His clothes were still wet and he was chilled to the bone, but it didn’t matter. Tayvon Snowden had come to celebrate, and no rainstorm was about to dampen his spirits.
“Wait till I tell you what happened, but I’m good,” he told his parents as they arrived at the Project Aerospace graduation ceremony that day at the Delta Training Center Auditorium.
Having to sit through an hourlong awards ceremony was nothing compared with what Snowden had endured to get to this moment.
For three weeks, the 16-year-old rose from his bed at 5 a.m., dressed and headed out to catch Bus 116 to the Indian Creek MARTA station, boarded a train to Five Points and then a second train to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where a friend’s parent picked him up for the hourlong drive to Peachtree City.
It was a long haul from his home in Decatur, but he felt good about the promise Flightline held for him and the nine other teenagers the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals had invited. The Atlanta program is one of 30 academies OBAP sponsors for aspiring pilots ages 14-18 in cities around the globe.
Both Flightline and its Aviation Career Education Academy are part of a nationwide initiative that OBAP and the National Black Coalition of Aviation Employees began in 1989. It has provided more than 2,500 youths with lessons in aviation history, aerodynamics, meteorology, navigation, flight training and simulator orientation with qualified flight instructors.
As he sat in the banquet hall one Saturday last month listening to yet another speaker, Snowden’s heart started to pound. The student that program director and airline pilot Jason Inniss was talking about sounded a lot like him, Snowden thought.
And then Inniss finished: “This year’s top student is Tayvon Snowden.”
Snowden had applied for Flightline when his mother, Queen Taese Snowden, was about to give birth and the family’s only car was in need of repair. But there was no turning back. It didn’t matter that he had to arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson by 7 a.m.
For most of his life, the home schooled student nurtured a keen interest in math, science and engineering, building websites to finance his dream. His participation in the Aviation Career Education Academy in 2011 ignited the dream to become an aviation engineer and pilot. The next step, Flightline, sealed it.
“Every student gets to fly solo for about an hour,” Snowden said. “When I landed I was 100 percent sure that that was what I wanted to do with my life. It was an amazing feeling. I figured if people do this for a living, I can do it and not call it work.”
Queen Snowden said when she realized her son’s trek to Peachtree City would begin before sunrise, she was concerned. But his father said, “Let the man do what he has to do.”
They’d had the conversation with him that every parent has. Be mindful of your surroundings. Sit near the front of the train. Keep your electronics out of sight.
Queen Snowden, instead of being fearful, decided to put the focus where it needed to be. Her son’s safety. Call me at each stop, she told him.
At the end of each class, Tayvon Snowden headed back — first in the car, then two trains and a bus home.
“He’d be full of adrenalin telling you about the day,” his mother recalled. “He’d literally go to sleep talking about his day.”
OBAP Executive Director Cheryl Chew said it was clear from the beginning that Snowden “was a dedicated student with a passion for aviation.”
“We are very proud of him for his diligence in getting to class every day and his commitment to preparing for a successful career in aviation,” she said.
As Snowden prepared early this week to head to Georgia Perimeter College, where he’s enrolled in the Transfer Admission Guarantee program, he remembered the three-week journey the way mothers remember labor pain, forgetting the difficulty.
And so the memory of getting up at 4 a.m. for three weeks, taking a bus, two trains and a car ride to Peachtree City had been all but forgotten. Even the sudden thunderstorm he’d gotten caught in en route to the graduation ceremony was a distant memory.
Instead Snowden, who hopes to start his own charter airline, was relishing the moment when Inniss finally called his name and presented him with this year’s Charlie Tutt Outstanding Achievement in Aviation Award, given annually to the top student.
Snowden rose and walked to the front of the room and onto the stage as the applause swelled.
“I wasn’t aware there was a top student award,” Snowden said. “I was actually very shocked. I didn’t expect it.”
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