From Aft to Cock Pit, Kenyah Wolfe Shares Her Journey and the Need for African American Women in Aviation

Boundaries have been placed on women in the workplace for years, no matter the job title. Like Aviation, some career fields aren’t even the first that comes to mind when relating sexism and equality.

Out of 660,000 pilots in the US, seven percent of those pilots are women, three percent are Black and one percent are Black women. Kenyah Wolfe is a current student working towards her pilot’s license while also working to break barriers in the divide between men and Black women in Aviation.

Wolfe takes us through her journey of becoming a pilot, and her plans to educate young, Black men and women by sharing her movement that “She Can Fly Too”. 

Photo courtesy of Kenyah Wolfe

Aviation was not the initial goal, but one that took some research getting into

Currently working as a Flight Attendant for Delta Air Lines, Kenyah began her career in Aviation in 2015, at the age of 21. 

“My mom got me on a discovery flight, which is an introductory flight to being in the air on a small plane on my 21st birthday. The guy who did it was like ‘she’s really good if she ever wanted to do this she could’. After the flight, I had a terrible stomach ache and I thought to myself ‘I hate it up here, I’m never doing this again.’

Fast forward to when I became a flight attendant, I started asking the pilots, ‘Hey, if I ever wanted to become a pilot, what are some things you would suggest or advice you would give?’ Most always say that you have to love it because you’re going to spend a lot of money on the education, so figure out if you love it first and then go from there,’” states Wolfe. 

 

Photo courtesy of Kenyah Wolfe

What is the goal behind your movement “She Can Fly Too”, aside from the original goal of becoming a pilot? 

“Originally, ‘She Can Fly Too’ came to mind when I started my GoFundMe campaign in efforts of raising money to go to flight school. When thinking about what it means for so many girls that look like me, Brown and Black girls, it means we can also be pilots. I feel like when I was little, being a pilot was never brought up as an option. At career day in school, you would have your basic careers–A teacher, maybe a firefighter, a lawyer, a doctor–but you never really saw anyone in aviation. Not a pilot or even a flight attendant. You just never knew that aviation was a thing and I want to change that.”

Why do you think that women in aviation are so scarce, more so, the African American community as a whole? 

“So, let’s talk about a regular flight, right. There’s a lot of times when I get on a flight and see a family of black people with matching shirts and high energy. The majority of that group have never been on a plane before. It’s their 60th birthday and it’s their first time on a plane. Generationally, if our parents weren’t people who got on planes, we didn’t necessarily get on planes.

Luckily for me, my parents are from the Caribbean, so we used to travel a lot and my mom’s dad used to make them travel a lot as well. I was always on planes growing up. So, I feel like that plays a big role in it. Also, I don’t think that women want to deal with the “All Men Club”. When it has to do with the combative, ‘this is a man’s club, a man’s job’ etc., women are typically willing to submit and let it be. However, I feel the complete opposite. I like aviation and I’m ready to do it!”

Gender discrimination in aviation isn’t subject to just one race

Black women in aviation, specifically, struggle in this field. Not only with low numbers in the community, but also with proving that they are useful, worthy, and intelligent to males of all races, even their own. Wolfe shares an important story of an experience she’s had while working as a flight attendant. 

Photo courtesy of Kenyah Wolfe

A story from Kenyah

“There’s one story I want to share where I feel like even if I was a pilot, it wouldn’t have been different. I was the flight leader, and I walked on the plane and saw that we had a black captain. I got really excited thinking it would be the best flight ever, even though it was the shortest flight ever from ATL to SAV. The First Officer was Latino, so I was impressed by an all brown cockpit.

I was quickly disappointed when I went into the cockpit because the captain ignores me for like two minutes. I asked him if he would like for me to come back and he replies, ‘No, just stand there and watch the men work.’ I almost walked out. 

I’m currently learning about the weather briefing paper in my pilot training. It’s really long, like 70 pages, and when I passed that to him, he literally continued reading it. I decided to stand there for a second to see what he could possibly have to say after making a statement like that. He folds up the weather briefing and asks ‘Do you want some light reading?’ and then tucks it away in the seat’s back pocket.

Don’t let anyone take advantage of you

In this industry, this is a rude and sarcastic statement implying I wouldn’t understand it even if I tried. Everybody that I’ve told this story to, who’s in aviation, told me I should’ve picked it up and started reading it back to him! That would’ve been a statement, but why does it have to be like that? I shouldn’t have to show you that I know what that ‘light reading’ is for you to have respect for me.

