BLACK HISTORY MONTH: EXPERIENCE AVIATION, FLYING CLASSROOM AND DESIGNS BY SOMMER

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Pictured (from L to R): Brenda Morrison, The Miami Foundation Open for Business Associate; Vontre Curry, BITTS graduate and aspiring pilot; Captain Barrington Irving, Founder of Experience Aviation and the Flying Classroom; Brittany Morgan, The Miami Foundation Economic Resilience Director; and Sommer Curry, CEO of Designs by Sommer.
Pictured (from L to R): Brenda Morrison, The Miami Foundation Open for Business Associate; Vontre Curry, BITTS graduate and aspiring pilot; Captain Barrington Irving, Founder of Experience Aviation and the Flying Classroom; Brittany Morgan, The Miami Foundation Economic Resilience Director; and Sommer Curry, CEO of Designs by Sommer.

In acknowledgment of Black History Month, we are elevating the stories of Black entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders whose work exemplifies Miami’s resilience, passion, and conviction.  

This story comes from the Miami Open for Business program. Through the Open for Business Microgrant, we provide support for minority-led small businesses and nonprofits to purchase technology and equipment assets, enabling them to grow and thrive. 

This month, we highlight a unique intergenerational story that centers around the inspiring connection of two entrepreneurs funded through Open for Business: Captain Barrington Irving of Experience Aviation and The Flying Classroom, located in Opa Locka, and Sommer Curry of Designs By Sommer, located in South Dade whose son, Vontre Curry, is an aspiring pilot.

The Miami Foundation‘s longstanding relationship with Captain Barrington Irving began with his first flight around the world. Later, when it came time for nonprofits and small businesses to apply for funding support through the Open for Business program, we reconnected with Captain Irving and his mission. In parallel, Sommer Curry applied to the program for her business, hoping to purchase equipment for her salon. In the end, they both benefitted from the Open for Business program, but this would not be the last time their paths crossed. 


Captain Barrington Irving of Experience Aviation and The Flying Classroom 

Experience Aviation is a nonprofit operating at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport that transforms lives and strengthens the community through superior technical education. Captain Irving, CEO and Founder, applied to Miami Open for Business’s Microgrant for Technology and Equipment, seeking flight simulation equipment and powerful computers to help train his students. 

 

Brenda Morrison, Open for Business Associate: Can you share your personal story, how it inspired the founding of Experience Aviation, and how it has contributed to the legacy of Black entrepreneurship in Miami? Are there any historical figures in aviation that inspired you to become a pilot or create Experience Aviation? 

Captain Barrington Irving: After I flew around the world, I honestly wanted to become a professional pilot to start making a real income for myself. But once I returned, so many students, parents, schools, and organizations reached out to us.  I couldn’t turn my back on that, and although I didn’t know what to do, I knew I had to do something. The very first project we did was to have high school students build an airplane from scratch, which I then flew. After that success, I knew this type of work was my destiny.

Pictured: The STEM and VR lab at Experience Aviation, with drones and VR headsets purchased with Open for Business funding.

Experience Aviation Flying Classroom Expedition #1 Washington DC 9-23-14

Brenda Morrison, Open for Business Associate: As a grantee of Miami Open for Business, how has the support impacted the growth and outreach of Experience Aviation, especially in engaging the local community?  

Captain Irving: The support provided by Miami Open for Business allowed us to secure key materials to help successfully model a workforce training program to service local community members from any background. 

Miami has tremendous job opportunities within the technical skills space, but training costs have risen sharply, and many community members need upskilling to access these careers. Miami Open for Business allowed us to equip students who can’t afford tools or training to gain skills and certifications.


Sommer Curry of Designs By Sommer

In addition to funding nonprofits, Miami Open for Business also seeks to equip minority small business owners with funds to purchase important assets for their businesses. Sommer Curry applied for a microgrant during the same funding cycle, requesting new equipment for content creation and client photography. Designs by Sommer is a hair salon and an online clothing boutique. 

Pictured: Sommer Curry, CEO of Designs by Sommer, a South Dade women’s salon and clothing boutique.

Brenda Morrison, Open for Business Associate: What inspired the creation of Designs By Sommer, and are there cultural influences or historical elements that play a role in your designs and creations?  

Sommer Curry: The essence of hair and beauty is deeply embedded in my family’s history. My mother, Renee Choctaw, broke new ground as the first African American aesthetician in Los Angeles, California, during the 1970s. Growing up, I was captivated by the sight of her working in her salon, where she dedicated herself to enhancing the beauty and skincare of our community, all while being a devoted wife and mother.

