Back in 2006, Miami Opa-locka Executive Airport is where it all began for Jamaica-born and Miami-raised Barrington Irving. He created a nonprofit educational program called Experience Aviation that inspired young students to learn about STEM education. Two and a half years later, he became the first Black person and youngest pilot to fly a plane solo around the world.
Now 39 years old, he has witnessed his program become a force for change.
“We’ve been doing this since 2006 here at the airport and it’s just been transformative to see not only how the airport has grown, but how the people have grown,” he said.
In 2015, Irving was recognized in The Miami Times’ inaugural class of its “New Generation of Dreamers” for his educational program, which is called The Flying Classroom. The program, which the Times said “takes mentoring to new heights,” ignited an interest in aviation exploration among students from all walks of life.
Since then, says Irving, “we’ve had students build airplanes, race cars, hovercrafts, solar go-karts and launched a for-profit curriculum company in over 1,000 schools across the country. We’ve also expanded technical skill training programs for adults and positioned over 100 individuals with well-paying technical careers.”
The Flying Classroom has become both a virtual and hands-on educational experience taught in more than 600 schools nationwide. In the near future, Irving plans to expand his educational efforts in a school that will be based near the Opa-locka airport.
“We’re preparing to launch a technical training center in collaboration with Miami-Dade County Chairman Oliver Gilbert III,” said Irving. “A training school will launch in the very same community I grew up in. It’s going to be something special and unique. So many within our communities just need skills and opportunities to occur in short turnaround order.”
The Flying Classroom and Experience Aviation have already transformed the Opa-locka airport into an enriching learning environment that welcomes a diverse array of students.
“When I first came to the airport, there weren’t many folks who looked like me,” said Irving. “I’m grateful to know that I’ve helped change that.”
He strives to build accessible educational opportunities for both children and adults of all backgrounds, with a goal of moving them beyond school and into career fields where he believes they can fulfill their dreams.
“Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech applies to so many phases of life,” said Irving. “In 2015 I was in a position of being a trailblazer. Now I still see myself as [one] but have become more involved with helping to carry others and create greater opportunities for those who may need inspiration, resources and a push to succeed.”
Sabrina Beguiristain Miami Times Contributor | This profile is a collaboration between The Miami Times and the Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media at Florida International University.