ST. LOUIS — "When you think America and you think motorcycles, you think Harley-Davidson," Paris McGowan said.
But when you think of a motorcycle, you likely don't think of someone like Paris McGowan.
"I'm tiny," McGowan said. "So, when people see me on my bike, they're like 'Oh my gosh, that's a girl.'"
The 25-year-old said she learned to ride motorcycles about two years ago after getting a job 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," McGowan said. "I saw the bike that I wanted before I did the job interview. I ended up purchasing the bike."
Learning to ride was a natural progression.
"My uncles all rode the sports bikes, the Kawasakis and the Ninjas and everything," McGowan said. "They have a picture of me somewhere, I'm like 8 years old sitting on a motorcycle."
Last month, McGowan graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando with a specialization in Harley-Davidson. The program was supposed to take 10 months, but she spent a year in school because of the impact of COVID-19. However, her graduation was made extra special when she realized she'd also made history.
"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."
McGowan said the Harley-Davidson community is like a family that embraces her with open arms. She said she believes there are more female riders, including women of color, than people realize.
"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."
For McGowan, the decision to be trained as a technician was fueled by a long-stemmed desire to be able to fix things and know how things work.
"I always liked puzzles," McGowan said, but she admits that she was often deterred from her aspirations.
"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."
McGowan said she is aware that she isn't exactly the face people imagine when they picture motorcycle riders and technicians, but she said breaking boundaries and clashing with stereotypes is empowering.
"It's 2020," McGowan said. "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.