By: Rebecca S. Jones
HOUSTON – Dr. Mae Jemison once expressed that one should, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” To that regard, if anyone is capable of giving advice in respect to limitations; certainly the first African-American female to orbit aboard a space shuttle is deserving of such. Her accomplishment is comparable to a vibrant and courageous young man that, African-American News & Issues presented to our readers, three years ago. We introduced Kenneth Morris who was still in the developmental stages of launching his own organization, Universal Elite Aerospace. Since that time, he has made great strides within the community and has made history at the renowned Lone Star Flight Museum. For, he has become the Museum’s first African-American Director of Education.
Brief History of the Lone Star Flight Museum
The Lone Star Flight Museum was birthed out of a private aircraft collection, which was formed in the summer of 1985. Though it started out as an aircraft collection with the addition of more aircraft, the need to secure a larger space soon became a necessity. Accordingly, the construction of a new establishment began in 1990 at Galveston’s Scholes Field, with an initial phase covering 50,000 sq. ft. A year later, the second phase was implemented, which was constructed on a 30,000 sq. ft. space on the Field. As time progressed, the Museum attained a wide array of display aviation memorabilia and other pertinent artifacts. With the incorporation of educational programs and volunteers, the Museum launched its Membership Program which went into effect in 1991.
The Museum made history under the leadership of former Governor George W. Bush. During this era, it was established as the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. To compliment this appointment, Lone Star formulated a capital campaign. Through this measure, the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame Education Center was finalized in the fall of 1999. In this arena of the museum are: “displays presenting each inductee’s experiences and contributions to aviation, rotating and permanent educational exhibits designed to increase knowledge, interest and the impact of aviation on today’s world.”
One year later the Fondren Center for Aviation Studies and Jesse H. Jones Research Center Library was opened. The library houses the museum’s wide-collection of books, manuscripts, oral histories and original papers of aviators and aviation history. Researches from around the globe rely on the libraries resources.
The Lone Star Flight Museum has been recognized as one of the “top flying museums in the United States”. The Museum’s website boasts of a few of its main attractions and yearly accomplishments. It states that its,“ flying collection of award-winning aircraft annually logs more than 40,000 cross-country air miles to participate in flying displays and air shows, the P-47 Thunderbolt participates in the United States Air Force “Heritage Flight” program. The “Heritage Flight” unites the classic war birds of yesterday with current inventory jet fighters at aviation events across the country. This unique production takes the living history lesson to the public in the air and is seen by millions of people each year.”
In 2008, total devastation devoured many of the precious artifacts, aircraft and momentous memorabilia housed in the LSFM and the building itself, during Hurricane Ike. Consequently, the decision was made to move the museum more inland. Hence, Ellington Airport is where the new $38-million project was erected. To add to the already established reputation of the famed museum, it has since incorporated an Education Department, to further compliment its patrons in measures of inspiring the future. Amidst a plethora of innovative facets of the LSFM, one of the newest additions to the facility is Director Kenneth Morris. After extensive screening, interviewing and intake, Morris was chosen as the Director of Education Outreach for the LSFM and S.T.E.M. Learning Center. Thereby, making history within the museum, as being its first African-American Director of Education.
Kenneth Morris: History in the Making
Kenneth Morris was raised and educated in Houston’s, Fifth Ward community as an only child by his mother. After his family relocated to South Park, he completed his final years of schooling at Jesse H. Jones High School, where he earned his high school diploma. Upon graduating, he was not entirely sure of the path that he would take. However, he knew from various elements of his environment, that he did not want to become a victim of it. Therefore, he made preparations to be tested by the United States military. Much to his chagrin, he scored impressively high on his testing. This feat presented him with six different offers within the military.
In a past interview with Morris, he detailed the turn of events that led him to the journey that he has currently embarked upon. Within the six offers that he was given, he recalled that there was an additional position that was set aside from the rest. He inquisitively inquired and the recruiter replied, “I do not know much about this job, they fly on airplanes, look for submarines, swim a lot and 90% of the people that attempt this career fail, so I wouldn’t choose this one if I were you.” With his undeniable ambition, he simply told the recruiter, “Well, I will take that job then sir.” This wise decision led him on a career path to become an Anti-Submarine Warfare Systems Operator – Acoustic.
After successfully completing his initial years in the military, he made haste in enlisting into the United Stated Navy boot camp. From there he was flown to Great Lakes, Illinois. While he was not aware of what his mission would entail at the time; he maintains that his choice was, “the single best decision I’ve made in my life.” Morris strongly believes that while in the U.S. Navy, he learned a great deal of morals, ethics and responsibility. He also revealed that he learned to be accountable, gained structure in daily living, built his confidence level and grew into a responsible man. Furthermore, while in the U.S. Navy he was privileged to travel to more than 30 different countries and international cities. This proved to be an asset which allowed him the exposure to interact and experience the lifestyles of numerous cultures. During his tenure in the U.S. Navy he was promoted the first time, every time and made the rank of E-5 in 3 years.
