Connected Nation

Pushing Tin: How one air traffic controller is helping introduce black youth to aviation

February 17, 2023 Jessica Denson Season 4 Episode 4
Pushing Tin: How one air traffic controller is helping introduce black youth to aviation
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Pushing Tin: How one air traffic controller is helping introduce black youth to aviation
Feb 17, 2023 Season 4 Episode 4
Jessica Denson

On this espisode of Connected Nation, we have a special guest in honor of Black History Month – Brelis Spiller, a man who must keep his cool in one of the most technologically advanced and stressful environments in the world as an air traffic controller.

Learn how he handles all that pressure. Plus, we'll discuss his role in getting more black youth interested in the aviation industry AND ask why he believes equitable access to technology and the internet is critical for all children.
pushing tin youtbue

Related links:
Website -
Camps -
WAVE3-TV story - Aviation program really taking off
WDRB-TV story - Summer program teaches kids about careers in aerospace
Brelis Spiller’s LinkedIn account
"Pushing Tin" scene (visualizing air traffic control) -

Show Notes Transcript

On this espisode of Connected Nation, we have a special guest in honor of Black History Month – Brelis Spiller, a man who must keep his cool in one of the most technologically advanced and stressful environments in the world as an air traffic controller.

Learn how he handles all that pressure. Plus, we'll discuss his role in getting more black youth interested in the aviation industry AND ask why he believes equitable access to technology and the internet is critical for all children.
pushing tin youtbue

Related links:
Website -
Camps -
WAVE3-TV story - Aviation program really taking off
WDRB-TV story - Summer program teaches kids about careers in aerospace
Brelis Spiller’s LinkedIn account
"Pushing Tin" scene (visualizing air traffic control) -

Jessica Denson, Host (00:08):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.


 On today's podcast, we have a special guest, an honor of Black History Month, a man who must keep his cool in one of the most technologically advanced and stressful environments in the world. He works as an air traffic controller.


We'll discuss his role in getting more black youth interested in the aerospace industry, and ask him why ensuring all kids have equitable access to technology and the internet is critical for turning dreams into careers. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.


I'm Jessica Denson, and today we're talking with Bre Spiller, who is a supervisor for air traffic controllers at the Louisville International Airport, and is closely tied to the organization of Black aerospace professionals, a national group dedicated to the advancement of minorities in all aviation in aerospace careers. Welcome bros.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (01:09):


Jessica Denson, Host (01:10):

Hello, <laugh>. I'm glad to have you. Um, I really appreciate you joining us today. And, um, before we get into what you do with the, um, organization of Black Aerospace professionals and your career as an air traffic controller, I'd like to share with the audience a little bit about your background. You're a born and raised Hoosier, correct?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (01:29):

<laugh>, say? Well, I'm, I'm born and raised. I'm from Gary, Indiana, but I am proud to say that I am not a Hoosier. I am a boiler maker.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:39):

Oh, okay. Okay. Explain the difference.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (01:42):

Well, uh, obviously that's the, um, with, uh, Indiana University and Purdue University being our flagship schools of the state, uh, iu, a Hoosiers, and, uh, if you're a, uh, winter Purdue, uh, university, uh, you are a boiler maker, so I bleed black and gold.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:59):

Gotcha. So you shake off that Hoosier, uh, uh, name, even though you were born and raised in Indiana.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (02:07):


Jessica Denson, Host (02:08):

<laugh>. Gotcha. I apologize for the offense. None was intent. <laugh> <laugh>. Uh, tell me about what Gary Indiana was like. What, what was the town like, and a little bit about your parents, um, and growing up there.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (02:22):

Uh, well, uh, Gary, Indiana, uh, when I grew up was actually, uh, somewhat of a thriving community, um, at the time. Um, it's a little different than what it is now. Uh, my father, my grandfather both worked in the steel mills. My mother was an insurance agent. Uh, so we grew up, uh, I had a, was it, I guess, a Cosby show upbringing, as they say, when they close the steel mills down. Uh, due to, I think, I don't know if it's environmental or just as technology moves on, uh, you don't, you need less manpower than you start to see a little bit of a, uh, you'll see a decline of the city as jobs started to go away. Um, I'm also proud to say that during my summers with my mother, being from out east, I took, I spent my summers in, uh, Philadelphia area in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. So I kind of feel like I grew up on the East coast and in the Midwest. So I got Philly and Chicago under my belt.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:13):

