As a native of the small but richly historic town of Tuskegee, Alabama, Emilia Tolbert grew up with a strong sense of the legacies left behind by some of the greatest African-American heroes: Booker T. Washington, General Daniel “Chappie” James, George Washington Carver, Amelia Boyton Robinson, Zora Neal Hurston, and of course, the notorious Tuskegee Airmen. In addition to the history, growing up in Tuskegee was like having family members at every corner. Being raised in a close-knit community really helped to shape and refine the person who she has become today.
As a pilot, she can truly say that her family is “the wind beneath her wings”. In addition to being raised in a close-knit community, she also grew up in a very supportive household with her mother and father, Ellen and Elroy Tolbert, and her three siblings: Elise, Melanie, and Nathan Tolbert. Her parents always allowed them to explore their talents and delve into activities that caught their interests. Her parents instilled values in them simply by the life that they lived and while there was a clear standard and expectation of excellence in the household, she never felt forced or pressured to pursue anything that did not align with her values. Subconsciously, this support encouraged her to fearlessly pursue my passions and talents.
After graduating from high school as a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar, Emelia chose to go to Spelman College to pursue her bachelor’s degree and to Tuskegee University to earn her Masters degree. She is forever indebted to these institutions for helping to mold her into the free-thinking African American woman that she is today.
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and what they overcame to achieve their dreams and debunk the statistics that were against them is more than admirable. Emelia also plans to leave behind a legacy to pave the road for future black aviators for generations to come. If for no other reason, Emelia wants to accomplish her goals to inspire others. She wants others to know that no matter what your background, race, gender, education, or circumstances may be– never let anything stand in the way of achieving your dreams. Emelia’s favorite states, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.