This story originally aired on May 27, 2017.
Jesse Hayes’ love of flying began as a kid growing up in Texas. His family had a car but they also had an airplane, which Jesse’s father adored. Jesse says that as an African-American family, that meant that they could literally fly over racism when they went on trips to visit family.
The airplane made it possible for Jesse’s family to avoid the things that made traveling difficult for so many people of color in the American South at that time — such as being denied accommodations or the ability to purchase gasoline.
Jesse’s father protected him from those painful experiences. But as Jesse grew up, he saw the effect racism had on his father’s life and realized how institutional bias and lack of a support system prevented his father from pursuing his love of flight and becoming a pilot.
These days Jesse is a Boeing engineer and president of the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club, based out of Mukilteo, Wash. The organization’s mission is to get kids of color interested in flight and the aerospace industry.
“Too often we are shut out or left out of the industry,” Jesse says. “The only way to build up the support system is to have more folks in the industry that look like us and someone to advocate, mentor, or coach them.”
Jesse talks with Sound Effect’s Jennifer Wing about the club’s purpose and how the point isn’t to create future pilots, necessarily, but give young people valuable life skills.