Those are some, uh, great cities too. I love both of those cities. Um, when we talked, you and I had a little conversation last week just in prepping for this podcast. Um, just so we can get to know each other, I can understand a little bit about your background. And what I thought was really fascinating was what really sparked your interest in the aviation field. Can you share some of, uh, some of that and what really made you turn to aviation and be interested in aerospace?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (03:41):

Well, sure. Well, there's several things. Um, and one of the things that, uh, really that peaks in anyone's in interest is exposure. And some exposure is, uh, you know, dumb, purposeful, uh, some exposure is you don't realize that you're around something all the time, just as a general rule. So going back to me growing up in Philly, uh, in my, during my summers, uh, when I would, uh, I wasn't outta school for a week before I was already on the airplane. I would fly from, uh, Chicago to Philly. Sometimes we would drive, but a lot of times I would fly out there as well. And, you know, back in the day, you're a kid and they, they, you, you come on board and they, they show you the cockpit and the pilot like, Hey, you, you pressed this button, you're making a plane. Go, man, I ate that stuff up, man.


Hook line is sinker man. I pressed that button, <laugh>, and I went back to my seat like, I'm, it, you know, the plane is, we're going to our destination because of me, because I did something. Um, so, uh, that was, that was one, um, facet of it. Another facet, uh, that my father was in the Navy. And, uh, back in the day for your younger views, you may understand you have photo albums, <laugh>, and then on my dad's, uh, cruises, I, he was, uh, stationed on the carrier. He had the pictures on there. Matter of fact, he was on the, uh, I got a letter right here from a birthday card. He was on the u s s Saratoga, the c v a 60 at one point. So I have pictures and seeing these F four s and s3, uh, C Vikings on a flight deck, I mean, so I'm, I have airplanes.


I'm mean, I'm looking at the airplanes taking off or, you know, the, the steel shot to them on the carrier deck. I thought that was pretty cool. And then third, but not least is kind of important. <laugh> uh, my neighbor, uh, Mr. Clemens jokes was the, uh, he lived on the, uh, down the street from me, and he was the, uh, the helicopter pilot for, for our police department. And so it was not unusual to every now and then you walk down the street and there was a helicopter in the driveway, <laugh> got his lunch, you know, and I just thought that that was, I mean, I mean, who, who sees a helicopter in the neighborhood, like just sitting there parked, like, like your car

Jessica Denson, Host (05:45):

<laugh>. Yeah, I, that's what I was alluding to. It just, it was fascinating. All the different ways that that idea sunk into your head. And the, the, the most interesting was having a helicopter parked the street near your house. Um, you also really told me though, that no one really knew how to get into the industry at the time. Is that right? Whether it was an air traffic controller or being a pilot, you kind of thought there was only one way through the military. Am I correct?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (06:12):

Uh, that is correct. And that just goes through, um, again, a lot of, uh, what you surround yourself, who you're surrounded by, especially if you're getting into something that no one else has, has ventured to, or if, you know, if you don't know anyone who is in a particular field, so, you know, go by what you think something is or maybe what something was at one time. Or maybe, you know, folks with the best intentions, <laugh>. Um, but you, you may look at somebody who does a particular job and everyone you know, who's done this job has done it this certain way. And you think that's the only way. Um, and how you go about doing that. So, uh, again, I, I didn't know, and in all fairness, I did not take the time out to go speak to Mr. Jokes about, Hey, what do you have to do this, that, and the other?


