Education

Columbus teen takes prestigious step toward career goal -- and breaking a stereotype

A Columbus teen has taken a prestigious step toward achieving his career goal — and breaking a stereotype.

According to a 2014 article by Michael L. Zirulnik on TheHill.com, less than 3 percent of airline pilots are black. Thanks to a $1,888 scholarship from the Young Eagles program at the Columbus Airport, Darian Holcomb, a rising senior at Kendrick High School, participated in the week-long Experimental Aircraft Association’s Advanced Air Academy Camp in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Muscogee County School District officials and community members joined Darian’s family in welcoming him back to town Wednesday with a reception in the Kendrick cafeteria.

Darian’s support runs deep. Among those who spoke at the gathering was Early College Academy principal Michael Forte, who was Darian’s principal in middle school at Rothschild Leadership Academy.

“I’m so proud of this young man,” Forte said. “He is doing something that’s uncharted territory.”

Gary Brossett, an engineer at Pratt & Whitney’s Columbus Engine Center, is a 1978 Kendrick graduate. He also is president of the EAA’s local chapter, one of more than 900 around the world. The EAA runs the Young Eagles program, which engages children ages 8-17 in aviation by giving them free airplane rides. The local chapter offers the 20-minute flights the last Saturday of every month from 8:30-11:30 a.m., weather permitting, at Flightways Columbus, the airport commission’s fixed base operator.

“This program began because the EAA realized most children don’t know what their calling is because they haven’t been introduced to it,” Brossett said.

Darian, 17, is among the more than 5,000 children in the Chattahoochee Valley who have participated in the Young Eagles program since 1992, part of the 2.1 million participants worldwide, Brossett said. For the past three years, Darian has volunteered in the Young Eagles ground crew. He is the local EAA chapter’s 10th recipient of its Air Academy Camp scholarship, totaling more then $16,000 in financial aid since 2012, Brossett said.

“The camper we sent last year missed his flight,” Brossett said, sparking laughter in the audience. “But Darian navigated the airport just fine and made it all the way to Wisconsin by himself.”

Darian’s mother, Deetra Williams, thanked the assembled supporters.

“We’ve been very busy trying to keep this boy on the right path,” Williams said. “So we do appreciate all efforts, all the time spent with Darian and us, patience and understanding.”

Darian told the crowd, “I’m thankful for the opportunity of once in a lifetime to attend the summer camp.”

Kendrick principal Alonzo James challenged Darian to pay forward his opportunity. He wants him to lead the school’s effort to start an aviation club.

“What you have to do is help us to get some to come after you,” James told Darian. “. . . Can you do that for us?”

“Yes, sir,” Darian replied.

The EAA Air Academy Camp comprises hands-on activities with aviation instructors, including ground instruction, flight studies, demonstrations and simulations. Part of the camp takes place during the world’s largest aviation event, EAA AirVenture.

After the ceremony, Darian told the Ledger-Enquirer about the camp. He liked “being with other young people who have an interest in aviation. I also was taught by very good teachers in the workshops. I learned about different parts of airplanes and aviation, and I had a wonderful time.”

His ultimate career goal, Darian said, is to become a pilot for Delta Air Lines.

“I like being different,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people who do that.”

Understanding that so few pilots are black, Darian said, “There’s a shortage of pilots too, so I might as well become a leader and help other people become pilots.”

According to GlassDoor.com, the average base salary for an airline pilot is $113,709.

Flying is “amazing,” Darian said. “It’s a great view, and the sky’s the limit.”

Carver High School engineering and technology teacher Mbonya Myers was among the folks Darian thanked. Myers taught at Rothschild when Darian joined the group of students she took to the Young Eagles program.

Seeing that Darian continued pursing his aviation interest from middle school through high school, Myers told the Ledger-Enquirer, “It’s very encouraging. I know that there are a lot of other Darians who are waiting for an opportunity.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE
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