While most take up the sport earlier in life, Sean Sylvester skydived for the first time at age 42. He enjoyed it so much, he started going to a drop zone every weekend. However, after two years of jumping, he had only met two other Black skydivers.
That’s when a friend proposed they organize a group skydive with as many African Americans as they could. The corresponding March 2014 jump included six skydivers who created a star formation in free fall over Fitzgerald, Georgia.
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Thus, Team Blackstar was born. Their mission: to promote diversity, strengthen ties within communities of color and provide community service.
To the group’s surprise, the local newspaper in Georgia and the official magazine of the U.S. Parachute Association, Parachutist Magazine, wrote articles about the record jump. “By doing that, it actually spread the recognition amongst other skydivers and people outside the sport who were interested, which helped the group to grow,” said Sylvester, now 53.
Today, Team Blackstar has over 270 skydivers from six countries. Members not only include those within the African diaspora, but also Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous people.
“When you talk about skydiving, the response is often ‘Oh, we don’t do that. Black people don’t skydive,’ ” said Sylvester. “And we’re sort of ambassadors where we show, ‘Yes, we can.’ ”
The military veterans of Team Blackstar
Several members of the team are military veterans who served as paratroopers in airborne units before learning to skydive in their free time. Others initially graduated from military free-fall courses and later added civilian licenses.