As second cousins growing up in different parts of Southern California, Robert Sausedo and Willie Daniels never met until a family reunion brought them together in 2013.
Sausedo grew up in the heart of South Los Angeles in the 1980s, while Daniels spent his earlier years in the high desert city of Palmdale, later moving to the inland empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Despite a 10-year age gap and different upbringings, the two had a lot in common, particularly their commitment to their community and supporting inner city youth.
Sausedo, president of the South L.A. nonprofit organization Community Build, Inc., directs over a dozen programs that provide assistance and support services for youth and young adults. Daniels is the president of Shades of Blue, a nonprofit organization that trains youth for careers in aviation.
Together, the two expanded Shades of Blue’s reach and number of aviation workshops. In 2020, Shades of Blue held a workshop for over 500 students at a hanger adjacent to Ontario International Airport.
The coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to aviation workshops for the next two years. Multi-day workshops resumed in the spring and summer of 2022 in Ontario and Los Angeles.
In early May 2023, Sausedo and Daniels joined forces again to host the first Shades of Blue’s first Airline Symposium at the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado, for students ages 14 and older.
Over the two-day period, 600 Colorado Unified School District students attended the symposium which showcased a range of aviation career options, panel discussions and informational workshops. Attendees received information on the variety of airline positions available including pilots, flight attendants and service agents, mechanics, ground crew and more.
Airline personnel and flight schools, including Daniel’s alma mater Metro State University, were on-site to meet and/or recruit interested candidates and provide information on internships, and career opportunities and qualification requirements.
Saucedo and Daniels will bring the next two Shades of Blue Airline Symposiums to Southern California – one in Rialto this summer followed by Los Angeles in the fall.
According to airline industry projections, in the next 25 years there will be a worldwide shortage of 804,000 pilots, 914,000 flight attendants, 769,000 aircraft mechanics and technicians. At the present rate, airlines will need to hire an average of 14,500 new pilots each year until 2030 to get ahead of the shortage.
“We’re currently experiencing a shortage of airline personnel at every level,” said Daniels. “These symposiums are designed to introduce young people to the wide open field of aviation and provide a pathway for individuals to become qualified to fill those vacant positions,” he said.
Daniels developed the idea for Shades of Blue after hearing that the U.S. had expanded the number of foreign national visas to 58,000 because there weren’t enough qualified U.S. citizens to fill vacant positions resulting from retiring airline pilots. Shortly afterwards, Daniels heard a news report that there were three million people in prison or on parole, nearly 70% were Black or Brown people.
“I thought, what we need to do is make Black and Brown people part of the solution versus being part of the problem. That’s when I set into motion to create Shades of Blue,” Daniels said.
Shades of Blue has nine chapters around the country, including two in California. Since its inception, dozens of former Shades of Blue alumni have become pilots and attained a range of careers in aviation.
Shades of Blue’s most notable alumnus is NASA astronaut Victor Glover. Glover was a pilot on NASA’s Space X crew and is one of four astronauts selected to venture around the moon on the 10-day Artemis II test flight scheduled for Nov. 2024.
“When I look at the young people going through Shades of Blue’s aviation courses, I know the training they’re receiving will ensure that the future of the airline industry here in Southern California, Los Angeles and throughout the nation, will include more people that look like us,” Sausedo said.
“That’s the work that Willie and I set out to do from the beginning and we’re on track to accomplishing that mission.”
For more information on Shades of Blue and Community Build, Inc., visit ourshadesofblue.org and communitybuildinc.org.