A Humble Beginning, Now 37 Years Strong
The first FAA Minority Business Seminar is hosted in Miami, FL.
- Then Director of FAA Civil Rights (subsequently FAA Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights), Leon Watkins, fully supported these efforts, laying the foundation for the first FAA Minority Business Seminar that was held in Miami, Florida on May 3 and 4, 1984. Richard Judy, then Director of Aviation at Miami International Airport, approved a request by his staff to host the seminar.
- A six-person planning committee: Esterlene Lewis; C. W. “Bill” Jennings; Melvin McCray; Leon Watkins; Clement Monge and Clark Sharpe organized and executed the seminar within a four-month period to focus mainly on creating an understanding of Part 23 and the range of opportunities that it could present. The 74 seminar attendees, representing some of the largest airports in the country, were enthusiastic about the Part 23 regulation and prospects for enhancing business opportunities for minorities and women.
A small group gathered in the Administrator’s conference room at FAA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
- The AMAC Divine Nine: Melvin McCray, Director of Maintenance, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; Charles Rogers, Deputy Director of Aviation, Philadelphia International Airport; James Rogers, Airport Manager, Little Rock Airport; C. W. “Bill” Jennings, Assistant Executive Director, Airport Operations, Orlando International Airport; Esterlene Lewis, Chief, Administrative Services, Miami International Airport; a representative of the Lawton, Oklahoma Airport Commission; Audrey Simmons, Program Specialist, FAA Headquarters Office of Civil Rights and Clark Sharpe, Civil Rights Officer, FAA Southern Region.
Note Regarding Founders: Although it has been widely accepted that Leon Watkins and Clark Sharpe were among the Founders, this is untrue. Both Leon and Clark were federal employees and as such were forbidden to belong to trade associations. Leon initiated a Minority Business Enterprise seminar in response to the promulgation of 49 CFR Part 26 (construction) by DOT. This seminar was held annually in different locations, starting in the mid-1980s in Miami, FL. Leon also allowed a group of minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) from across the U.S. to meet in his office to discuss and resolve a variety of challenges impacting their businesses. The joint seminar was held and sponsored by the FAA for several years. During this time the AMAC Founders formalized and incorporated the Airport Minority Advisory Committee and joined forces with the FAA to hold the first AMAC/FAA MBE Conference. The FAA seminar continued apart from AMAC's conference for several years and is now the annual FAA National Civil Rights Training Conference for Airports, which is separate from AMAC's annual Airport Business Diversity Conference.