I'm, I'm still a kid. I'm doing what I do <laugh> Yeah. That, that's, you know, I'll always look back at that. Like, that was missed opportunities on my end. Uh, but yeah, but everyone, you know, one of the things growing up is you have to be a military pilot, which would make sense based on the background of, you know, my mother and then my grandparents, because their idea of a pilot and a pilot that was black was a Tuskegee airmen that, so you, those are the black pilots, so you had to go Yes. Mm-hmm. Army Air Corps or the, you know, the Air Force, because that's what Tuskegee Airmen did. That's how you become a pilot. So that's, see how that, uh, <laugh> resonate.

Jessica Denson, Host (07:36):

Yeah. Well, I, I had the, I have to say, just as a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting a Tuskegee Air, uh, pilot years ago. And, um, he talked about that, that there was really no other option. And if you had a, a, a love of flying or wanted to fly that it seemed like the only option, especially if you were somebody, uh, who was black, who there wasn't a lot of, um, people really guiding you.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (08:00):

Well, sure. And like I say, I just didn't know anything about the mm-hmm. <affirmative> and none of, again, none of us being pilots. And I didn't take the, the time out really to really do my research, to, there's a, you go to a flight school, I mean, Bessie Coleman was not in the military, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and she, she flew, but I knew who she was. I just didn't make the connection.

Jessica Denson, Host (08:17):

Yeah. And I can imagine as a kid that sometimes you just looking around, you do, you do, what seems the most, um, the, the path that seems taken the most, you know, the mo the one most traveled. So how did you eventually find your way to air traffic control?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (08:32):

Interesting enough, uh, Purdue has an aviation program and it, and so here's another thing that's also, that could be a hindrance, and which I didn't even understand at the time. Um, I, I go to school and so there's pilot training at Purdue, and I'm like, oh, wow, you know what? These guys all mil again, my mindset was still military. And then it occurred to me, wow, I guess there are civilian pilots again. You, you, you don't know what you don't know. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but the flight fees were on top of your regular room board and tuition, which is a another thing I Oh, you go to school to school, I get to fly out getting over. Oh, no, no, Mr. Spiller, this is extra on top

Jessica Denson, Host (09:07):


Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (09:08):

<laugh>. And, uh, and again, I, I was late in the game. We, we just didn't know. Uh, so one of the thing is, um, is, uh, I wanted to be an air traffic controller. I go work in the tower. That's cool. Work in a radar room, you know, didn't know much about it. It just so happened that my academic advisor, Mr. Mike Nolan, happened to be a, he was a former air traffic controller, <laugh>. So I just, that's just a lower looking out for me. I had no idea that Purdue University at the time when I went there, had a program that had a pipeline directly into the fa

Jessica Denson, Host (09:36):

That's fantastic. I was surprised when we were talking about it. Cuz you know, in the tease for this, leading into this podcast, I even say that it's a stressful and um, uh, environment. But when I'm asked you about that, you, you, you said not so much, not so much, not so stressful. If you really know what you're doing, would you, how would you explain a day of your life as an air traffic specialist?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (09:58):

Well, it, it, again, it depends. Uh, like for anyone with any job, everybody has different levels, um, in which, uh, comfort levels or whatever it is that you do. Uh, there are times where I, as, um, uh, one of a former colleague of mine as she explained it, which I had never thought about, we work in an air conditioned environment. Our environment is built for the computers. It's not built for us. So it's a little bit on the chilly side, <laugh>, but yet still, after we end up working a busy session, if the session is busy, you find out if your deodorant works, <laugh>. Cause there are times you come up and there you have, you know, you have the, the moisture from like, if you've been outside and it's 85 plus degrees and doing whatever. And that's something I had never thought about. So I guess there is that, that typical, uh, that internal stress that you're, you're not realizing. Um, but again, everyone has a, has a different level, a different comfort level of working certain types of traffic. I can't tell you this, um, like on a bad weather day, like how we're having today, you only need to have one airplane and bad weather. And, um, and I, I, I, I will admit that that can be stressful,

Jessica Denson, Host (11:09):

