Part 2 - Passing the Baton – Mentoring
By Frances Fiorino
All it takes is one kind action of one individual to make a profound difference in a person’s life. In exploring Irving’s adventure, I was deeply moved in learning about unbroken chain of mentoring that led to the realization of aviation dreams.
Let’s start with the Irving-Robinson bond. Both lives closely parallel: Irving and Robinson are both African-Americans born of meager surroundings in Kingston, Jamaica. Both are deeply religious, and both fell in love with aviation at early age—and both held limited views of the world and their place in the world.
The Irving-Robinson link was forged about eight years ago in Miami. Robinson, in United Airlines uniform, dropped in to the Christian bookstore owned by Irving’s parents. Robinson asked the 15-year-old if he might be interested in becoming an airline pilot.
“Don’t you have to be a rocket scientist?” asked Irving, saucer-eyed. One can only imagine how impressive Robinson looked in his crisp airline uniform through the teen’s eyes.
“I’m not a rocket scientist--not even close--and if I can do it, you can do it,” emphasized Robinson.
“There was something in his eyes that told me he wanted to do it; he just didn’t know he could,” says Robinson, who believed Irving would blossom if he just got the exposure to aviation. And so the good captain invited Irving on a tour of a Boeing 777 he was flying for United and “That was it.”
“I saw the glimmer in his eyes—but it was Antonio [Irving’s middle name] who turned the glimmer into an inferno,” says Robinson. There was no stopping him. “He breathed, ate and worked flying, doing odd jobs at the airport, such as washing airplanes, to get money for flying lessons.”
Irving, a top athlete, turned down footfall scholarships to be closer to aviation, and in 2003 he won a joint U.S. Air Force--Florida Memorial University flight awareness scholarship that would cover both college tuition and flying lessons. Irving earned his private, commercial licenses and instrument rating and was a senior majoring in aerospace (two courses short of graduation) when he embarked on the around-the-world flight.
Irving has been “like a son” to Robinson, whose 8-year-old son is "little brother to Antonio. And Irving’s parents, who have entrusted the captain with the safety of their son as far as aviation was concerned, are "family."
The mentoring bond extends beyond aviation, says Robinson. He and Antonio also pray together, discuss life and its relationship with aviation.
Flying around the world was strictly Barrington’s idea, says Robinson, who had one of his proudest moments when he pinned captain’s stripes on Irving for the round the world flight (see photo). Robinson provided guidance for flight planning as well as setting up the non-profit organization. And he ‘speaks’ with Antonio via phone, e-mail or text messaging nearly every day as he progress around the globe.
The Robinson-Baptiste Link
Rewind to the Robinson and the mentor who led him to wearing captain’s stripes: Robinson’s aviation dream dawned the day the five-year old moved from Kingston to San Mateo, Calif. Onboard an airplane for the first time and enthralled with the view from the sky, Robinson knew he wanted to be a pilot and announced his intention to his mom, who was supportive of his dream.
But little developed in the intervening years. Aviation wasn’t in his family background and his father was less than enthusiastic about the idea of his son earning a living flying airplanes. But one day, a San Mateo High School buddy took the 16-year-old Robinson along for a flying lesson. "That was it." He was hooked. He ate and breathed aviation, doing odd jobs to make money for flying lessons, and eventually earning his private, commercial and CFII. Sound familiar?
One day, a US Airways captain, Craig Baptiste—wearing a crisp airline uniform--came to the field where Robinson worked. He was seeking an instructor to work with his twin brother who was planning to convert his military license to civilian.
“I was stunned at seeing a black airline pilot. It was a rare sighting,” says Robinson -- which perhaps was the same reaction Irving had when he first met Robinson.
Baptiste saw that “something": in Robinson’s eyes as well, and worked to set up interviews for what he learned was a highly qualified pilot.
“I was amazed that this airline captain would spend time with little ol' me,” says Robinson. Baptiste’s efforts landed Robinson his first job--with CC Air—but he was furloughed before he started. He worked at two other airlines before he signed on with United where he flew 777s as first officer. Robinson achieved rank of captain in 2001.
Robinson says Baptiste and his brother are “family” and remain extremely close, just as Irving and Robinson are close.
Baptiste could have walked away, says Robinson, “But he took the personal time to guide me and get me to where I should be.”
You Can Do It!
Baptiste’s caring led Robinson to make the commitment to help others. “I’m happy if I can stoke the fire just a little bit--and not only in aviation--to just say, ‘You can do it!’ They may not be hearing that at home, at school. So I try to let them know that failure is not in not getting there, failure is in not trying.”
Those words triggered fond remembrances of random acts of kindness that sent me galloping off to the nearest airport. I had loved all things of the air since I was a baby, but aviation was far, far removed from my background. It wasn’t a case of wanting to fly and not being able to; the general perception at the time was that only men flew airplanes.
Many years later, a coworker who was a private pilot, said “You can do it” and explained how and where mere mortals, yea, even girl mortals, could sign up for lessons. And one day while in an aviation book store, a pilot asked me if I was interested in learning how to fly (perhaps he saw something in my eyes?). He handed me a used marked up aeronautical chart and a business card of a flying school, saying, “Here, you’ll need these” and vanished.
Robinson encourages mentoring, which he describes as a personal and direct involvement in the life of an individual, child or adult—with the aim of transferring one’s self-confidence to the mentee.
There’s a significant difference between a mentor and a role model, says Robinson. A role model is any person after whom an individual patterns one's life.The role model can be someone you know or someone you’ve never met, such as a celebrity or historic figure—but not all provide good examples, warns Robinson.
Irving sees himself as a mentor in the future, because current pursuits prohibit the one-on-one interaction required of mentorship. He currently perceives himself more as “a motivator and resource” for youth.
The confidence of Baptiste transferred to Robinson and on to Irving, who has already influenced many young people and will continue to touch many more. Robinson says his eight-year-old son has expressed an interest in flying. And the process begins again.
There are many ways to get involved in mentoring, either on a one-to-one basis or through a group. Aviation-specific mentoring groups include: the Organization of Black Airline Pilots http://www.obap.com NASA Shades of Blue http://www.ourshadesofblue.com and EAA's Young Eagles program http://www.youngeagles.org
Photos Courtesy of Juan Rivera
READERS ARE INVITED TO ADD TO THE LIST OF MENTORING GROUPS UNDER “COMMENTS”