United's Paco Sulmers joins Bill Norwood in OBAP Hall of Fame - United Hub
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Paco Sulmers joins Bill Norwood in OBAP Hall of Fame

By Matt Adams, August 12, 2016

When Captains Bill Norwood and Georges “Paco" Sulmers were starting out as pilots in the 1950s and 60s, they were acutely aware of the fact that doors weren't always open to them as African-Americans. “I was always told 'You have to work twice as hard to get half as far,'" said Bill. Paco echoed that sentiment, describing his search for role models in aviation during that era. “As a youngster, when I watched TV, I would look for pilots with black faces, but there were none."

Bill and Paco hold the designation of being two of the pioneers of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), which marks its 40th anniversary this year. To celebrate that milestone, six early contributors to OBAP, including Paco, were inducted into the OBAP hall of fame at this year's annual convention.

Captain Bill Norwood Captain Bill Norwood

Bill said he owes his interest in aviation to his elementary school principal in Centralia, Illinois, William Harold Walker, who had been a member of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Paco, who emigrated with his family from Haiti in 1957, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, watching planes coming and going in and out of nearby LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, treasuring the 115 model airplanes he kept at home.

After high school, Bill went on to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where he got his first opportunity to fly as part of an Air Force reserve officer training program. Upon graduating in 1959, he spent six years in the Air Force and flew B-52 bombers. Paco attended Brooklyn's vocational Aviation High School, earning his pilot's license in 1965. When Bill left the service, flying opportunities for African-Americans were limited, but, in May 1965, Bill joined United. By the time Paco earned his commercial license in 1968, he found a job with Northeast Airlines, and that's when he first began thinking about creating a group to help further the cause of black aviators.

“At that time, there were maybe 25 black airline pilots in the country," Paco said. “We knew that we needed to find a way to help our cause." In the early-1970s Paco joined Eastern Airlines and met fellow pilot Benjamin Thomas. He and Ben soon began talking about the idea of what would soon be known as OBAP.

In 1976 Ben Thomas approached Bill and asked for his help. Sitting in Bill and his wife Molly's kitchen in suburban Chicago, the three wrote the constitution and by-laws for what would become the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (the name was changed to include aerospace professionals in the early 2000s). “The original goal of OBAP was to mentor young African-Americans and get them into the cockpits," said Bill. “We wanted to help them get in the door of the big airlines." Bill, Paco, Ben and their colleagues vetted young pilots, making sure that each whom they recommended for hire to a major airline was going to represent what OBAP stood for. Paco said, “We wanted to attract the best and be the best."

Captain Paco Sulmers induction into the OBAP Hall of FameCaptain Georges "Paco" Sulmers induction into the OBAP Hall of Fame

The first OBAP convention was held at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1976. “In those early years, Tuskegee Airmen veterans wrote letters to all the airlines on our behalf, imploring them to come to the conventions," Paco said. Senior airline management started showing up to recruit talent, and United was one of the first to sponsor an OBAP scholarship for pilots interested in pursuing new type ratings for commercial flying.

After all these years, both Bill and Paco can look back and see progress. Paco said, “We've conquered the cockpit; now we're encouraging people to move on to other horizons, show them that they can become chief pilots, things like that."

Bill is still active when it comes to opening doors for African-American youngsters who are interested in flying, volunteering at ACE Academies around the country, an organization started by OBAP to give teens the opportunity to experience aviation careers. He published his memoir, Cleared for Takeoff: A Story of Challenges and Triumph, to share his story of inspiration. Paco is still involved with OBAP mentorship and attended this year's convention, which had a record number of attendees. “When I go to these conventions, I just think, 'This is great — it used to be just a few of us, the same guys from the beginning. Now, I don't recognize everyone because there are so many new faces.'"

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

United Cargo and logistics partners keep critical medical shipments moving

By The Hub team, July 02, 2020

By working together and strengthening partnerships during these unprecedented times, our global community has overcome challenges and created solutions to keep the global supply chain moving. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the shipping landscape, United and our industry partners have increasingly demonstrated our commitment to the mission of delivering critical medical supplies across the world.

United Cargo has partnered with DSV Air and Sea, a leading global logistics company, to transport important pharmaceutical materials to places all over the world. One of the items most critical during the current crisis is blood plasma.

Plasma is a fragile product that requires very careful handling. Frozen blood plasma must be kept at a very low, stable temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius or less – no easy task considering it must be transported between trucks, warehouses and airplanes, all while moving through the climates of different countries. Fortunately, along with our well-developed operational procedures and oversight, temperature-controlled shipping containers from partners like va-Q-tec can help protect these sensitive blood plasma shipments from temperature changes.

A single TWINx shipping container from va-Q-tec can accommodate over 1,750 pounds of temperature-sensitive cargo. Every week, DSV delivers 20 TWINx containers, each one filled to capacity with human blood plasma, for loading onto a Boeing 787-9 for transport. The joint effort to move thousands of pounds of blood plasma demonstrates that despite the distance, challenges in moving temperature-sensitive cargo and COVID-19 obstacles, we continue to find creative solutions with the help of our strong partnerships.

United Cargo is proud to keep the commercial air bridges open between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Since March 19, we have operated over 3,200 cargo-only flights between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, India, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Celebrating Juneteenth

By United Airlines, June 18, 2020

A message from UNITE, United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group

Fellow United team members –

Hello from the UNITE leadership team. While we communicate frequently with our 3,500 UNITE members, our platform doesn't typically extend to the entire United family, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts with all of you.

Tomorrow is June 19. On this day in 1865, shortened long ago to "Juneteenth," Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved individuals were free. For many in the African-American community, particularly in the South, it is recognized as the official date slavery ended in the United States.

Still, despite the end of slavery, the Constitutional promise that "All men are created equal" would overlook the nation's Black citizens for decades to come. It wasn't until nearly a century later that the Civil Rights Act (1964) ended legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act (1965) protected voting rights for Black Americans. But while the nation has made progress, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have made it undeniably clear that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve racial parity and inclusion.

Two weeks ago, Scott and Brett hosted a virtual town hall and set an important example by taking a minute, as Brett said, "to lower my guard, take off my armor, and just talk to you. And talk to you straight from the heart."

Difficult conversations about race and equity are easy to avoid. But everyone needs to have these conversations – speaking honestly, listening patiently and understanding that others' experiences may be different from your own while still a valid reflection of some part of the American experience.

To support you as you consider these conversations, we wanted to share some resources from one of United's partners, The National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will host an all-day Virtual Juneteenth Celebration to recognize Juneteenth through presentations, stories, photographs and recipes. The museum also has a portal that United employees can access called Talking About Race, which provides tools and guidance for everyone to navigate conversations about race.

Our mission at UNITE is to foster an inclusive working environment for all of our employees. While we are hopeful and even encouraged by the widespread and diverse show of support for African Americans around the country – and at United - we encourage everyone to spend some time on Juneteenth reflecting on racial disparities that remain in our society and dedicating ourselves to the work that still must be done to fight systemic racism. By honoring how far we've come and honestly acknowledging how far we still must go, we believe United – and the incredible people who are the heart and soul of this airline - can play an important role in building a more fair and just world.

Thank you,

UNITE (United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group)

Leadership Team

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