<laugh>. Yeah, I can imagine. I I think you have to be built for it, you to put that stress aside and focus on what needs to be done. And is it really, like, I've not been in an air traffic control terminal, or you said there's a difference between a terminal and CEN center. Um, when we were talking about this earlier, what is it like, is it like what we see in the movies where there's like a little dot and you just follow the dot along? Or, or what is it that you're seeing? Are they much more high tech computers than what we could even imagine right now?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (11:37):

Well, every facility's not built the same. So just to put things in perspective, we have the largest air traffic, uh, air traffic control system in the world. So just understand, you know, and things cost money. So everything, so if, if you go somewhere, um, maybe you go, oh, they have this over here in London, Heathrow, and they have this at, uh, in France, in, uh, Paris Horley or in Madre, Spain. They have that, and I don't know what they have, but folks have to put things in perspective. That's all they have. And what I mean is Europe is not as, like, Europe's like the size of the SCC for all our football fans. All those countries, <laugh>, you know, are, it's the size of the southeastern United States, give or take. So you have to put in perspective for la New York, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, I mean, we have so much that it, it's, it's just vast. So it, it costs money to do all of that. Uh, but generally speaking, um, I guess to a certain extent, you do see the dots. Uh, the one thing that I, I always tell people what I visualized is, um, and I hate to use this reference, but, uh, there is a movie called Pushing 10 came out,

Jessica Denson, Host (12:47):


Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (12:48):

Two thousands.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:49):

I've seen it with John seen Yeah.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (12:52):

Of that. That's what I see. That's the only way I can explain it. That's how I see it.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:56):

All right, I'm gonna have to go find a clip of that and share it with our, in our description of this podcast so people can see it <laugh>. Um, yeah.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (13:03):

And it's just that opening scene that say, well, what do you see? And that's, that's it. That sums it up right there.

Jessica Denson, Host (13:08):

That's awesome. That's awesome. And, uh, I know this, I didn't, we didn't talk about this before, but before we get into the, um, organization of black aerospace professionals, which I definitely wanna talk about, uh, does everybody ask you about things like, how did you handle nine 11? Or how did you handle this scary storm? Or did you, how did you handle, you know, uh, the pandemic? What, I mean, all those kinds of things I imagine would affect air traffic control in all kinds of different ways from grounding tr from grounding a bunch of airlines to, you know, less traffic, to holiday traffic. I, it's a different kind of atmosphere each time. Is that correct?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (13:46):

Yeah. Uh, each situation is different. The main thing I can tell you about air traffic, um, it's, it's kind of like you're playing chess. You have to have a plan a, plan B, and plan C, but you don't have time to think about it. <laugh>, if plan a A does not work, you have to have plan B ready to go. Um, that's, and then if plan B doesn't work, you need to have plan C. And it, it's, it, it's quick. Your brain is processing. It is just, it's very quick because there are things, you may have a plan and maybe you may have, the aircraft has a, a mechanical issue and they have to do something else, or maybe there's training in progress, or, you know, there is no right or wrong way. Just say to handle an emergency, um, because you just have to take whatever that emergency is at that time and use a pro good judgment and make the best call that you can. There's, there's nothing in the book says, you do this like this, or you do this like that, because it may not be applicable for that situation.

Jessica Denson, Host (14:44):

Gotcha. And now, uh, you're also a supervisor. Correct. You're not just having to answer for yourself, but for others,

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (14:50):

That is now, that's more stressful.

Jessica Denson, Host (14:53):

<laugh> <laugh>, that says managers everywhere, I'm sure. I can imagine. Um, it is February and it is Black History Month. So I w I don't want to forget that to talk about this very important, um, organization that, um, I was told you're closely tied to, and we talked about a little bit, prepare while preparing for this podcast, the organization of Black Aerospace professionals or for short, O A P <laugh> is kind of how I see it ob a pap. That is correct. Yeah. Um, tell us something about this group. It's, this is a group that's close to your heart, correct?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (15:25):

