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 the 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 at 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, while I was 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 on 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 from 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 flight attendants, my peers and I found it hard to adjust to the nuances of the lifestyle and struggled to find resources to help.
We're constantly in new cities, we're 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 reasons 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 are 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 burdens Black aviators face once they've attained an aviation career.
However, 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 the 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 flight attendants. 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.
Courtesy of Brenda Orelus
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 5 a.m. 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