by Chris Jones

I dreamed of working for NASA as a kid. I watched PBS religiously when they aired programs about the vastness of outer space or profiles of the planets—Pluto was my favorite. I read and wrote books about space exploration and believed I’d one day pilot a shuttle or take a walk into space. In the words of my boys, NASA was life.

On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, my school day started like any other. At 11:39 a.m., my elementary school principal Mr. Yancy crackled over the intercom as I sat in class. “The space shuttle Challenger has exploded,” he said somberly. Carts with televisions were wheeled into classrooms where we watched news coverage. I took the news hard. It still remains one of the saddest days of my life. It wasn’t just about the shuttle, but one of its fallen crew members—astronaut and physicist Ron McNair.

McNair was one of two black astronauts to reach space by 1986. As a young black kid in rural Virginia, that was everything to me. He validated my dream. He proved to me that my dad’s words (“You can be anything you want if you put your mind to it.”) weren’t empty. They were alive and vibrant with power. I could be anything, or anyone—even the next Ron McNair.

It’s hard to believe 33 years have passed since the Challenger tragedy, but I think of Ron McNair often and wish he knew what his life meant to me. While I never became an astronaut, the lesson of McNair’s life went beyond reaching NASA. It was about falling in love with why you work and being willing to follow it no matter where it takes you—even death in some cases (i.e. Steve Irwin, Pat Tillman, etc.). My work has taken me on some amazing adventures, and I have no regrets over my career choice. I’ve interviewed both Supernannys, Sabrina Soto, Rachael Ray, several bestselling authors, and more. I let my children witness my work ethic, I talk to them about my goal, and I show them the end product. I also encourage them to find their Ron McNair—that someone they can be inspired by who is living their dream. To that end, I watch my 11-year-old dabble with science and STEM; my 6-year-old has an appetite for learning about how things work, and my 3-year-old dresses like a ballerina every day and mimics the recitals and performances she sees on YouTube.

I hope you inspire your kids to stick their heads into the clouds. In a world that’s connected though technology, they have far greater opportunities than you and I could have imagined. While we’re pursuing our dreams, let’s inspire our kids to do the same.