This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE
Benjamin Alvin “Al” Drew Jr.
Place of Residence: Houston, Texas
Why he is a local hero: Drew is an example of how African Americans can succeed in non-traditional areas.
When the Space Shuttle Discovery made its final trip into space in March of 2011, Drew was the only African American on board. The crew delivered the first humanoid robot to space. While on that final historic trip, Drew, a retired Air Force colonel, made two spacewalks, becoming the 200th person to perform a spacewalk.
“We won’t do anything nearly as complex with another vehicle for a very long time,” Drew said after returning to Earth. “Five or 10 years from now, they’re going to look back and say, ‘How did we ever build a vehicle that could do all these things?’”
Drew knew what he wanted to be the day his teacher brought a television into his classroom to watch astronauts walk on the moon. In addition to being inspired by his parents, Drew said he was also inspired by an undertaker to pursue his goals. It was a few years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the undertaker had just retired from a very successful business.
“He was intent on beating into me the fact that I could do anything in the world I wanted to,” says Drew. “There was no law, there was no segregation holding me back but I needed to have an education, as if to say nobody can ever take education back from me and hard work ethic and a good education would take me anywhere I wanted to go and that was kind of the mood of the entire neighborhood around me. Everybody out there was living by that ethic, whether they were expressing that verbally or not.”
Drew went on to be a combat pilot and eventually fly on the space shuttle. He was the final member of the crew “and that was the first time in my life I was speechless.”
As NASA goes on to chart the next phase of U.S. space exploration, the hope is that Drew will serve as an inspiration for another young child to do something beyond what she might have if not for his influence.