Uh, it is, um, oap the, uh, organization of Black if, uh, tell everybody to go to Uh, we're nationwide, uh, a nationwide, uh, program. Uh, we have several sponsors that help, uh, African Americans, um, who, or anyone really to be honest with is anyone, uh, that, who traditionally don't have that path. Uh, so a lot of people, again, I was fortunate, I think I'm the only one I knew who happened to know a pilot growing up. Most people don't know a pilot, you know, it's only so many of 'em or an air traffic controller. And so what we do is we expose kids, high school, middle school, and high school kids to professionals and leaders in the industry. Um, and very important, uh, because from what you see on television or movies and things of that nature, especially during the time I was coming up, I think it's gotten much better now. But as a general rule, if you don't see it, then you don't believe that that's part, that's something that you're about. Uh, if you see something, then you realize that that's something, it, you wanna make that, uh, a case to normalcy. Like, oh yeah, I could be a pilot. Well, I could be a doctor, or Wow, you know, I could be an attorney because that's what you see.

Jessica Denson, Host (16:37):

Well, let's pause and emphasize that for just a moment. What you, what you mean with that. Uh, the group was founded in 1976, and at the time, there were less than 75 African American pilots in all of the us. So when you say, uh, to see somebody, you mean see somebody who's like me, who's similar to me, like for me, it would be a woman. And for, for a young black kid, it would be a, a black, a black man or a black woman, you know, somebody that they could relate to and say, oh, that person could do it. I could do it. Right.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (17:05):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jessica Denson, Host (17:08):

And for, I know you're in Louisville and there's camps all over the country, but this is the 30th year for the camps. Correct. And share a little bit about what you do other than simply have other, you know, I know you have pilots and that type of thing, but what are some of the things that the kids actually learn in these camps?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (17:26):

Okay, so I can, I can, so all the camps are gonna have something similar. They run, even though we're a one unit nationwide, we have camps, again, a across the nation and the Caribbean. Um, but I can speak to the Louisville Lace Academy, uh, and the Louisville Lace Academy. I think we're going on 30 years, it's about 29 maybe. It, it is close to it. And our Louisville Lace Academy was started by, uh, captain Larry Parker. Uh, he's a u retired u p s captain. And my old supervisor, uh, Keith Buckner, uh, he's a retired air traffic controller. And, uh, those two are the guys that started the camp here in Louisville. And what we do is one, uh, the kids get to meet in the actual pilot, and the parents too, for that matter, the parents are just as excited as the kids are <laugh>,

Jessica Denson, Host (18:08):

I imagine. Yeah. It's fun for everyone. <laugh>. It's

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (18:11):

Fun for everyone. Um, I mean, I still get excited on opening day at camp. Um, I, I, I really do, I get excited, um, you know, the whole just open day. I still get excited. I feel like I'm a kid again. And even though again, they get to meeting in air traffic controller, uh, they, they may be the, uh, mechanic, uh, flight attendant, anyone that we have in the aviation field. Um, so we are fortunate to be partnered with U p s cuz they do a lot of the heavy lifting, uh, with our camp. Um, our campers get to fly a simulator, uh, they get to, uh, meaning, uh, typically they fly the Airbus, uh, or Boeing 7 67. That's pretty cool. Um, and that's kind of get gets the kids hooked. Um, also, uh, they get to visit the control tower, uh, here at the Ali International Airport.


And the Radar Room, we're a combined facility, so they get to see the radar room, the dark room you see in the movies, and they get to see the tower. Um, we also take the kids, um, on a, a trip, whether it be the Wright Patterson Air Force base. Uh, we've been to the GE plant over here in the Cincinnati area where they get to see where they make the aircraft engines. Um, we also, uh, the more recent years have gone to Morehead State University, uh, where they have a contract with NASA and their aerospace program. I mean, the kids actually get to see and touch a live satellite or, or a replica of a satellite. Um, now that's, that's, that's pretty cool.