In past, he was the recipient of a number of medals and honors including: NATO Medalist, Good Conduct Medalist, Kosovo Air Campaign Medalist, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medalist, Sea Service Deployment, an award as U.S. Navy Air Crewman, Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist (Navy), Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom Veteran and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medalist, just to list a few.
Once Morris concluded his time in the United States Navy, he received a basketball scholarship to play at Seward County College in Liberal, Kansas. There he earned an Associate of Science degree in Computer Information Systems. Afterwards, he returned home. He quickly found a career working in the Information Technology industry, but, he soon realized that this was not his true passion. Therefore, he continuously mounted himself with literature regarding aviation, studied books and consistently kept up with the trending news and issues within the industry. During this time, he was preparing and laying the groundwork for his vision to impact the lives of the future of our nation.
On November 12, 2013, his vision became a reality. It was at this time that he launched his Aviation S.T.E.M. program, Universal Elite Aerospace. It is a program that was established, “to engage, inspire and inform disengaged youth and teens women and veterans of the many rewarding careers, in the aviation/aerospace industry.” Morris stated, “I emphasize to all the teens I encounter to never give up on their dreams and if I can be successful in the aviation industry, so can they!” Within the first 10 months of Aviation S.T.E.M. It had already positively engaged more than 2,000 students. He is dedicated to giving back to the youth. This factor is exemplified in his personal creed,“For our kids to want to BE something different, they have to SEE something different. We must meet them where they are, to get them where they need to be!” As the Bible declares that, “a man’s gift will make room for him and bring him before the presence of great men.” The manifestation of this scripture is evident through the next phase of this story.
A New Era with Education Director Kenneth Morris and the Lone Star Flight Museum
While operating within his organization, Morris was privileged to travel to Denver, Colorado on a business venture. Upon arriving to his destination, he found that he was amongst scholars of aviation from around the nation. Together, they merged to discuss some practices that did work and some things that didn’t. Instantaneously, after conveying the functions of his organization it was discovered that his program illuminated against, the vast majority. Due to the demographics that he serves and the impact that his program has had, it set him apart from the rest.
During this same trip, it was by chance that he also met the Chief Executive Officer of the Lone Star Flight Museum. Though they had never met or saw each other before, kindred spirits attracted. From this experience, they started conversing and the CEO informed Morris that they were in the process of searching for a Director of Education, for the museum. With the same motivated energy he has always exemplified, Morris made haste to submit his request for consideration. During our interview he shared, “I went through about four interviews, two of them were about two and a half hours long.” He said, “It was a very extensive process; there were other people that were interviewed with esteemed degrees, which I don’t have.” “But I believe my non-profit and the other efforts that I have made, really represented me well; and all I can say is, I am blessed to be in such a position,” he added.
Morris took office as the official Director of Education and Outreach at the new $38 million Lone Star Flight Museum in mid-December of last year. When asked about his experience thus far, he revealed the following statements. “So it’s a new day, and everyone here has been very helpful and accommodating. They definitely work with me and it is evident that they want this program to be a success, just as much as me. I’m elated about my journey here and I know it’s going to be a wonderful thing! Overall, it is my dream job. I am still able to go out and speak to students at the school and within the community to promote aviation. I get excited to come to work every day! I appreciate everybody supporting me thus far and if they want to continue supporting me; I encourage everyone to come out to the Museum. It’s definitely going to be worth it – I’m going to make sure of it!”
When asked about identified goals and objects, Morris expressed the following statements. “Well… The children are my main focus. We are S.T.E.M. focused learning center. Not only are we going to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; but we want to incorporate History, as well. I have plans to implement the Azalea White Aviatrix Club. The club will be an all female-Aviation S.T.E.M. club where members will be given the opportunity to meet other female pilots, and things of that nature. Another aspect that we want to look into accommodating are, our special needs students. Even if they just want to get out of the classroom; they may not want to be pilots, but we still want to include them in the program. Of course, we will still talk about aviation, but I want to be really big on mentorship for the children. We want to talk to the students about character, integrity, decision-making and applications for life methods as well. We just want to have a good and informative time and that’s what I want to implement in my program that will make it stand apart from others like it.”
The Lone Star Flight Museum will launch on Labor Day weekend. The general public is welcome to attend. For more information on the museum visit their website at: http://www.lonestarflight.org/.