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History in the Skies: Youngest African American Male in New York Earns Private Pilot License

To The Star of Zion Family,
My name is Caiden Spears and I am a 17-year-old teen aviator who recently graduated from Cardinal Hayes HS located in the South Bronx, NY. I am sharing my story because on May 25th, 2024 I received my Private Pilot License and I am now the youngest African American male to hold a pilot license in the state of New York.  
I developed my love for aviation at six years old. While living close to LaGuardia airport, my grandmother always tells the story of walking me to kindergarten, and whenever he saw an airplane in the sky, I would say, “Grandma, I am going to fly one of those big planes one day.”  I began teaching myself the layout of the various airline cockpits using computerized programs. While in elementary school, I was fortunate enough to connect with a Jet Blue Pilot who, at the time, provided biweekly simulation sessions on an FAA-certified flight Simulator. A few months later, I attended the Aviation4Us Ground School, where I completed my discovery flight at age 14. I was the only student at graduation to receive an honors award for flying. My instructor told the audience, “I have no doubt that Caiden will go on to become a Commercial Pilot.” At the ceremony, I also received a Certificate of Merit from the NYS Assembly and a Certificate of Merit from the NYS Senate. 
During the summer of 2019, I was introduced to the ACE Academy by United Airlines Captain. I attended the virtual Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) ACE academy at JFK in 2020 and in person in 2021. In 2020 I also attended the Red Tails Flight Academy virtual Ground School where I was invited to be a guest speaker. I continued with biweekly flight lessons, leading me to complete my first solo flight at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, NY, on August 3, 2022, shortly after my 16th birthday.  This was not a planned day but one where my instructor told me I was ready to solo after completing my preflight checks and performing a few take-offs and landings.  My instructor said, “You are going to solo now; just bring my airplane back,” and he exited the plane. As I sat on the taxiway alone, I was taken by total surprise as I thought this was just a regular lesson. This was the first time that I served as the pilot in command of my plane. There was no instructor on board to guide me. I pulled from all that I had learned.  It was nerve-wracking, to say the least, but I was prepared and completed the task at hand with flying colors. It was also the first step of me demonstrating total responsibility and maturity at the age of 16. Upon completion of my solo flight, I felt empowered, and my drive to go further was magnified. I realized that I was not only a 16-year-old holding an FAA student pilot license, but I was a leader in my school and community and a role model for my peers.
I completed my Private Pilot’s License on May 25, 2024, making me the youngest African American teenager in New York at the age of 17 to hold a Private Pilot License. In an industry where only 3.4% are black, I am extremely proud of my accomplishments.
 I realize that my chosen career path in aviation is a little different than what would be considered the “norm” for my peers. Some will go on to 4-year universities, while others will pursue a trade.  I am not of the mindset that individuals who do not pursue a higher education, such as a 4-year degree, cannot be successful, but those who pursue a higher education are exposed to more opportunities on personal and social levels and are more willing to be active participants in various events. I know that I am well-rounded and will achieve my goal of becoming a commercial pilot.
My pathway is unique to me and my personal goal of becoming an airline pilot; therefore, the blueprint to my success has already been mapped by my mentors at various airlines.  Although I will not be attending a 4-year university initially, my vocational path will allow me to immerse myself deep into my studies and will lead me directly into my career with my end goal of earning my BSc in Aviation.  
Growing up and attending school in the South Bronx where young boys are often featured on the news in a negative light: robbing, stealing, and even killing people. I wanted to share my story to share hope and encourage someone else. From a young age, I realized that I am a leader and not a follower. I know that I have a very unique path to reach my goal and it is not the same as others. I am ok with standing out and being unique. I see the end goal for me, and it is very bright. I am determined to stay focused and do what I have to do to get there. 
I am currently a member of Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church in Mt. Vernon, NY, where my Pastor is The Rev. Dr. Stephen W. Pogue. Prior to COVID-19, I served with my brother on the Youth Usher Ministry. I have helped with the Toy Donations and served as a Registrar at the Back to School event.  The journey to becoming a pilot and being a full-time student has not been easy. I am grateful to God for the messages my Pastor has preached, which have helped me along my journey. These messages have not only motivated me but also refueled me each week to keep pressing toward my goal. Sometimes, adults do not think young kids pay attention in church, but my Pastor’s messages have helped me during the difficult times I faced trying to test for my pilot exam. In July, I would be honored to take him on his first flight with me.  I have been looking forward to flying him for a while now, and I thank God for the upcoming opportunity to make it a reality.