Jessica Denson, Host (19:38):

Yeah, that would really, it's gotta light some fires for being a part of that industry. And, uh, you divide the camps into two groups, right? Middle school and then high schoolers.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (19:49):

So, so we have a camp in June, it's our introductory camp, and that's for middle school and high schoolers. And it's basically for, you know, we, we wanna get you, if you're coming in the sixth grade, so we can have that, that's on your mind. And basically what happens is the kids come back the next year, some of the kids come back, and the, hopefully it's word of mouth. You have such a good time, you told your friends, you'll bring a friend. And as you get older, uh, with us having so many kids, knowing so many chaperones, we kind of have a, a structure, uh, uh, ranking system. So eventually that kid who started the camp in sixth grade, by the time they're eighth grader, they become a, a, a, what we call a team leader, a squadron leader. So you get to lead the new campus that come in, um, making sure everybody's on task.


Uh, we go through, um, aviation history, uh, blacks in aviation history. Uh, we go by aviation in general, uh, knowing the things, uh, parts of an aircraft, uh, little bit of airspace. Um, everyone gets to fly, actually get to fly in a smaller area, general aviation airplane, whether it be a Cessna, uh, or a, uh, Cherokee. Uh, so it, it is pretty neat. Now, we also have a camp in July, and the July camp is called our advanced camp. And it's strictly for high school kids. And typically those kids are the ones who've done three or four years at the, uh, at the, at the regular camp. And these are the kids like, Matt, I want to be a pilot. I, I'm serious. And these are the kids that come to that camp.

Jessica Denson, Host (21:16):

How does it feel to see the kids get excited about all of this

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (21:21):

Every time we, when we have the camp and you see the excitement of the kids? And that's when I realized at this point, with the exception of my, my real job, of course, like, this is why I do this. This is why I come into work. These are the things that keep, that keep all of us going, all of us that do the camp, it rejuvenates and refreshes us to continue so we can, um, you know, to help build that legacy.

Jessica Denson, Host (21:42):

And, uh, while looking into the organization, I did, I did my research, um, I saw that you had some big supporters from every, everybody from, um, American Airlines and Delta to Federal Express. Why do you think that, um, there's so much support for this organization and why do you feel it's important?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (21:59):

Well, one of the things, like I say, so here in Louisville camp, uh, u p s is a huge, huge sponsor for us. Uh, I believe that U p UPS has the highest percentage, and I could be mistaken, of African American pilots in the industry of your legacy carriers. Um, and it's important because again, you want to bring that pipeline, uh, you wanna keep that pipeline open because right now there's a pilot shortage as as just in general. And so we, you wanna get people who are qualified and have that potential to, to be able to give them an opportunity to, uh, beat them their best selves. Um, I know FedEx is a big sponsor down at the Memphis camp, uh, United over in Houston, and I believe in Chicago. So a lot of it has to be wherever, wherever you are based, typically speaking, the camp, whoever the dominant carrier is, normally takes on a bigger role, um, for that particular camp.

Jessica Denson, Host (22:56):

Um, all of us at Connected Nation, uh, our mission is to ensure equitable access to internet and the related technologies, including resources. How critical do you feel it is for black youth to have equitable access to the internet and related technologies if they want to get into the aerospace industry? Are any industry really

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (23:16):

Very, it is very, very important. As a matter of fact, I thought more of it, um, after we had spoken last week. And so I called my daughter. So just for viewers to know, my daughter is a flight instructor at Indiana State University. Uh, she came through our camp and that's how she ended up being, uh, where she is right now.

Jessica Denson, Host (23:35):

Oh, very cool.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (23:36):

And I asked her that question, and I, and the reason being, you know, here it is, you got, you know, a young college graduate who's gonna be more in tune to what the kids need today versus me going back 30 years when I was in school,

Jessica Denson, Host (23:47):


Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (23:49):

And so I asked her, I said, Hey, how important is this, that and the other? And she said, it is very important. At a minimum, you need to have at least a tablet. She said, one of the things is, is the all your reading materials, your programs and things or things you can download and you, you can carry it around in that tablet. If anyone goes and watches an old movie or a old news clip when they're in the airport, and I'm talking about old, let's just say from 1995 and beyond, you see the pilots going through the airport. They have these big, these big bags. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that's what their mm-hmm. <affirmative> their flight bag and that, and those flight bags, your charts, your manuals, all of those things. And you can carry all that, that information now in a tablet. So imagine a kid, either you can carry a bunch of books in addition to whatever, whatever else you have or need, or you can carry everything in your tablet.

