Mother and Son Fly High

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What happens when you take the love of aviation, add a dash of mother-son bonding, and ignite the growth of minorities generationally in the industry? You get to meet and share the journey of OBAP members Nia and Thaddeus.

Ms. Nia Gilliam-Wordlaw would be the last person to share how impressive her aviation career has been. Spanning over the last three-plus decades, when a woman pilot of color was uncommon, Nia has trailblazed and marked milestones well beyond imagination. And, what is even more unique, her passion seeped into the bloodline of her son Thaddeus.  The two individually walk industry paths, Nia commercial aviation and Thaddeus corporate aviation, but both reflect precisely what the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) promotes and encourages.

Nia, I would love for you to share how your journey in aviation has spanned the last thirty years and where OBAP has appeared in that journey.  

I currently am a 777 FO out of Houston. Understanding that I did not have many examples of what it looked like to be a minority pilot or a female pilot, I understood that to have the opportunity, I would need to truly work hard and focus on what would be required for me to succeed. A person will sell themselves short when they do not follow their passion. 

However, when I looked at the route ahead of me at seventeen, I realized that I did not immediately have an example of what a Black female would look like in aviation. I spent most of my life being the only one like me in a classroom, and I recognized that this journey would be very similar, and I would be one of few.  

This is where OBAP showed up. So many of our members have reached outstanding goals and blazed trails to realize their dreams. But beyond that, in the organization's depths, cracks, and crevices, OBAP is a family. And just like a family, they will hold you to a standard that they see in you and make you work for what you want. And I needed that. Every effort invested in me by a mentor, an instructor, or a financial scholarship showed me I could be the person I wanted to be. In the cockpit, in the industry, and not only could I do it there, I would also create ways for other women, and my own son, to do the same. 

Tell us a little about Thaddeus. 

With Thaddeus, I wanted to ensure my passion was not his because I was his mom. And though, as a mother who traveled often and exposed my children to travel, I wanted to ensure that Thaddeus knew he could follow his dreams. Around age three, I realized Thaddeus had his aviation dreams and aspirations. He would bring me a checklist and let me know the order things were supposed to be. By age eight, we were learning about different airplanes. And beyond that, I realized it was in his blood.  I also learned that the generational example I lacked, I now was to my son. 

That’s why it’s so important for parents to support their children in their passion, especially when you know they are good. As a mother, I will never take for granted seeing Thaddeus work hard for what he wanted, being part of his journey, and being his support. 

So, Thaddeus, it is your turn. Share a little about what you currently do. 

I am currently a corporate jet pilot out of Pearland, Texas, and I have wanted to be a pilot for a long time. As early as the age of fourteen, I attended career fairs sponsored by OBAP and quickly realized what the organization was doing to diversify the aviation industry. Taking part in any event that would help me “stay ahead of the plane” helped me realize what opportunities would be available and what expectations were attached to those opportunities to be successful. 

Okay, so you are young but very wise. Please share some of that wisdom with our audience. 

I would share with my younger self that you must stay in the moment. There are lots of things that will have to be completed, and there are different learning processes. Remembering to take it one step at a time will not alleviate any setbacks or stressors, but you will work through each of them uniquely and individually. Also, hold onto the motivation. There is going to be an emotional part of the journey. And emotions are not a bad thing. 

Also, this one is big: make sure to network. Folks within the aviation community, especially those of us in OBAP, help each other. Even when you do not feel like being an extrovert or do not think you need to attend that conference or introduce yourself to another person, you must do it. The outcome will be worth it if you fully put in the effort.

For more information about Nia & Thaddeus, check out their Instagram @myson_n_fun