The day was clear, the sky was blue and though I was high above the city of Flint, I could still pick out tiny specks of people on the ground. I was sitting in a tiny four-seat airplane, not entirely comfortable, but reassuring myself that the pilot knew what he was doing. After all, he was an Air Force pilot and astronaut who had just finished a mission on the Discovery space shuttle. I’ve been very fortunate to do some cool things in my life and this ranks right up there.
I was working for a U.S. senator at the time and managing his military academy nomination process. As part of my work, I had arranged for the astronaut, who had been one of the senator’s previous nominees to the Air Force Academy, to return to his hometown of Flint to talk with high school students. After all the events of the day were done, he still had time before his flight out of town and wanted to renew his license at the Flint Bishop airport. He asked my coworker and me to come along on his test flight – how could we refuse?
I looked down at the huge Buick City auto plant and the tops of downtown buildings. Tiny cars drove around the streets and little dots of people moved through the neighborhoods, many of them showing signs of blight. They were moving among half-burned structures and overgrown lots — small marks that looked insignificant from my vantage point. Except they weren’t insignificant — they were people with hopes and dreams and struggles and pain. From where I was, it would have been easy to ignore who they really were, but I had met so many of them earlier that day, I couldn’t.