Jessica Denson, Host (24:39):

Yeah. It's empowering and the amount of information that could be in that. Um, so, you know, 30 years ago when you mentioned that when <laugh> when you went to school, it brings me on the next question. What would you say if a young umbrellas were standing before you today and wanted to enter the aerospace industry?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (24:56):

Well, one thing for myself personally, like anything else, um, as an adult, you always go back to if, if I knew then what I know now, <laugh> Yeah. What would I have done differently? So the one thing that I personally would've done different, and, and it goes back always for me, I go back to high school, I go back to freshman year in high school and I would definitely, uh, take my studies more seriously. I, meaning I won't, I won't be playing around. Uh, because one of the things about wanting the hindrances, uh, you know, for people going to college is, it's not that you're not smart enough, it's just that you, a lot of folks just didn't take the time out to do their due diligence, um, to get the appropriate grades. Cuz you're, you're, you're socializing, you know, you just, you're thinking it's not important.


Now that's not for all kids, I'm just saying for some, so, and that's one of the things that older brail braille would definitely tell younger brail, Hey man, <laugh> <laugh> makes this makes a difference. You know, uh, in what kind of scholarship monies you receive, uh, this, uh, what doors are open, uh, for you. Uh, that, that's a huge, that's a huge things right there. Um, what opportunities come about? Uh, one of the things I remember when I was in college, and I think this is my junior year, I, I remember, I believe it was FedEx came to town with an internship and all of us in the aviation program, we all came together. The guy from FedEx is talking this, that, and the other, and he said, uh, hey, we're only taking, uh, he's telling us about this internship and that's about a hundred kids, a hundred of us off, you know, from the age 18 to 23. And he says, so in order to start this process, we're only looking at people with a, so we are on a 6.0 scale then, so I guess an equivalent of a four if most people know a 4.0 scale. He said, we're not looking for people, just say for sake of argument, a 3.9 and above.

Jessica Denson, Host (26:47):

Oh, wow.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (26:48):

Yeah. Only three people were left in the room.

Jessica Denson, Host (26:51):

<laugh>. Yeah, I bet <laugh>. And that

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (26:53):

An eye opener for me because I didn't have a 3.9, I didn't have a 3.9, not because I wasn't smart enough because I was BSing around at times, but the thing is, I missed out on a potential opportunity and, and that always stuck with me.

Jessica Denson, Host (27:12):

Yeah. I think all over, whoever listens to the podcast, they're gonna pay. If they're a parent, they're gonna rewind that and have their kid listen to it. Yeah. That's real. Pay attention to this part. Yeah. That's real. Yeah. That's, I think we all have felt that. I, I know as an adult I've felt moments like, why did I not do that? <laugh> Sure. A missed opportunity. Yep. Uh, I, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you a, as a black man in America, what do you find is the importance of Black History Month to you personally?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (27:40):

What Black History Month is? As you, as you get older or as you get more exposure, everybody's in what I call their, their bubble, whatever the bubble is. Your social bubble, where you grew up, your neighborhood, where you go to school, where you go to church, all of those things. Um, so I grew up, again, growing up in Gary, Indiana, I did go to private school. Um, but our, I went to a Catholic school from K through 12, and I can tell you one of the fundamental differences from K through eight with my school being in Gary, uh, we had black history when I went to high school, we did not have black history mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then one of the things that I didn't notice, especially back then, more so then, and I, and I say more so then it's still, it's still, it's how we are portrayed in the media or not portrayed in the media things that, uh, just knowing your people and self-worth everything is not about the civil rights era.