I have dedicated countless hours to mentoring the youth in and outside of my school in the South Bronx and recognize the impact that guidance can have on shaping their futures. My most recent and impactful accomplishment was being selected by my school's principal, Mr. William Lessa, to be a President’s Men at my school. The President’s Men are a group of elite students who work directly for the school’s President and represent the school at community, social, alumni, admission events, and funerals. This position has allowed me to exemplify integrity, leadership, and service. This is a huge accomplishment for me because I reflect on my early elementary school days of being a mediocre B/C+ student. When I found my passion for aviation while in the 7th grade, I began to see an improvement in my grades. I even surprised my mom when I graduated with honors. Fast forward to becoming a President's Men, I know that my Principal saw leadership qualities in me that I had begun to work on during the previous years. As a President's Men, my classmates look up to me as a leader. Whether attending school community events or simply lending an ear to my peers who may need guidance on what their future may be, I have made myself available. 
My goal is to inspire a culture of excellence in other kids, whether it is within aviation or wherever their passion lies.  I was placed in various leadership roles within the school, so it is important to conduct myself properly. Another role that I am extremely proud of is becoming the Executive Producer for our media club. One day, the teacher in charge of the media club saw my work and was pleased. He began to use me to videotape and edit various programs and school events. He then named me the Executive Producer of the Chanel H (Hayes) Club. 
Outside of aviation, I have a passion for photography and videography, and I have my own LLC. I was honored to be the photographer and videographer for the NAACP 50th Anniversary Gala for the Coop City New York Chapter. 
I am not only a licensed teen pilot, but I take pride in being a motivational speaker. I have spoken to over 700 students and pilots about my aviation journey. In August 2023, in New Orleans, Louisiana, I served as the Youth Day emcee at the annual Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals Pilot Conference. I took the stage in the Grand Ballroom with over 400 students and pilots in attendance. During this time, I had the opportunity to share my journey and connect with students and pilots from all over the country. 
I recently graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School on June 1, 2024, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with honors and have been accepted to Luke Weather’s Flight Academy located in Olive Branch, Mississippi, where I will be a part of the American Airlines Cadet Program. I am on track to become an airline pilot at the age of 23. While at Luke Weathers, I will continue to work on the rest of my ratings and complete my flight training and licenses in partnership with American Airlines. LWFA has also partnered with the local 2-year college, where I will have the opportunity to obtain my degree simultaneously.  I will then continue to build the flight hours needed to fly for a Regional Airline and then transition to American Airlines as a First Officer. 
I began volunteering at the age of 5, cleaning the streets with my mom, and held my first job at the age of 14 in KFC, so it is important for me to give back and be an example to those students behind me.  I know the value of hard work and staying focused. You must be extremely focused as a pilot. As African-American men, we cannot limit ourselves. We have to continue to grow and seek out opportunities to learn and go higher. I was a kid with not-so-stellar grades in elementary school, but my passion allowed me to turn that completely around. I graduated from elementary school with honors and earned first and second honors throughout high school. I have a proven record of empowering my peers and have learned valuable lessons in giving back. As I pursue a higher education in the aviation industry, I have no doubt that these values will continue well into adulthood. In 5 years, the young black boy gazing into the sky, dreaming of flying one of the airplanes flying over my home, will return to the South Bronx as a First Officer with American Airlines to empower other young boys gazing into the sky to pursue their own dreams.
Respectfully Submitted,
Caiden Dominick Spears, Age 17
Licensed Private Pilot, Future Boeing 777 Captain
Although he has set high goals for himself at a young age, he still enjoys riding his bike, playing basketball, and eating ice pops outside on the steps with his friends. His favorite pastime is to eat Chick-fil-A after every flight; thus, his flights are scheduled during the week and on Saturdays when Chick-fil-A is open. 
Many say that Caiden has an expensive hobby, but he gently reminds them that it is not a hobby but his passion, which is leading him to his profession. 
Caiden is mature, articulate, dedicated, and determined to achieve his goal of someday becoming an airline pilot. Caiden is currently on a non-stop flight to destination success. 
Caiden has been accepted to Luke Weather’s Flight Academy, where he will be in the American Airlines Cadet Academy.
Buckle up and enjoy his flight; his best is yet to come. 
African American, Pilot, Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church, Jet Blue, American Airlines, Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Bronx


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