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Uniquely American

By Matt Adams, February 22, 2017

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.

Reflecting on past struggles and triumphs while looking toward a better future is at the very heart of Black History Month. Though the battle for civil rights is far from over, throughout the past few decades the United States has experienced a seismic shift in terms of racial equality. But sometimes it takes an outside perspective to appreciate just how far we have come as a country.

Gervais Tchoutan saw the United States as so many immigrants before him had: as the land of opportunity. Born and raised in the West African nation of Cameroon, he came to Chicago in 2002 to attend graduate school at Northwestern University, where he studied finance before joining United Airlines as an analyst.

Gervais Tchoutan infront of a plane engine

Cameroon is often called "Africa in miniature," owing to its diverse geography of mountains, deserts, jungle and beaches, but the country also boasts a rich cultural fabric influenced by Spanish, Portuguese, German, English and French colonialism intermixed with traditional tribal customs. Today Cameroon is still home to more than two hundred separate tribes, each with their own leadership structures and values.

"I was born in the English part of the country, but my parents are both from the French side," Gervais says. "My parents also come from a tribal royal family - my grandfather was actually a king - so they instilled in me a deep respect for that part of our culture as well."

Before moving to Chicago, Gervais lived and studied in the Ivory Coast, France and Canada, gaining a well-rounded appreciation of the world and its wide array of peoples. But it was the United States that he felt offered the most freedom to do what he wanted to do and to be who he wanted to be. And it was one of the few places where he felt that his dreams wouldn't be curtailed because of the color of his skin.

"My cousin told me that I could find more success in the United States, even more so than in Europe or in Cameroon, because everyone is equal here," he says. "Even though black people in this country originally came over as slaves, they fought hard over the years to integrate themselves into American culture. That's what sold me on coming here; no matter your background, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to."

Though he grew up roughly six thousand miles away, Gervais says that the significance of figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were not lost on him as a young man.

"In Cameroon we knew about those men and women because we struggled under colonization. We looked up to American civil rights leaders as we dealt with our own oppression, but I didn't feel how profound their impact had been until I moved to the United States. For generations, people here have confronted the issues of racial prejudice head-on."

Today, Gervais and his wife (who is also from Cameroon) are U.S. citizens and the proud parents of two children, a 10-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, both born in the United States. Just as his parents did with him, Gervais is trying to instill in his children an awareness of their multicultural background.

"I try to show them that they truly are African Americans. They are American, but they also have a unique heritage. We invite my parents over often to talk to them about Cameroon, and we remind them of the people who came before them in this country, the ones who fought for equality. I tell them that, though it might not always seem fair, they are a representation of an entire culture, and they have to work hard for the benefit of future generations."

Gervais feels a sense of optimism about those future generations thanks to a philosophy that he finds thoroughly American. "In the United States, we are constantly trying to improve; that's the big difference between America and other places - we never stop wanting to get better. United Airlines is a good example of that: we might hit our numbers in terms of diverse employees, but we have taken that next step toward true inclusiveness. I like celebrating Black History Month because it's a celebration of the fact that we are unique in this diverse nation, but it's also a recognition of the fact that we are still working to improve race relations while honoring past successes."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

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.

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