Chamberlain, Ph.D., C’81, is a true fly girl. She’s a multitalented, beautifully spirited trailblazer, and has real wings. Chamberlain became the first Black woman combat intelligence pilot in the United States Army in 1985. The former United States Army flight captain is technically retired, but only on the paperwork.

She is highly active in leading or participating in several organizations, volunteering and mentoring. Chamberlain is president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and a senior advisor for Sisters of the Skies. Her prolific and tireless work ethic has garnered her international recognition and awards.

“A lot has happened. I haven’t had time to enjoy it all,” Chamberlain said.

During Black History Month, Chamberlain was honored at the inaugural Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Honors. The HBCU Honors lauds eight extraordinary alumni from HBCUs whose ground-breaking achievements have helped change the world. The evening of inspiration and aspiration included award presentations, tributes, musical performances, and an “In Memoriam” HBCU alumni salute.

“My whole family went to Black colleges and I come from a family of aviators. We have been an HBCU family for over 120 years. I had a great aunt who started at Spelman in the (freshman) C’51. She had to leave because back then when you had obligations to your family, you had to go,” Chamberlain said. “I had certain choices to make, but when it was time to choose, my family chose Spelman for me. Growing up in post-Nazi West Germany, they had already planned for me to go to an HBCU. I had a four-year ROTC scholarship, which allowed me to go anywhere I wanted to go and I ended up at Spelman. I am a Spelman woman.”

Sheila Chamberlain

Chamberlain, also served as a consultant for NFL360, a platform that examines the stories, people and places that define the National Football League delivering the most compelling stories from around the NFL. The Tuskegee Airmen helped to create the documentary “The Flyest Ever.” The video debuted during the Super Bowl weekend. The 2024 Black History Month special showcases an inspiring football perspective on the iconic Tuskegee Airmen.

“We partnered with the NFL. Two of my chapter members, Colonel Franklin Henderson and Jerry Hodges, are on the video. We were instrumental in participating in the documentary. It’s beautiful, very well done and deserved!” Chamberlain said.

Sheila Chamberlain 5

She’s the first woman to be elected to the national Tuskegee Airmen and is a member of the United States Air Force Hall of Fame. The road wasn’t easy, but Chamberlain has broken many barriers.

“It was rough. A lot happened to me, but I am still here. God sent family and friends to carry me and (they) instilled in me what I had to do,” Chamberlain said. 

“I was called the N-word and B-word all the time. I’m grateful for my family because also being related to Emmett Till, my father raised us a certain way – to be humble, to be able to forgive. You know how hard it is to be able to forgive somebody who calls you that in your face every day. They are able to go home and be comfortable with their families every day. You don’t have that luxury because you’re there at the office working,” Chamberlain said in a CBS Miami interview.

Chamberlain’s Shares Advice for Spelman Students

Large Blue Quote LeftNever give up on your dreams. Dream big. Stay the course. Stay in your lane. We are all stewards here forwarding the legacy of the slaves. Still, we rise. We are stewards. We have to carry this legacy. It’s not about you or me. Thank you, Lord, for pennies from heaven."

Sheila L. Chamberlain 77

Several of Chamberlain’s proudest moments include:

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