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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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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