Black people face systemic challenges in the United States. The challenges are more pronounced among Black women. In the face of all these adversities, one woman has shown desire and tenacity.
Paris McGowan from St. Louis has defied all odds to make history as the first Black woman technician for Harley-Davidson, the world’s largest manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles. McGowan, 25, learned how to ride motorcycles only two years ago.
“I’m tiny. So when people see me on my bike, they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a girl,'” she told KSDK. Her journey in a field often associated with masculinity began when she got a job offer at the Gateway Harley-Davidson store in south St. Louis County.
“I came up to Harley-Davidson for a job interview because I was always kind of hanging around. I saw the bike that I wanted before I did the job interview. I ended up purchasing the bike,” McGowan said.
Across America, women riding motorcycles is on the rise. A national survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) found that among all age groups, women make up 19 percent of motorcycle owners, compared with less than 10 percent less than a decade ago.
The survey found even greater ownership among younger generations. Among Millennials, 26 percent of motorcycle owners were women. Among Gen X, 22 percent were women.
Although McGowan learned to ride motorcycles about two years ago, motor riding has always been part of her family. “My uncles all rode the sports bikes, the Kawasakis and the Ninjas and everything. They have a picture of me somewhere, I’m like 8 years old sitting on a motorcycle,” she said.
Last month, she graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando with a specialization in Harley-Davidson. “I’m the first African-American female technician to work on Harley-Davidson,” McGowan said. “You barely see any Black technicians working on Harley-Davidson, but here we are.”
“There are a lot of Black female Harley riders or just Black female riders in general,” McGowan said. “We need to be shown more. My mother, who is a strong, proud Black woman, rides her own motorcycle. I have aunts and cousins who all ride together. I mean, we just did a female unity ride for Labor Day. I believe there were at least 300 or more female riders out there, and it was incredible.”
What motivated McGowan to become a technician? According to her, it was fueled by her desire to fix things and know how it works. She encountered people who tried to dissuade her from her ambition.
“I was told by a lot of people to just be a nurse instead,” McGowan said. “Don’t listen to anybody that shuts you down from your dream. Do not, because they don’t know you. They don’t know where you came from.”
“It’s 2020. It’s time to move on. We shouldn’t have these barriers anymore. If you can do it, I can do it. Also, maybe even better. I just found a passion, and I stuck with it. I can only just start the snowball,” she added.