It’s clear that situations like this will be something that’s going to be my norm. Whenever I become a pilot for a legacy, Delta, American, or whatever, it’s going to be something that I’m going to have to face daily, even with passengers. Im prepared to face it, however, I know it’s not something everyone is willing to deal with” explains Kenyah. 

Bridging the gap and educating our community

Kenyah Wolfe not only wants to lead by example, showing the world Black girls can be pilots as well. Wolfe hopes to expand those dreams and pour her knowledge into others. 

“I really believe I can open a flight school of my own. Within that flight school, I would have a mentorship program for Black and Brown girls that may be interested. Along with different programs with various schools, because I believe if I was exposed to it as a kid, I would have done it. The same time that you can get your license is the same time you can solo a plane at 16-years-old. As long as you can reach the pedals, you can fly! Imagine how many girls’ lives we can change by exposing them to that in elementary, middle, even high school.

I have my degree in education, so bridging that gap is really important to me. My mentor gave me a plaque that says ‘God doesn’t call to qualify, He qualifies the called’ and it’s so true. There’s often days where I’m like ‘bump this, this is hard, I really don’t have the money for this’ etc. Then I think about how I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for that third-grader, who always gets picked on. But that’s ok because one day, she’s going to be a pilot.”

Do you notice differences in accessibility to people of color in the field of Aviation in terms of training and reaching the specific checkpoints that need to be met to move forward in the program to become a pilot? 

“Other women that I know who fly, their parents are paying for them to fly. I’m paying for it all out of pocket. Working, saving, working, and saving. Getting to school is the easy part. However, I do know people who get to have less training because their parents fly. So they just go with their parents, grandparents, or whoever they know to teach them. They’re getting a little more hands-on experience with someone they’re comfortable with. Accessibility still comes with knowing people. An instructor can cost between 50-80 dollars an hour.

If you don’t have to pay those instructor fees, your total for becoming a pilot is way less from the jump–You’re winning. I’m just figuring it out as I go and asking questions from people that know other people. However, I don’t blame them. If I had somebody to pay for my flight school I’d be hype. If I had someone I could call in a matter of minutes to simply explain something to me that I’m not understanding from my instructor, that’d be great. But I don’t and that’s ok too.”

What are some things one should prepare for in advance that’s looking to follow in your footsteps of becoming a pilot?

“I would say, prepare for it to be kind of lonely. Prepare to be your own advocate and for the side looks you may get. The first flight school I went to, it was an entire three months before people finally stopped asking me if I was lost. I literally just stopped asking questions.

Before, I would go up and most students would go straight to the back and find their instructor, but people would approach me like ‘oh, can I help you with something?’ I would respond with who I was looking for, and they would always tell me to just wait there and they would come up. So eventually, I just started walking to the back too. Also if (the instructor) talks to you crazy, leave. That’s why I left my first flight school.

I don’t know if it was because I am a Black woman, but the things he would say and do were unacceptable. My instructor at my new school would respond to my stories like ‘I’m sorry, he made you do what?!’ That’s how I realized it definitely was not normal. Unfortunately, you don’t know something is wrong until someone tells you. If someone tells you to go do something, you’re going to do it. But my new school has assured me that some of those tasks weren’t safe or even a part of the protocol. 

My strongest advice would be to get a mentor. Get someone who’s been through it, and someone you can trust. Get someone who knows what’s right and wrong so you can go into it knowing your rights.”

Photo courtesy of Kenyah Wolfe

What is the one thing you’d say inspires you to keep going on your journey?

“Definitely knowing that it’s not for me. Literally, I would say that’s probably like the only thing. There have been many times when I don’t want to do it anymore and it starts to feel like regular school. However, I wholeheartedly believe that I’m not doing it for myself.

My favorite church sermon I’ve heard mentioned that sometimes you don’t go through things for you, you go through things for somebody else. For example, you may have gone through depression so that later in the future you can teach someone else through their depression, and I’m ok with that. I’m okay with going through the mud for somebody else right now. I want girls to think, ‘okay she did it, I can do it too.’”

Do you have any advice to young aspiring Black girls who hope to one day be the captain of the jet?

“Don’t let anyone stop or discourage you from doing what you want to do. There will be a lot of people who are going to love and hate you. As long as you have an understanding of who you are and what you’re doing, then just keep pushing. At the end of the day, you’ll have your own back even if no one else does. Don’t let anyone else stop you but yourself.”

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