Village People: Tammera Holmes, Saved by Aviation

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Tammera Holmes, a Maywood native and founder of AeroStar Corporation. | AeroStar

Thursday, May 11, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

On May 6, Tammera L. Holmes, a Maywood native and 1996 graduate of Proviso East High School, spoke at a monthly Maywood Youth Mentoring breakfast held at 200 S. 5th Ave.

Holmes, a public speaker and aviation consultant, is the founder of AeroStar Corporation — an entity she founded in 2008 in order to recruit more minority young people into aviation, aerospace and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] careers.

Holmes, who has garnered numerous accolades and plenty of national media attention, explained to a roomful of young people how airplanes saved her life. Below is a loosely transcribed excerpt of her talk.

In Maywood, there’s a former air field that was called Checkerboard Field, which sits right across the street from Loyola. That’s where Bessie Coleman [the first African American woman to hold a pilot license], flew in shows.

I didn’t find out until I was in my 20’s that Bessie came to my neighborhood and that she took off from the same area where I had my 17th birthday party. That was during the year I fell in love with aviation. I really feel like I share a connection with Bessie and with the land, the legacy and the historic value of Maywood.

But at the same time, I have some bad memories growing up here in poverty. In elementary school, we had the same books our parents had when they were in school. You could tell who had the books before you because there were names signed in them. We would literally find our parents’ names and our aunts’ and uncles’ names in those books. That’s how old they were. Half of them were missing back and front covers, and were taped together.

But school was really easy for me. Life was hard. I was a really bad kid. I stayed in trouble. I was getting straight A’s but I wasn’t getting any money because of the behavior report on the other side of that report card.

I had a mother and a father at home and was still a plum fool every day I walked out of the house. Once, I got into a fight on 5th Avenue, near where Church’s Chicken, the Gospel Rack and Little Caesar’s used to be. It was a huge brawl — about 30 of us.

That day, I had changed into a mini skirt and some slippery church shoes (my parents didn’t know). I thought I was super cute. This girl and I had been going at it for years. She was my arch enemy and it was only a matter of time before it went down. After the fight, the police came and everybody ran except for me. While the police were taking me to the station I clearly heard a voice say, ‘It doesn’t matter how smart you are now, does it?’

I had a weapon on me — a huge chain with a giant lock on the end of it. I kept it on me for protection. I bust the girl’s head with it. I could’ve killed the girl. That fast, I could’ve been in jail. That’s how quickly your life can change if you don’t keep yourself out of those situations. Her mother could’ve pressed charges. The only reason she didn’t was because we went to the same church. Here we are going to the same church on Sunday but raising hell during the week.

By the time I graduated high school, half of the young men I went to elementary school with were dead or in jail. These were my buddies, my classmates. And to see it happening today? To say that it’s sad is an understatement. We have work to do as parents, as adults, to get our kids back on the right track, because we can’t lose another generation. I don’t know if Maywood will last.

Just three days ago, one of my best friend’s nephews was murdered on 21st and Washington Boulevard in a drive-by in the middle of the day. When I look at the news and see those faces, those are people I know, kids I watched play, babies’ diapers I changed, kids I babysat and pushed in the stroller.

I was fortunate. One day, when I was 16, my mom made me take a plane ride with the Chicago chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen at Meigs Field. I saw all these black guys with air planes giving kids rides and one asked me if I wanted to fly.

I was like, ‘This dude doesn’t know how crazy I am.’ But I did it. We flew over Lake Michigan on the most beautiful day, looking at the Chicago skyline. I told myself then that I may be able do this for the rest of my life. What I knew for sure is that I wouldn’t be in the back seat of a police car again.

Aviation saved my life because it gave me something to pursue, something to lose and something to live for.

Why aviation needs minority young people 

We’re at a crossroads in the United States, which ranks 20th in science and 27th in math among developed nations. Fifty percent of all freshmen entering high school in the United States won’t graduate on time and only 20 percent have post-secondary pathways that they’ll complete within five years. That means they won’t get a college degree and they won’t acquire hard skills.

Around 10,500 highly skilled employees are leaving the workforce every day, but we have so many young people and young adults who can’t replace them. Who’s qualified to work those jobs? That’s why each year the aerospace industry gives out 7,100 H-1B visas, which are given to people who come into our country to work. Those 7,100 jobs aren’t going to U.S. citizens.

Boeing put out a report in 2016 saying 1.5 million technicians, pilots and crew are going to be needed by 2035. Where will we get the people to fill them in 20 years? Are our kindergartners going to be able to take those jobs in 20 years? Not if they’re not trained. VFP

Maywood Youth Mentoring holds monthly breakfasts from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., on the first Saturday of each month, at 200 S. 5th Ave.

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