This Will Give Any Aviator Hope for Tomorrow
Many moons ago, I attended a sprint car race at the legendary Ascot Park Raceway in Gardena, California. It was late on a Saturday night, and driving back to my hotel alone, I thought I'd be brilliant and take surface streets instead of the freeways.
Bad idea. Really, really bad idea.
As a gringo from Fresno, I had absolutely no business cruising those 'hoods at night. At each stoplight, large groups of the meanest, most dangerous street punks, gangbangers and thugs would stare me down, and I prayed they somehow would get the memo that I wasn't a narc. They would see my white skin and have no idea that I am the least racist guy around, a gentle human who thinks highly of any person of any color – regardless of race – until they prove me wrong.
I mention the above story to emphasize that there are some very, very mean streets in Los Angeles metro, and just next door to Gardena is Compton, home to an equal if not greater number of troubled youth. I cannot know what it must be like to be brought up on those streets, but I do know this:
Mixed in with the thugs and bangers are some good kids who are trapped in the ghetto usually by a family situation back in their broken home. The line these kids walk to stay on the good side of the law is a fine one, and most of them just need someone like Robin Petgrave to care about them and their future.If you've never heard of Petgrave, you are not alone. I had never heard of him or the Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum he founded in Compton, but a story in the most recent General Aviation News caught my eye. Petgrave is my hero tonight, and may be for some time. The "museum" he runs is far more than a traditional museum, it is a flight school, a mentoring program, it is hope.
The museum's web site is beautiful, and is a great window into this outstanding youth aviation program. The kids that are involved there see this as the way out of a dead-end world, and from all appearances, it works very, very well. While the site is full of good youth aviation news, this – from a very good Long Beach Tribune story – has to take the cake:
"Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Strickland is barely old enough to drive a car, but he’s already breaking world records in aviation, according to a local program. At Compton Woodley Airport on Saturday, Strickland became the youngest black pilot to solo six airplanes and one helicopter in the same day, said Robin Petgrave, founder of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum. Kelly Anyadiki, a 16-year-old Inglewood resident, also broke a world record and is now the youngest black female to solo four airplanes on the same day."This program is the real deal, it really does represent the future of aviation. As soon as I finished looking at their site, I immediately joined with a lifetime membership at $50/year, and received the following in my inbox:
Now that you're an official member we really need your help. We need for you to spread the word about the Aviation Angels to all your circle of friends and those you know who care. This organization will become more powerful if every Angel recruit 5 more angels. Just tell all your friends personally or you can even promote online with cool banners showing you're an angel on your myspace page or other web sites.This pull quote above is the reason for the big yellow banner at the top of this post. I need five of my readers to join this cause and join this museum. If you care about helping a bunch of kids who have spent their lives being told they won't amount to nuttin', this program is the way to do it. Please, please click the banner above, spend a fifty and join up...then email me your name so I can publically thank you on this blog.
The next time you are in L.A., stop by the museum at Compton Woodley Airport, 961 West Alondra Blvd. in Compton [map and directions are here]. Meeting these kids might be the most fulfilling afternoon you will ever spend with a bunch of very cool young aviators.
And man oh man, if I ever meet Robin Petgrave in person, I just might have to tell him to his face he is the classiest chopper driver in the land.