Jun. 4—A group of local kids spent Saturday morning checking out airplanes, meeting pilots, and flying around Anniston thanks to the Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention.
ASAP, based in Oxford, partnered with several organizations — such as the Brock Project, the Anniston Fatherhood Initiative and the City of Anniston — to bring local youth "The Gift of Flight." Founder of the Brock Project and pilot Omar Brock explained what the Gift of Flight program is.
"The gift of flight is a career discovery initiative to expose you all to the world of aviation," Brock said, addressing the children at Anniston Regional Airport Saturday. "Our whole motto is to expose you to aviation and let you know that this is attainable to you if you so choose."
Around 40 local kids listened to Brock speak as he brought forward nine African American pilots of various career levels to show the kids possibilities for their future. Included in the lineup was 14-year-old Ayden Demsey, clad in a full pilot uniform, who is currently enrolled in a flight program out of Georgia.
Many of the children in the room had never been on a commercial flight or ridden in an airplane of any kind. ASAP and its sponsors' goal for the day was to give the children that chance, according to the program's executive director, Seyram Selase.
Asked what it meant to him to be able to bring this opportunity to the kids, Selase said, "It means everything."
Some of them, he said, would not have otherwise had the chance to fly. The experience for them is exhilarating.
"I mean, you can see the looks on their faces when they get off the planes — it's almost as if now they truly feel like they could do anything and be anybody," Selase said.
Once all the safety planning and paperwork was out of the way, the kids were taken out to the airport's taxiway to learn about the planes. Then they took turns climbing into one of the program's four aircraft for a short trip aloft.
Little Maada Montgomery and Meari Carlisle were all smiles as Brock opened the hatch for them to climb into the plane. Their giggles of excitement rang in the air as the pilot readied the engine for takeoff.
On the sidelines, parents took photos and waved as the wheels left the landing strip and the craft soared into the air.
Selase spoke to participants about the careers that would be on display during the program, and said those careers could be obtained only through a life free of substance abuse.
"Now, we hope that a lot of these people will think twice before a friend or a peer tries to pressure them into doing drugs," Selase said. "You can't be a pilot, that lawyer, that doctor, if you're living a life of substance misuse."
Selase said he's hoping the Gift of Flight will allow the children to make good choices when presented with less than favorable opportunities, such as the use of drugs and alcohol.