Xavier Samuels inspires the next generation of aviators
In honor of Black History Month, each week we will profile an employee who is helping to break barriers. Follow along throughout the month of February for these extraordinary stories of perseverance.
Crediting the men and women who blazed the trail on which he now walks, Houston-based First Officer Xavier Samuels says he never worried that being an African American would keep him out of the flight deck, and for years, he's done his part to show the next generation that anything is possible for them, too.
It was in the early 1990s, when Xavier was a young U.S. Navy officer stationed in Pensacola, Florida, that he first noticed senior officers taking part in a local ACE Academy. ACE, which stands for Aviation Career Education, is an annual weeklong summer program sponsored by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) that introduces junior high and high school students to aviation-related fields.
Xavier was impressed by what he saw. From that day forward, he resolved to give back in similar ways, beginning by visiting schools and speaking on the importance of education and perseverance in the face of adversity and discrimination.
When he joined United in 2005, he brought that passion for the community with him, and in 2011, Xavier helped found Houston's first ACE Academy, one of nearly 30 currently operating around the country.
"Our first stop each year is IAH so the students can tour the airport and see what goes on behinds the scenes," Xavier said, describing the ACE Academy curriculum. "They meet customer service representatives, maintenance techs and ramp service employees. Some have never been to an airport, so they see a world they didn't know existed."
The week concludes with the students going up one by one in a Cessna for a discovery flight, during which each gets to take the controls for a few minutes and experience the thrill of piloting an aircraft.
Since its inaugural year, more than 100 students have passed through the Houston ACE Academy, over half of whom remain in touch with Xavier and his fellow academy leaders. Several are now in college pursuing aviation careers. Some have even followed Xavier's path into the military and to his alma mater, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, of which he is particularly proud.
And Xavier still visits classrooms, now as part of the "Pilots and Professionals in Schools" program in Houston, helping expose students to a wide variety of career choices.
"When I go to the schools, I'll have the uniform on," Xavier said. "Some of the kids are impressed, and it's a cool feeling. With the situations that some of them are growing up in, aspiring to [achieve] their goals might seem almost impossible. We tell them, whatever your preconceived notions were before, put that stuff out of your mind, because you're talking to someone who's done it and who isn't any smarter or more advantaged than you are. If you really want it, you can achieve it.
"This is what I'm supposed to do," he continued. "I've been so blessed to live my dream, so it's part of my purpose to help show these students that it's doable."