African American Pilot Overcomes His Past

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2016)

Straight Outta 5th Ward 

Kenneth Morris is a 36-year-old African American pilot and founder/chief executive officer of Universal Elite Aerospace (UEA). At one time in his life he was homeless, yet from that experience he gained humility and a greater appreciation for what he has been blessed with today. He holds a degree in computer information systems, and loves pouring back into the lives of our youth – our future.

Growing up as a child in 5th Ward, the neighborhood considered the most dangerous, destitute, crime – ridden and poorest in the Houston in the 80’s and 90’s, it was commonplace for Kenneth Morris to be exposed to violence, drugs, prostitution and much more habitual counterproductive activity. 

As the oldest child, having no brothers nor consistent positive male figures, and having four younger sisters, the weight of the world seemed to be on his shoulders, even if it wasn’t intentional.

“I was raised by my maternal grandmother and moved with my paternal aunt during high school. I was a transient student throughout high school and after barely graduating, I left to join the United States Navy—my only option. This is when I gained my first exposure to aviation,” recalls Morris.

The Aviation Bug Bites 

Upon enlisting in the military, Morris scored extremely high on the standard military test which qualified him for many jobs; one of them being aviation. One of his recruiters tried to talk him out of aviation because it required a lot of studying and 90% of the people fail who attempt it. However, true to his character, Morris was not going to settle for being a cook or mechanic.

Morris reminisces, “The first time I ever flew an aircraft, I was 19 years old…I flew the P-3C Orion worth $36 million dollars. I was enlisted but the pilot-in-command asked me if I wanted to try flying and if I thought I could do it, my response “Yes sir!”

After flying in the Navy as an air crewman for several years, he separated from the military, went to college on a basketball scholarship, graduated with a degree in Computer Information Systems. From there he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a civilian pilot. In 2004 he enrolled in a local flight school in Wichita, Kansas, worked hard and focused all of his energy into accomplishing his new goal. 

“I am passionate about aviation and even more about helping our youth and that is how my organization took-off.”

Universal Elite Aerospace 

UEA is the only program of its kind in regards to Aviation S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in Houston and throughout the country. There are other respectable organizations that introduce youth to aviation and aerospace that Morris is working diligently with to reach as many at-risk students as possible.

UEA uses aircraft, aviation and S.T.E.M. activities to serve as a catalyst to motivate youth to exceed the barriers that have continuously plagued their progress. In fact, UEA can assist young people in getting their pilots license even before they get their driver’s license.

What makes UEA special is the program typically targets a specific demographic; the underserved; under-represented and often neglected; the worse schools, community centers, neighborhoods and areas that typical organizations shy away from.

 When Morris begins a process, he goes into the schools, shares his story with classes from 1st grade through high school. He then invites them out to the airport for a first-hand experience and follows up with possible questions and asks what they learned. The initial exposure and access usually provides students enough information to get their imagination engaged and interested in finding out more about the aviation industry. 

Leveraging his business relationships has allowed Morris the opportunity to provide the young people with a chance to see different career choices up close and personal. Typically, after a UEA event, the students go back to their respective neighborhoods and schools and have positive things to say about their experience. 

In less than 3 years, UEA has positively impacted over 12,000 disengaged youth. The program has experienced success in partnering with well-established companies and organizations that share a similar mission and vision.

“We have been able to guide students into various career paths such as flight school, maintenance school, air traffic controller school and entry level aviation/aerospace jobs for recent graduates,” aspires Morris.

Uniquely Suited for Mentoring

Morris believes that his life experiences gives him a unique advantage in being able to connect with the younger generation, relate to their current situations and articulate the positive opportunities that are available for them. 

His motto is “For our kids to want to BE something different, they have to SEE something different.” I am a firm believer that we have to meet the kids where they are and inspire, motivate and help propel them to where they need and/or want to be.”

Morris’ UAE mentorship program mainly focuses on:

  • instilling character traits in students that may not have been focused on as they grew up in their homes.
  • emphasizing respect for others.
  • assisting students with not making overly emotional and erratic decisions.
  • encouraging perseverance through tough times by eliminating the sense of entitlement.
  • developing a strong and positive outlook on life built on Integrity.

“It’s not about what a student does in my presence that impresses me, but what they do when I am not around,” notes Morris.

His KEYS-to-Life Principles

The advice Morris gives youth is simple:

  • No one OWES you anything. If you are sitting around waiting for someone to come get you, hand you a college degree, a job and a six figure salary – it will NOT happen!
  • Watch the company you keep, because that determines where you are headed before you even realize it.
  • Find a good mentor and/or business model to use for your venture.
  • Learn from your failures and mistakes, do not get discouraged and give up.

Morris’ personal motto is, “Put and Keep God first. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The UEA Future is Bright 

Morris’ program initiatives have resulted in UEA participants seeking various career paths such as flight school, maintenance school, air traffic controller school and entry level aviation/aerospace jobs.

His future goals for UEA include expanding the Aviation S.T.E.M. camps to cities outside of Houston; purchasing his own building to teach aviation principles; and, providing mentorship and motivational seminars for students in 5th Ward, 3rd Ward and South Park.

UEA’s newest venture focuses on being able to teach students about building and flying unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) through the program’s Aircraft Systems Engineering class. UEA is also in the early stages of planning for the sending of a rocket powered payload to the International Space Station. The targeted group of students to enroll in this special project will be inner city urban youth who are interested in aerospace engineering, space travel and aeronautics.

When asked, Morris singled out the African American aviation pioneers, current and future professionals as his inspiration in the aerospace industry.

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African American Pilot Overcomes His Past