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Inspired by Tuskegee airmen, more blacks enter aerospace careers
Kimberly Paul, a flight attendant with American Airlines, shows international currency to a group of fifth-graders at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. - photo by Tom Reed

Black history month
During February, we will profile ways people in our community are furthering the Rev. Martin Luther King’s ideals set forth in his "I Have a Dream" speech. Today we meet Kimberly Paul, a black flight attendant who, inspired by the Tuskegee airmen, chose to work in the aviation industry.

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals

Husband-and-wife duo Darryl and Kimberly Paul have made it their mission to not only fly all over the world but to gets kids inspired to do the same thing.

The couple are members of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, formerly Organization of Black Airline Pilots, and speak to children regularly during Black History Month and career days promoting their industry.

Kimberly, a former Fair Street student, has worked as an international flight attendant with American Airlines for 19 years. Darryl is a pilot with UPS and flies a Boeing 767.

"It is important for children to know about the history of African-Americans in the aerospace industry because it is through history that we gain an understanding of who we are as a people and how our contributions have added to the success of our great country," Darryl said. "Sadly, many of the great accomplishments of African-Americans in aviation have been ignored in the history books that are used in secondary schools across America."

The Pauls and other aerospace professionals spoke to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School on Thursday. They spoke on the same day as the annual Brotherhood Luncheon, a regular event in conjunction with Black History Month.

The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to enhance, advance and promote education opportunities in aviation, according to its Web site.

Darryl and Kimberly both cited the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military pilots in World War II, as inspiration for why they chose to work in the aviation field.

"I chose aviation as a career after having had the pleasure of meeting C. Alfred ‘Chief’ Anderson, who was the chief flight instructor of the famed Tuskegee Airmen," Kimberly said. "Listening to his story of how his historical flight with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became the catalyst which led to the training of the first African-American military pilots was inspirational."

One of the most inspiring stories of the day’s events came from Linda McQueen, an Atlanta resident and one of the first African-American flight attendants.

"When I started out it was in 1971 and we were called stewardess at that time. And when I wanted to become a stewardess in 1968 and ’69 it was mostly a white profession — you didn’t see black people," she said. "And when you did see a black person it was a very fair, light-skinned person.

Finally, she said, they opened the doors to people with darker skin.

"As a stewardess at that time you had to be light skinned and you had to be educated, and most of my friends said I would never make it."

McQueen met with many airlines and was finally accepted into the school at American Airlines.

"When we would fly into Memphis, Tenn., and different cities in the South, they wouldn’t allow us to take their ticket," McQueen said. "... When I started to lay over in different hotels, my white counterparts that I flew with would not stay in the room with me. So as time went on things began to change."

Kimberly said it was people like McQueen who made it easier for her to advance in the aviation field.

"Because of pioneers like flight attendant Linda McQueen, when I came along I went through training with American Airlines and there were several African-Americans in my class," she said.