“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

-Maya Angelou

As I make my exit as the chair of the OBAP Board of Directors, this quote from Maya Angelou could not ring more true for me. As a little black girl growing up in the shadow of the Old Stapleton Airport in Denver, Colorado, I was always mesmerized by the huge airplanes that flew over my home every day. I always wondered about the glamorous lives of the pilots, and flight attendants, and all of the people who made the many moving parts at the airport work. When I traveled to college, I stopped and watched the many people associated with flying but I never saw anyone who looked like me. That childhood spark liberated my soul and set me on a path to a fulfilling career in aerospace, and an even more fulfilling tenure serving an organization that changes the lives of so many boys and girls like me.

When I was elected board chair in 2016, I was faced with the monumental task of building a strategy to help OBAP achieve its mission and vision. There was a laundry list of things to do and the nexus between governing an organization and directly affecting change in the aerospace industry was not crystal clear. I went in with the intention to not only “make a difference” but to become a better community member by giving in any and every way I could, all while further advancing the mission of such a powerful organization. Through guidance and others’ experiences and leadership, I was able to understand that for a nonprofit to be truly successful, all parts of the organization are mutually valuable and must all work together in a balanced and intentional way to accomplish longevity. So, with the help of the many leaders who served, we created a structure that would set this organization on a path of growth and impact.  We opened our arms and our doors to affinity groups across the industry, developing the relationships that would help us soar. We not only wanted to partner with them, but we also wanted to give them a platform to extend their missions.

That same year, OBAP would make history, launching the Luke Weathers, Jr. Flight Academy. The academy, bearing the name of the first African American air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration, would be our legacy, and has since created a pathway for nearly 100 young people to realize their dreams.

The next three years moved at Mach speed. My passionate colleagues and I focused on laying a foundation that would help our organization soar. Those years of quiet, behind-the-scenes effort,  were the seeds that have blossomed into the fruit we can now celebrate. Through our growing suite of Project Aerospace programs and the willingness of countless volunteers, we’ve touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. As a result of our deep industry relationships, and our relentless pursuit of a more diverse industry, we helped countless professionals enter and excel in the field. Their stories and achievements will be our legacy.

Even with the many successes of the early years, the end of my tenure would prove to be the most impactful. Like so many other organizations, we began 2020 with high hopes and big ideas. Within the first quarter of the year, however, the world, and our plans, would quickly change. As a board, we would have to contend with a global disease that would handicap our industry and displace many of our members, as well as the quickly-rising racial tensions fueled by police killings in our country. This, along with our mission to strengthen the infrastructure of the organization, would stretch us, but as the OBAP family always does, we came together and rose to meet the moment. 

In the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, OBAP made lasting strides this year. Responding to the need to confront racism, we launched our Courageous Conversations series, where we united nearly 100 industry leaders and thousands of aerospace professionals to have dialogue that was long overdue and begin to formulate a path forward to create a more diverse and inclusive industry. We worked tirelessly to continue to provide our members with enriching opportunities, offering dozens of virtual opportunities to connect and learn throughout the year. And we climbed even higher in our mission to serve youth by creating new programs such as the Aerospace Virtual Education (AVE) Academy, and Girls LAUNCH - a phenomenal event geared toward exposing girls and young women to opportunities in aerospace. 

As the year, and my tenure as Chair comes to an end, I take this opportunity to reflect on not only the work that we’ve done but the lives that we’ve changed. As I consider the past four years, what has become tremendously clear is that the spirit and practice of philanthropy is something that I believe collectively improves the human condition. It is not only the giving of financial resources, but giving of one’s expertise, passion, talent, and experience. We all come from varying walks of life, which contributes to the uniqueness of how we view the world and how and why we choose to make an impact. I firmly believe that deep down, we all want to make the world a little better than the condition it was in when we entered it, and I challenge you, no matter what your position, to look for ways to be the wind that gives rise to someone else's dreams. Volunteer, mentor, be a bridge and give. This organization is proof positive that together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.   

As the poet, John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” This quote so simply yet eloquently reminds me of the sheer strength of our collective. Had it not been for the unselfish, relentless work of so many who came alongside me to share the load, none of this could have been possible. I would be remiss if I did not sincerely thank every board member, industry partner, affinity group, member, and volunteer who walked with OBAP during these transformative years. Each of you have left an imprint on the lives of people you may never know. For that, I am forever grateful.

As I move forward, serving on the Board of Advisors at OBAP has ignited my desire to do more, be more, and serve more. As we continue to navigate the world ahead, I can do so with pride, knowing that OBAP is better, stronger, and ready to move boldly into the future. 

Be safe. Be well.

Vanessa