Everything is not about slavery, but that is what we have been pigeonholed as a people generally speaking mm-hmm. <affirmative> in our, in our history books. And so, and I, that did not really occur to me until I got to high school where I realized that holy cow, they, we, we don't do black history here because we, we, my high school, we all chartered into the two defeater schools and we didn't, we didn't, it just black history wasn't caught up. Matter of fact, my high school had an issue with Dr. King Day, so you're talking about 19 80, 84, 85. This would been January 85. Like that was the first year that we didn't have Dr. King Day. And that was like for me, like, wow, we don't talk about Dr. King. You know, <laugh>, it's one of those things that I think they called it an in-service day or something. They, they call it Dr. King Day now. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But at that time, I guess that transition for certain people influence, you know, I guess that that was the issue. Matter of fact that my school's having issues with that right now. That same school 30 plus years later.

Jessica Denson, Host (29:33):

Yeah. That's, yeah. It's hard to believe that there would still be a pro with an issue with MLK Day or Dr. King Day as you called it. Um, uh, so really for you it's just expanding that awareness and, and not pigeonholing to one idea of what black history is.

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (29:51):

Well, absolutely. And, and again, now we're coming upon a new generation cuz I'm the old man at work <laugh>, and we're coming upon a Noah generation. And a lot of it is, is just simply just understanding that for what these guys seeing now, when, I mean you guys, the younger generation, so let's just say I'll say 40 and younger. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is what I guess in what my parents were thinking. So I think of the sixties and things of that nature, but I let these guys now understand that some of the black history you are actually living in right now, it's current events and it's, it's crazy cause it's not that long ago. And so, and I, and I put that in a perspective, you know, we're just talking about just recently with the Super Bowl, where here have you the Super Bowl or a Super Bowl 50 something and you have two black starting quarterbacks and the Super Bowl and they're talking about it. But the thing about that's 50 something years of the Super Bowl, which is arguably the most watched sport event in the United States. You have a league that's 70% African American and this is the first time you actually had two black quarterbacks and historically you've only had seven that have ever played in it.

Jessica Denson, Host (31:01):

Wow. Yeah. That really puts it into perspective when you, you think about it, people, a lot of, I think there's this idea sometimes that issue, some issues regarding race and, and, um, racism are are bygones of the and different era, but they really are not. Absolutely. There's lot of, there's a lot of current things that do affect that. I do agree with you. Um, anything else you'd like the audience to know about aviation and the importance of growing diversity in the field?

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (31:31):

Well, one, so I'm, so this is for those, those kids out there that like aviation but nobody around them is like in tune to that or you like technology or whatever. Here's another thing too, and I, I'll tell the kids, or this is what I'll tell young bro, be yourself. If there are things that you like to do, go ahead and do 'em. Uh, I, I relate more so, uh, uh, the neighborhood, the uh, show on the Cedric, the Entertainer, uh, <laugh>, the same Tommy there Yes. Has the two kids. You got the, the Athletic, you got the jock and you got the younger kid who's the, who's the nerd that's the rocking engineer at NASA or wherever it's, he works on the show. If that is you then embrace what you are. Cuz in the long run it's gonna pay off for you. You know, uh, one of the things, I can go back to my grade school and we had a reunion when I told people what I did, there was nobody who was surprised. They're like, oh, yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. That's what you are embrace who you're, if you like airplanes, you know, I used to get books and things on airplanes all the time, and nowadays kids have phones and all that. If there's something that you like to do, you have the power at your fingertips, you can look all that stuff up, you know, soak that, that sponge of that brain, get all that information in

Jessica Denson, Host (32:40):

There. All right, well I think that's a good place to end it on, um, bras, I really enjoyed talking to you. I told you earlier I was looking forward to today and I really have been. So thank you so much for joining us. You're

Brelis Spiller, Air Traffic Controller (32:52):

So welcome.

Jessica Denson, Host (32:53):

Again, my guest today has been Bres Spiller, who is the supervisor for air traffic controllers at the Louisville International Airport, and is closely tied to the organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, a national group dedicated to the advancement of minorities in all aviation and aerospace careers. You could find the organization I'll also include a link in the podcast, uh, in the description of this podcast, including a link to the Aviation Camp registration page. I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for the listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes of Connected Nation on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.