Congratulations to Johnny Jackson Jr., RS&H’s 2023 Community Volunteer of the Year. With more than 25 years of experience in the industry, Johnny joined RS&H in July 2022 and currently serves as the Infrastructure Area Leader for Dallas, Texas. Johnny was selected for this year’s award for his notable efforts with Tuskegee NEXT, an organization that provides a clear path to aviation careers for under-represented youth across the nation.
Hear from Johnny about what motivates him to serve the community and how he’s helping new generations to reach their dreams.
What was the first thing that came to mind when you heard you were selected for this year’s Community Volunteer of the Year?
I was surprised, excited and honored mostly because I know this recognition will shed additional light on Tuskegee NEXT and the great strides it is making in the community while honoring the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
How did you get involved with Tuskegee NEXT?
While working on the Chicago O’Hare International Airport Modernization Program, I participated in several ongoing community outreach programs serving under-represented youth in Chicago. Simultaneously, the board chair of another client shared with me his vision to provide hope to the youth in Chicago in a manner to counteract the looming pilot shortage. The combination of my outreach efforts and his vision birthed Tuskegee NEXT, which builds on the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American military pilots and airmen who courageously fought for our country in World War II.
How long did it take for Tuskegee NEXT to get started?
Everything moved pretty quickly. We partnered with an airport operator who was also part of the Air Force Reserve and connected with the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. We also brought in an airport planner who had shifted her career to teaching aviation in schools.
Together, we began raising funds and developing plans in the spring of 2014. By the summer of 2015, we had our first class of cadets. In just eight years, we’ve had 60 youths go through the program, with 52 graduates who have gone on to earn their commercial license, completed multi-engine training, and many who are now working with regional airline carriers. Right now, we have 15 students enrolled in our ground school program with the potential to complete the full program this summer, depending on funding.
How about you? Did you ever want to be a pilot?
I’ve always had an interest in being a pilot. In fact, my mentor is a pilot. However, it takes a lot of time and resources, and once I started a family, I made an active choice to honor my burgeoning career, family and personal commitments. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about Tuskegee NEXT – to help those with a passion for flying become the next generation of pilots.
What’s the one thing that keeps you motivated to be involved in this organization and a volunteer in general?
Seeing these cadets take flight is enough to keep me going. I am continually inspired by what I get to experience within this program. Lives are being transformed, communities are being impacted, and the world is being made a better place, one cadet at a time.
Why do you like working with RS&H?
RS&H has a vast client base, specifically from an aviation perspective, which provides a lot of opportunities to work on different and interesting projects. I also like working with a diverse group of associates and admire the driven-to-care culture, which yields a service towards disadvantaged businesses.
What is your biggest accomplishment while at RS&H?
Since joining the company, I have felt empowered to leverage my career experience to enhance the aviation industry. For instance, this year, I served as chair for the Airport Consultants Council (ACC) and American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Planning, Design & Construction Symposium, one of the premier events for our industry. It required a significant effort to coordinate and develop all of the education tracks, line up speakers and panelists, and support content for the workshops to bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the industry. I was new with the firm, and it took a lot of work, yet RS&H afforded me the time and space to ensure it was a success. Ultimately, we saw the largest turnout ACC and AAAE ever, which was pinnacle for me at this point in my career.
What aspects of your role excite you the most?
When I look back on my career and how I got to where I am now, a lot of people took time to invest in me, and I want to pay that forward by finding ways to mentor others. I have a passion for leveraging my many years of experience to provide guidance and support to others. That’s one of the reasons why I founded Tuskegee NEXT. It’s also what I love about my role at RS&H.
RS&H has amazing early career professionals who are excited to learn. Some are just out of school; others just earned their PE license. The neat thing about aviation is that most people go to school and learn about engineering or architecture, but not about the nuances of our specific industries, such as what it takes to support safe flight and operations. We get to teach them about the interconnected elements of an airport and how their technical skills can support these elements. We also help them understand the business side, like the importance of creating a network and building relationships so that they can grow and develop in the organization.
What has been your favorite project you’ve worked on at RS&H?
Last November, we received a call that the entrance to the Hyatt Hotel at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport was experiencing some failures in the approach slabs and retaining wall, built more than 50 years ago. It was amazing to see the RS&H team answer that call, going above and beyond for our client by adjusting schedules and working diligently during the holidays to find solutions that would not impact airport operations.
What parts of our company mission, vision, or values do you resonate with the most?
Those that resonate with me the most would be WE ARE CARING and WE ARE INCLUSIVE because these values are evident in tangible and measurable ways in all that RS&H does for its associates and clients.
What is a go-to break you take during the day to re-energize?
I decompress by listening to one of my favorite, inspirational podcasts. It provides me with the “MOTIVATIONAL LIFT” when I need it the most and keeps me grounded. It reminds me that not everything is in my control, don’t let the pressure overcome you, and always stay positive. I guess you could say listening to these podcasts is my “zen” moment.
Favorite downtime activity?
I have a passionate interest in cinema. I have amassed a collection of close to 1,000 movies. Thus, my favorite downtime activity is watching a great film.
Tell me about your family. Do you see any of your children following in your footsteps?
I can only wish! I have a wife and four children, two boys and two girls, ages 31, 20, 15 and 12. I’ve learned that you have to tailor your parenting to each child. My oldest is really into music, one wants to be a doctor, another a veterinarian. My youngest says he wants to be an engineer, so we’ll see!
Is there anything else you’d like to leave people with?
If you find an interest in Tuskegee Next, please help us spread the word and consider donating. Any donation is welcome to help us continue to change the lives of under-represented youth across the nation. Visit TuskegeeNext.org to donate.
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