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When Inspiring Ideas Take Wings

Tom Sullivan

May 3, 2016
Tom Sullivan

Compton California, a city of about 100,000 in the middle of LA County, is primarily known for the Crips and Bloods, Gangsta Rap, the home of Serena and Venus Williams and the basketball courts that have spawned a high per capita concentration of NBA players. It is also known for the 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton” which was nominated for an Academy Award for best screen play and tells the controversial story of the 1980’s group, N.W.A, and it’s most famous and successful member, Dr. Dre.  Based on what I experienced last week on an economic development and immersion tour of Compton, it will become known for spawning pilots, astronauts, innovators and entrepreneurs.

I had the privilege of being in Compton as part of a small group of entrepreneurs, bankers, commercial real estate developers and a couple of film producers led by Compton’s own Chico Brown.  Chico was the leader of the Crips and is mostly known as the convicted cocaine dealer who was unwittingly being supplied by the CIA funneling funds to covert operations.  Today, Chico is a community leader working closely with Mayor Aja Brown to revitalize Compton.  Chico has worked hard and fairly successfully to broker peace among the gangs and to refocus their energies on rebuilding Compton.  Mayor Brown is a visionary with a degree in Urban Planning who has a team of experts inside and outside of Compton making real progress on current and future development plans.  After a tour of a community center where teens are working on their GEDs, and a meeting with the Mayor on development strategies in Compton, we headed to Compton-Woodley Airport for a helicopter tour of the area.  What I experienced was a glimpse into the future.

Our helicopter pilot was Robin Petgrave, an entrepreneur who has created Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM), a unique mix of the history and pilots from the famed Tuskegee Airmen plus a flight simulation school where young students can earn flight time experience on computers and commercial-grade simulators.  A 12-year old named Jaylan was our tour guide.  Jaylan has developed outstanding flight simulation skills.  If he stays on track, he may be able to earn his pilot’s license at age sixteen.  Inspired by the success of TAM, a software entrepreneur spoke with the staff about an idea: what if TAM added a drone training capability to the center.  Kids would be able to not just get drone flight experience but also earn money as they use drones to map, photograph and visualize commercial development models for Compton.   Inspired ideas like this will take flight because it is backed by a group of capable, hard-working teams who believe that the power of potential will overcome stubborn obstacles.  That’s how progress is made.