In an industry that is lacking diversity, Jerome Stanislaus thought his aviation goals would be impossible when he first had dreams of becoming a pilot while growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1990s.
“I never believed that I would ever actually become a pilot,” he told the CNN.
“I did not really believe it was possible — even though I had so much support from my family. I told myself I couldn’t do it because I had never seen a black pilot — not one time. I didn’t think that black kids actually grew up to be pilots. I thought it was just rich white kids.”
Just over two and a half per cent of aircraft pilots and flight engineers are African-American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fewer than seven per cent are Hispanic or Latino and a little more than four per cent are Asian.
This makes the racial makeup of America’s professional pilots and flight engineers very white. To change this, Stanislaus, whose own journey to the skies would be a long one, has started giving free flights, often to children of colour.
Working with another pilot, Courtland Savage, the two have created a nonprofit called Fly For The Culture to provide free flying lessons for racially diverse children, teens and young adults who would want to explore their interest in flying.
“We are a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status nonprofit organization focused on promoting diversity & inclusion within the aviation industry, by providing a free of charge introductory flight. Participants will experience a general aviation flight with a licensed pilot in a Cessna 172 or similar aircraft. Fly For The Culture will also provide mentorship for those who want to pursue a career in the aviation industry,” the nonprofit said on its website.
When a child goes up in the air for the first time, their reaction is “priceless,” Stanislaus told CBS News.
“I love it, I really do,” Stanislaus said. “I really want to be able to make a difference and this is how I do it, it’s like my purpose.”
Stanislaus did not get this sort of guidance when he had aviation dreams while young. After going to high school, the Marine Corps taught him to become an aircraft mechanic.
He, however, needed a degree to get into military flight school, thus, after being done with the Marines, he got a degree in airport management. He subsequently worked as an elementary school teacher and for two years, he put down his aviation dreams until a Sunday church service would give him a sudden revelation that he needed to get into the aviation field and also encourage those who have doubts of pursuing similar dreams.
“After church, I drove straight to the airport and signed up for flight lessons,” he told CNN.
After five months of lessons, Stanislaus found himself soon performing his first solo flight – in the left seat of a Piper Warrior II single-engine plane. Not long after, he began donating his free time as a general aviation pilot to the nonprofit organization, Fly For The Culture.
The idea for the project, however, came from his colleague, Savage, who is a regional airline pilot based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He said he began the project to encourage the African-American community to pursue a career in aviation as it had greater opportunities due to the increasing airline travel and a shortage of pilots.
Since they started the flights last year, the two pilots have introduced 20 to 30 young people to the world of flying.
With an increase in funding, they hope to expand their operations – from two airports to a nationwide organization.
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