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00 Journey

I came onto the Earth in the early 70's, a time of tremendous ambition, a time where man had set himself upon another celestial body beyond earth for the first time...the human soul had graced the surface of the moon and our culture was saturated with the inspiration of a future where many such accomplishment would be commonplace. Space would be the new stage over which the human drama would unfold. I was intoxicated as a young child of 6 and 7 with such a premise and I desperately needed to be a part of this future
This aspiration became an obsession. I could not dislodge it from my soul. It crystallized into the ambition to become an astronaut, like many children of my age. It was initially amorphous and non-distinct, but as I got older it became clear that I wanted to not just go to space, but to explore it and learn about its denizens. More and more I became focused on wanting to know more about planets, to visit them, to understand them and set my feet upon their surfaces.

01 child

Achieving this would be no easy feet for a young African-American boy. My family was complicated. My parents split when I was 2 years old. My mother, an artist by trade, was unanchored and unfulfilled with our life in mid-west Cleveland, Ohio so at the age of 7 we drove across the country to establish a new future where the land met the vast Pacific Ocean, where people translate dreams into reality, to Los Angeles. Our lives were wrought with economic struggles, spectacular sunsets, extraordinary personalities, a density of human bodies meshed with smog, palm trees and dystopian wonder.
All of this counter-balanced by my alternative summer life in mid-west rural Ohio where my grandparents operated a small race horse training farm in Rome Township, Ohio. These were summers saturated with humidity, stall cleaning, bailing hay, eating wild grapes from vines sleeping lazily along dirt roads all bundled in an environment infused with high regard for intellectual enhancement, improvement and often alot of familial drama. I was never really all of one type f person transitioning from hyper-urban LA to Ohio and back. And all the while stubbornly fixing my gaze to the sky, beyond with focal points on the tiny stars littering the dense ohio night sky (or haze and lights laced firmament of Los Angeles), hoping for the day I could ride a star ship to set my own eyes upon the worlds pinned to these points in the dark night.

02 adolesence

I matriculated through a college prep program at The North Hollywood Biological/Zoo Magnet where I hoped to prepare to attend university, study exobiology and depart the earth for new shores. The path become more concrete once I started an undergraduate program at the Ohio State University in Geological Sciences, it was here that the possibility of being a planetary scientist as a way to space was fully realized...sadly not without immense challenges. Race was an ever present menace and I faced extraordinary resistance just for showing up in the skin I was born with.
At this critical time, I was introduced to Dr. Kenneth Jezek. A edgy figure with a beard full of ice shards had opened an opportunity for me to study the earth's most extreme environments...its permanently ice covered lands using the most advanced technologies available. I had started as a research assistant in a polar remote sensing laboratory at the Byrd Polar Research Center. I consumed the place. I roamed through all the labs in the center clumsily inquiring about all the work being conducted throughout the center. The place became a second home, and the community of scientists in the center became a surrogate family replete with caring and doting fathers and mothers, diffident and vainglorious uncles, and indifferent third cousins. Many wonderful things unfolded during my time there like my opportunity to participate in my first research expedition to west Antarctica as a field assistant to the late and famous glaciologist, Ian Whillans. This was a transformational experience for a 23 year old in his junior year as an undergraduate. Antarctica reconfigured my psychological DNA and provided the first opportunity to truly understand the requirements of being an exploration scientist...a skill I thought would be profoundly useful to get to space...

03 becoming

I was at Byrd Polar for many years. I pursued a Master's degree with the intervening time between my undergraduate studies and graduate work entrenched in other work experience and growing up outside of academia. Once Ken told me that the best scientists were creative and that he got his creativity from working in a mill one summer...I never worked in a mill but I sure had many experiences outside the tower that were illuminating and reinforced my interest in wanting to return to the academic realm. The brick edifices, towers, ivy covered egos were familiar and provided a place of comfort, a place of belonging even when hard...the outside world felt like chaos, and dark full of mysticism, opaque truth, and subjective quicksand. The mission of discovery, the light of knowledge, and the wonder of its pursuit were things I thought the academy had embodied...later I would learn this was not entirely true...
In the years following, I completed a doctorate degree, spent time studying alpine snow cover. Spent many days at high altitude, sometimes uncomfortably. I secured a position as a tenure-track professor at a research-1 institution and was faced with extraordinary politics, but also enhanced my understanding of the nuisance of conducting research as a practicing scientist, educator, and community advocate. I became increasingly concerned with the level of abuses, distortions and denaturing of the idealist notions I had about the academic mission. Over these years, I had the pleasure of managing my own research groups, participating in other expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland and gaining deeper insights into planetary machinery. Again I was transformed by these experiences. The wonder I harbor as a child was nurtured, the disappointment of watching human weakness erode the integrity of a beautiful and privilege endeavor was disconcerting.

04 rotation

I never got to space (yet), but not for a lack of trying. I pursued an interest in flying which led me to my dear friend and flight instructor Col. George London (the first African-American test pilot instructor in US Airforce). He operates the Herbert Jones Flight School and uses this platform to train and inspire future black aviators and astronauts. The privilege to work with Col. London and support his organization has been a deeply fulfilling effort. Each time our single-engine airplane rotates after reaching 65 knots and the back mains lift off the ground, I feel ever closer to the stars... 
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