Ahead of this weekend’s annual Black Pilots of America event in Pine Bluff, BPA Membership Chairman Fred Lewis addressed the importance teachers have on a child’s future with members of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club and guests Thursday at the Pine Bluff Country Club.


Twenty-two years ago, Lewis made his first visit to Pine Bluff to attend a flying competition and returns every year to participate in the annual flying event held at Grider Field.


Black Pilots of America, founded in 1997, is a non-profit organization that trains youth to participate in various types of employment in the field of aviation. It also encourages broader job opportunities for underprivileged youth and develops scholarships and schools in which to train students.


Lewis became the first secretary for the organization during its first year in operation. He has also served as the organization’s vice president, president for two terms, chairman of the board for two terms and currently serves as the membership chairman.


Aside from flying, Lewis was an educator in the Houston Independent School District for 42 years. During his stint working in the education system, he was a principal, assistant principal and director of budget and finance at HISD.


Post-retirement, Lewis said he keeps himself busy as an adjunct instructor at Texas Southern University, teaching courses in aviation management.


With his history in education, Lewis continues to remain active in educating youth throughout the country with his efforts in the Summer Flight Academy.


The academy is designed to excite youth about flying and show them their potential in the aviation field, he said. After two weeks of scheduled activities and study time, students will acquire 10 hours of flight time, 40 hours of ground time, and the chance to perform a solo flight with the approval and supervision of an instructor.


This year’s program will be held from July 7 to July 21 at Texas Southern University, where students will be housed until the program’s completion.


The Summer Flight Academy also encourages students to become active in the military in the aviation field and invites military recruits to the academy each year, Lewis said, adding that “If you push ‘em right, they’ll do right.”


Everyone must be observant and aware of students’ behavior, because the one thing that Lewis says is not in a school’s curriculum is discipline. With teachers spending a majority of their time with students, Lewis believes it takes a special kind of person to be able to point out a child in need and help them.


For these reasons, Lewis said he devotes his time to helping youth through the Black Pilots of America and the Summer Flight Academy. According to Lewis, 60 percent of students who participate in the academy go to college and graduate. The academy also provides scholarships with some awards totaling $3,600.


This year, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds are sending one student to the Summer Flight Academy.


In closing remarks, Lewis invited area residents to the annual flying event held at Grider Field Airport this weekend. The opening ceremony for the event will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, and the event will last through Saturday.


The event will feature a flight competition with some 30 planes whose pilots will showcase their skills and aircraft; free rides in select aircraft will be available for kids.