Today we have the exclusive pleasure of introducing entrepreneur and Aviation philanthropist, Kenneth Morris. Mr. Morris, a Houston, Texas native, is founder and CEO of Universal Elite Aerospace (UEA). UEA, a non-profit organization, is an Aviation S.T.E.M program that aims to provide positive options for urban youth, women, and Veterans within the Houston community. Though the company is fairly new (began 11-12-2013), the accolades and various media coverage UEA has received thus far would state otherwise. As a Navy Veteran, Mr. Morris has had years of experience in the Aviation industry. In fact, his experience in this industry make him an outlier amongst fellow peers in the industry. According to FAA data, statistics show that “3% of FAA licensed commercial aircraft pilots are Hispanic, less than 2% are African-American and approximately 1.7% are women”. Likewise, UEA is clearly more than a non-profit; UEA is innovation, and a much needed trailblazer for urban youth and society.
Below is the exclusive interview with Kenneth Morris about the inception and vision of Universal Elite Aerospace and what it means for urban youth.
Good Afternoon Mr. Morris, before we begin talking about UEA, tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I’m from Houston, Texas, and enlisted into the Navy right out of high school. After joining the Navy, I joined the Aviation field after having a fall out with one of my Naval classes due to apathy. For some reason, I looked at Aviation as a challenge, and with no previous Aviation knowledge, I managed to finish at the top of my class.
When did you first begin flying planes?
At 19 I flew my first plane that had an estimated worth of $36 Million. Instantly I was hooked! From that moment, I began studying more about planes in which I relocated to Pensecola, Florida. In Florida, I began to experiment with planes by localizing and hunting submarines off of the Atlantic coast (to protect the coastline). This was an interesting experience for me because it was new. Though I had just graduated from high school, my previous high school curriculum left me unaware about submarines and the history behind them.
Yea, that does seem pretty crazy,yet exciting. So how did the inception of UEA come about? What sparked your epiphany to create this non-profit?
My passion is aviation and philanthropy. I love helping people, especially young people. My personal experience and success in this industry helped me to see that there were so many young people that didn’t know where to go or lacked positive options of growth. Initially, I first took family members out to the airplane runway and terminals. Their reactions were exciting in which they offered to bring more people for similar exposure. And it was great exposure! They [family members] liked being around the planes and learning about the dynamics of how the planes flew. As a product of a charter school, it was at this moment that I found my way to give back to the community. More so, it was a way for me to give back to society while still doing something I too enjoyed.
That’s awesome, so in the beginning of forming UEA, what were some of the initial responses you got from your first group of adults and young pupils? Were most of them apprehensive about a flying plane?
Initially it was a slow process because it was new to them. Most people are scared to even try something like this. Preconceived notions from media or extraneous factors make people believe that flying is dangerous. However, most people who are pilot’s bring their kids up in the opposite manner; a manner to trust the plane and it’s excellent capabilities to fly. When you mix the experience of flying combined with the various people/celebrities I have met, it’s a whole different acceptance about the thought of flying. 10 out of 10 times I’m choosing flying as my preferred method of travel.
Wow, so who are some of the celebrities you’ve met via flying?
Well there are many actually, but Kevin Hart, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z & Beyonce were some of the most prominent. Actually, some of my students got to meet Kevin Hart and they really enjoyed seeing that aspect of the aviation industry.
That’s too cool, you need to sign us up as well! So how much does it cost for an aspiring kid or Veteran to join UEA?
Actually, to join UEA there are no costs for youth interested in the program. The opportunity is priceless and we are happy to be that medium for the community. UEA gets funding by applying for grants. The government and donations from the community make this opportunity possible. Also, in some cases, I might have to pay out of pocket, but that is a choice I have no problem willing to make.
UEA is a Houston based non-profit, do you have plans on expanding your company to other cities, why or why not?
Right now we currently are active at both Houston based airports, Hobby and Bush Intercontinental. Yes I do have plans on expanding UEA. Currently, I want to expand to DeKalb county near Atlanta,Georgia. Also, I plan on expanding to New York, New York. The idea is scalable, it’s all about building relationships and finding someone (in those aforementioned areas) as passionate as I am.
To enroll in your program what credentials must one possess?
You can start off as early as 10, and we cut em off at 99 haha. Honestly, we just want people who will be attentive and will listen. UEA is year round, and filling the void with younger kids helps bridge the age gap.
Can exposure to programs such as UEA create a drastic change for urban youth and communities?
I definitely believe a program such as UEA will create a drastic change among urban communities. S.T.E.M. programs are forward thinking programs, they take the basic platform of science, technology, engineering, and math, and intertwine these entities with progressive education. Also, S.T.E.M programs teach us to think ahead of the present and plan for the future.Not everyone who is a pilot or mechanic stays in that specific field. We have many pilots who are doctors, lawyers, IT techs, and engineers. We also have people who are aviation techs who venture into different fields of business.
What are some of the greatest accomplishments young pupils have accomplished thanks to your company?
My son, 10 years of age, has flown about 5 different airplanes. We’ve had four students enroll in flight school, two that enrolled in aviation maintenance, and two that are working to become flight attendants.
How/where can people sign up?
Great, before we wrap up this interview, do you have any words of wisdom for our younger viewers?
Never allow anyone to tell you what you can or cannot do. Always believe in yourself. I know it sounds cliche, but I’m giving you advice from my own personal experience. In the past, I’ve had people tell me I couldn’t do certain things, but I’ve proved them wrong; taking that first step is key! Last, and certainly not least, surround yourself with positive people!