Initially, I aspired to become a pharmacist, seeking a profession that would allow me to contribute meaningfully to society. However, the rigid confines of corporate America clashed with my commitments, particularly in supporting my husband’s military career and fulfilling my role as a mother. This realization led me to establish Designs by Sommer. This venture honors my mother’s heritage and empowers me to weave the rich tapestry of health, beauty, and community that she cherished dearly.  

Brenda Morrison, Open for Business Associate: As a recipient of funding from Miami Open for Business, how has Designs By Sommer been able to enhance its impact on local fashion and design? 

Sommer Curry: Our deep connections within the community are instrumental as we strive to expand our influence and contribute to our community’s growth. This opportunity would not have been feasible without the support from community initiatives like the Miami Open for Business. Leveraging our strong community bonds, we are committed to broadening our impact and further enriching our community. 

Brenda Morrison, Open for Business Associate: Tell us about any collaborations or community projects (past, current, or future) initiated by Designs By Sommer that contribute to promoting Black artistry in Miami.  

Sommer Curry: In partnership with South Dade Connections, we have consistently organized conferences, provided educational materials, and offered AI training in collaboration with MDEAT, NANA, and Miami Dade College. This March, I will showcase my talents at the Idea Center on the Miami Dade College campus and serve as a guest speaker at Miami Dade College for the inauguration of their Women’s International Day celebration. Designs By Sommer will be orchestrating an “Elevate Her” conference and dinner that is designed to bring together women from various backgrounds to share their entrepreneurial journeys and discuss the significance of being a woman in America. 

Pictured: Designs by Sommer’s salon, including new furniture and technology purchased with Open for Business funding

Vontre Curry, Recent Barrington Irving Technical Training School Graduate 

While both Captain Irving and Sommer are connected through their Open for Business grants, the story doesn’t end there. Sommer’s son, Vontre Curry, is an aspiring pilot and recently graduated from Captain Irving’s first class of technical training school.  

Brenda Morrison, Open for Business Associate: Can you share what sparked your interest in aviation and how your journey through the Barrington Irving Technical Training School has contributed to your success thus far? 

Vontre Curry: I’ve always been around planes. Since as early as I can remember, I’ve gone to air shows with my dad through his career in the Air Force. My high school had an elective airplane simulator class, which led to my pursuing a career in Aviation. 

My journey to becoming a professional pilot has been both inspired and fortified by my involvement in the Barrington Irving Technical Training School (BITTS). The school provided me with a rigorous, hands-on curriculum that equipped me with the necessary technical skills and instilled in me the resilience and discipline needed in the aviation industry. 

Not only did the program prepare us for a job in the aviation industry, but they made sure we learned soft skills and helped us with our resume to ensure we were set to embark on our own careers in the industry.  This educational path has been instrumental in shaping my career, proving that with passion, dedication, and the proper training, the sky’s truly the limit.

Brenda Morrison: How has seeing your mom leverage her network to attain various funding streams to grow her business inspired you?

Vontre: Seeing my mom leverage her network to secure various funding streams for her business has been incredibly inspiring. It taught me the value of relationships in professional settings, the importance of building and maintaining my own network, and seeking funding opportunities to support my aspirations of becoming a pilot. 

Remarkably, I secured a scholarship towards the end of last year, a success I attribute to witnessing my mother’s triumphs in securing various streams of funding to propel her business forward. My 

mother has been an unparalleled coach, mentor, and nurturing figure in my life. Her success has demonstrated that it’s possible to overcome financial hurdles and scale a business with the right network, determination, and a compelling business proposition. 

 “Sommer Curry, son Vontre, Brenda Morrison, and Captain Irving at the first ever graduation for the Barrington Irving Technical Training School (BITTS).
Sommer Curry, son Vontre, Brenda Morrison, and Captain Irving at the first ever graduation for the Barrington Irving Technical Training School (BITTS).

Brenda Morrison: As a Barrington Irving Technical Training School graduate, what’s the best advice you would like to share with someone aspiring to have a career in the aviation industry?

Vontre: As a graduate of the Barrington Irving Technical Training School, the best guidance I can give to someone aiming for a career in aviation is to prioritize building your network and making connections. The aviation community is surprisingly interconnected, so seize every chance to learn, both in formal settings and through personal experiences. Dedicate yourself to honing your skills, always striving for improvement. Write your goals/plan down and the steps to get there. The path won’t always be smooth; you’ll face challenges, but it’s crucial to keep pushing forward and remember the reasons behind your aspirations.  

My mother and I often use the phrase “Climb and Maintain,” which is especially meaningful in aviation. During ascent, pilots are instructed to reach and maintain a specific altitude, navigating through adverse conditions like wind shear, turbulence, and storms. These obstacles might require detours, yet the goal remains to climb and ultimately stabilize at the designated altitude. This metaphor underscores the importance of perseverance through difficulties, emphasizing that despite the hurdles, continuous effort will lead to achieving your goals

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