Black History Month: A Celebration and Reflection
February 26, 2021
This February, A4A joins with our member carriers to commemorate Black History Month and recognize the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans to this country. We also celebrate and reflect on the rich history and culture of the Black community, particularly in the aviation industry, while also affirming a commitment to racial equity for all. Although the stories are endless, below are a few features, achievements and well-deserved recognitions that U.S. airlines have highlighted throughout the month.
Travion Smith, a ground service agent and team captain for Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines’ regional airline, is one of the 3,500 Horizon team members who has worked tirelessly to ensure smooth operations this past year. When reflecting on the significance of Black History Month, Smith said that, “I want people to take from this month is awareness. If you’re trying to learn about another culture or what’s happening to another culture throughout the years, don’t let that be something that you just do for a month. There’s hundreds of years of history to explore. I’m always surprised by what I don’t know—I swear I learn something new every year.”
Brittney Portes is a part of the American Airlines team at Miami International Airport Control Center that manages aircraft movement on the ground and ensuring safe, on-time departures. She also serves as the president of the Miami chapter of American’s Black Professional Network employee business resource group. The group works towards fostering inclusivity and equity in their community, such as through assisting members of an underserved Black community by providing census and voter registration information. This year, Portes’ network aims to build a talent pipeline with Florida Memorial University, the only historically Black college in the U.S. with an accredited aviation program.
Atlas Air marked Black History Month with a series that featured Black aviation pioneers and the enduring inspiration of their accomplishments:
- Cornelius Coffey opened the Coffey School of Aeronautics, where some of the Tuskegee Airmen initially trained. Coffey also organized the Challengers Air Pilots Association with the goal of expanding flying opportunities for African Americans in Chicago.
- Grover C. Nash was the first Black American to fly air mail for the U.S. Postal Service during the 1938 National Air Mail Week. Nash was a member of the Challenger Air Pilots Association and founding member of the National Airmen’s Association of America.
- Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg was the first Black American woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license. In the 1930s, Bragg invested in purchasing the Aeronautical University’s first airplane, as well as established its first airfield. She was also a member of the Challenger Air Pilots Association.
Delta Air Lines
Delta sat down with Black leaders across the organization to learn about their personal and professional journeys, and the impact of Black History Month on their own lives. Charisse Evans, VP of Employee Relations emphasized that “minorities – whether they’re Black, Brown, male or female – aren’t looking for a “give me.” We’re simply looking for a fair chance. It’s not about getting something just because of the color of our skin.” “We know that you cannot change 400 years of history in 50 years, but we can pass along the equity that we’ve learned and that we’ve gotten,” Henry Kuykendall, SVP of Airport Operations said. For allies looking to impact Black History Month throughout the year, SVP of HR Marlon Sullivan advised authenticity, knowledge and willing vocal support: “While being an ally is great in the presence of members of that community, it’s often more powerful being a vocal ally when members of that community are not present. Help others to understand when a comment, gesture or behavior is inappropriate, whether those referenced are present or not,” Sullivan said.
Along with celebrating the achievements of Black Americans, Delta also provided a progress report on its steps to be a more inclusive organization and advance opportunity and equity for all. Delta has enhanced its hiring practice and is giving equal consideration for relevant and accessible experience to remove unnecessary barriers to entry, such as college degrees, for certain roles. Delta is also examining its own record and organizational data to improve diverse representation in underrepresented areas with a commitment to double the percentage of Black Officers and Directors while growing other minority and female Officers. Delta has also partnered with OneTen, a coalition aimed at developing and advancing Black talent, as well as Operation Hope’s One Million Black Business and Entrepreneur Initiative, which will facilitate the development of new Black business owners.
FedEx Express Human Resource Advisor Janie Mennis has invested in an outreach program called EMBODI (Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence) for several years. The program aims to emphasize the importance of professional mentorship and provides exposure to impactful opportunities for at-risk black males in Memphis, such as through connecting local teens to FedEx executives. This provides tangible examples of leaders and business opportunities in the local community and lays the foundation for the young men to become successful leaders.
JetBlue celebrated Black History Month by featuring Black-owned businesses in destinations that the airline services, including restaurants, bookstores, boutiques, florists and vintage stores in cities across the country that include Tampa Bay, New Orleans, San Diego and Houston among others.
Ellen Torbert, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion and Raquel Daniels, Director of Diversity & Inclusion for Southwest reflected on the significance of Black History Month with a conversation on race, equity, inclusion and social change, particularly in light of the pandemic and social unrest in 2020. “[Black History Month] gives us an opportunity to further educate ourselves individually, as well as with each other,” Torbert said. “When you think of Black History Month, when you think about the other [observances], they’re all opportunities for us to better get to understand and know each other, but also the educational part that helps us to grow individually,” she said.
Brett J. Hart, President of United Airlines, examined how Black History Month provides an “opportunity to examine the past in order to help direct our country toward a more equitable future.” Hart hailed the “rich Black history and culture that is woven into the fabric of our nation,” while acknowledging the steps taken to make an impact in local communities. “This is just the beginning” of the work to be done, he said. United continues to take action to serve local communities, such as through donating 3.5 million miles to social and racial justice nonprofits through the 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign. “Black History Month provides us with an opportunity to examine the past in order to help direct our country toward a more equitable future,” Hart wrote. “We promise to maintain and support this work today, this month, and in the future to ensure a more united tomorrow.”
All through February, UPS is highlighting “Black Voices from Big Brown” podcast series that shares the untold stories of African Americans at UPS. The series highlights 29 African American leaders at UPS with the goal to “reveal the hidden narrative that is black achievement at the highest management levels” and to “gain a better understanding of how their challenges and successes shaped their careers and how they shaped, and continue to shape UPS.” The podcast series begins with Ken Jarvis, who was the first Black package car driver in 1957 and later advanced through the organization the first person of color to enter management as Vice President of Human Resources.