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I Created A Safe Space For The Aviation Community To Support Our Chaotic Lifestyles

A chance encounter changed the trajectory of my high-flying brand.

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Brenda Orelus' story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

So. Hilarious story: shortly after pitching my company, Krew Konnect, at Blacktech Week, I returned to work as a New York-Based flight attendant. On that particular day, I was called to cover a turn-around trip out of LaGuardia Airport. After a traumatizing incident (a random passenger kissed me, forcing me to go to the ER), when it was all over, my company placed me on a first-class flight to Miami to return home.

At this point, I am full-blown crying because of the incident; practically inconsolable. But as I was boarding back onto the aircraft, I noticed the one and only, Daymond John on the flight.

Immediately, I feel this wave of calm come over me and I go to take my seat.

You see, when creating my business, I modeled it directly after a few of same principles Daymond had built his company on, so spotting him was a much larger deal than you're probably understanding right now.. And there I was, seated across from the man I admired.

I decided to write him a letter.

In my letter, I thanked him for his influence and discussed business plans. At that moment, crazy enough, I became thankful for all the wild things that happened to me that day. Had it not been for those mishaps, I would not have been there in that moment. I finished my letter and I asked the working flight attendants to pass it along to him on my behalf. We landed, I grabbed my bags and headed home. I was thankful that I had the opportunity to thank the person who inspired me for so many years. I didn't know if anything would come of it, but I was grateful.

The next morning, when discussing the previous day with my family, my phone rings. I pick up and the voice on the other line says: "Hi, may I speak to Brenda? This is Daymond John calling."

This is WHO?!

He chuckles and says, "Yes, you wrote me a note on yesterday's flight." At this point, I am full-blown freaking out and ask to put him on hold. I start screaming and practicing breathing exercises all at the same time. "Why didn't you wait to talk to me after the flight?" he continued.

He went one to tell me he was proud of me and what I was doing with Krew Konnect. He took the time to share some really great advice, listen to my concerns, and share his feedback. I was just Brenda from Miami, dead-set on solving an ongoing issue within my community, and somehow my hustle landed me on the phone with my childhood business hero.

After that, I would go on to audition for Shark Tank, leading to more doors opening for my little unknown brand. A brand that was solving a true industry problem. And to elaborate, I've built a safe space where aviation professionals can get the resources they need in order to thrive within our unique lifestyle. We represent a variety of work groups within the industry in hopes of improving our day-to-day lives. We were even the first company incubated out of Vector 90, a co-working space located in South Central LA owned by real estate developer David Gross and Nipsey Hussle (and an opportunity that came of my Shark Tank audition). There, I was able to do research and development for my innovative network.

To put it blatantly, we take care of our people. And we're owned and created by a black woman who's bomb at doing so.

The Evolution Of Flight Bae B

I grew up first-gen Haitian-American in South Florida, born in Miami and grew up in a city called Weston. Weston was the kind of place where the country club you belonged to was the go-to talking point. It just so happened my family would belong to the most prominent club, Weston Hills Country Club, making us an anomaly, to say the least. While I have fond memories growing up there, it was very difficult at times being one of the first black families in our community. Not only were we black, but we were Haitian, adding another level to cultural and racial relations. However, all the lessons Weston taught me prepared me for what I would face in my journey as a black aviation geek, traveler, and entrepreneur.

I decided to become a flight attendant at an incredibly pivotal time in my life. It was 2013 and I had recently made the difficult decision not to pursue a legal career, after five years of advocating for civil rights under the tutelage of Attorney Benjamin Crump.

I knew I wanted to go into business for myself, but didn't want to take on the financial risk or have a job that would require work once I clock out. Spirit Airlines was hiring flight attendants in Ft. Lauderdale and I jumped at the opportunity to get hired. After an intense hiring process that included multiple rounds of in-person interviews, I got the job.

And so began my career in aviation and the creation of Krew Konnect.

Breaking Down Barriers

The first year building my company was exhilarating in the best way possible. And it was actually born out of my depression. After becoming a flight attendant, my peers and I found it hard adjusting to the nuances of the lifestyle and struggled to find resources to help.

We're constantly in new cities, we always on the go. Our home lives can be non-existent.

Determined to make the reality of the job be just as glamorous as the romanticized version, I set out to find out what other needs aviation pros had so I could create viable solutions to our problems. So ultimately, that first year taught me more than ever to believe in myself and to learn as much as I could so that I would be a resource to my niche community of aviation.

Obtaining a career in aviation is incredibly expensive, then account for centuries of systemic racism, and you will have a lot of the reason why aviation has historically been inaccessible for black communities around the world. And even when hired, black aviators are often deemed "less qualified" due to worldwide racial bias against black skin.

After six years of being a flight attendant and running an aviation-first social club, I realized the biggest barrier to a career in aviation is accessibility. The two primary forms of accessibility I see hindering the black community within aviation is entry accessibility and financial accessibility. So, I created our Klub House model as an affordable alternative to traditional crashpad, primarily to help eliminate some of the financial burden black aviators face once they've attained an aviation career.

However, in order to see a significant increase in new black aviators, there needs to be entry assistance into aviation, which is where I come in.

Organizations such as OBAP, do a great job of assisting black pilots in their quest to become commercial pilots, but there aren't much in place to protect our flight attendants. We help create more entry in aviation by teaching aspiring flight attendants skills necessary in order to get hired by private or commercial airlines.

It is my hope that students in the black community will take advantage of my free course to gain a competitive edge when becoming a flight attendant. Many utilize becoming a flight attendant as a foot in the door and springboard into different fields within aviation. Once these aspiring aviators cross over to active duty aviation professionals, I will continue to bring real-life solutions to them through Krew Konnect's signature Klub Houses.

Come use me, guys. I want us to have this leg up, I want to see more of us in roles that effect change in big and small ways. I am most fulfilled in these moments.

Balancing A Lifestyle

When I am overwhelmed, I have a multitude of self-care practices to guide me through--some more routine than others. However, what works for me to prevent it altogether, and stimulate productivity is waking up at 5am. Being up early gives me time to practice my physical, mental, and spiritual self-care routines, which in turn allows me to have more clarity and be more effective in my work each and every day.

This teeny-tiny life hack has had a tremendous effect on my life. I encourage all entrepreneurs to learn what works for them and commit to doing it every day to see significant changes in your life and business.

As for what's next for me, I am so excited that aviation is becoming more mainstream! I look forward to releasing new flight courses, in multiple languages--we're going global, ladies!

So, feel free to hop on the plane with us. We've got you covered.

Brenda and her Krew Konnect team can be found on Instagram at @brenda.orelus and @krewkonnect. You may also visit their website for the latest and greatest information.

Featured image courtesy of Brenda Orelus

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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