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Promoting diversity

Flight attendants reach out to black
community during trip to Harlem

November 16, 2005

By Don Conrard 

Alaska Airlines, fur parkas and all, came to Harlem in late September as the airline revved up its efforts to recruit minority flight attendants. Twelve flight attendants and inflight supervisors traveled to New York to represent the airline at the Black Flight Attendants of America’s annual convention.

Ruth Carol Taylor, right, became the first black flight
attendant at a U.S. airline when she was hired by 
Mohawk Airlines in 1958. Now retired, Mardra Jay, left, 
was Alaska Airlines’ first black flight attendant. She
joined the airline in 1965 and retired in 1986.

In addition, Alaska has become a corporate member of the organization and will be sponsoring a Northwest chapter. Employees wishing to assist or join the new chapter should contact Mya Tebau, inflight supervisor of field support, via First Class.

“Membership is open to employees of Alaska, Horizon and other airlines, regardless of race,” said Tebeau.

“Our goal is to increase awareness in the black community that Alaska believes in a diverse workforce and is actively seeking qualified candidates for future flight attendant positions,” said Jeff Butler, managing director of inflight customer service. 
Held at the Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, the theme of the convention was “Celebrating the History of Black Flight Attendants in America.”

Agenda items included examining the pioneering role black flight attendants have played in breaking down color barriers in America. 
Among those attending the convention was Ruth Carol Taylor, the first black person hired as a flight attendant by a U.S. airline. She joined Mohawk Airlines in 1958, paving the way for thousands of black flight attendants who followed.

Tonya Thomas, left, and Mardra Jay 
modeled vintage Alaska Airlines flight 
attendant uniforms from the 1960s 
during the annual convention of the
 Black Flight Attendants of America.

Mardra Jay, Alaska’s first black flight attendant, also attended the convention in Harlem. She joined Alaska in 1965 and retired in 1986. 

“Thanks to pioneers like Ruth and Mardra, the U.S. aviation industry as a whole was changed forever,” said Chip Hestle, Alaska flight attendant, who attended the convention. 

Vintage uniforms, including the famous fur parka and Cossack costumes worn by Alaska’s flight attendants in the 1960s, were modeled during the convention.

“It was energizing and encouraging to look into the crowd while I was modeling the parka and see the looks of pride and appreciation for Alaska Airlines,” said Tonya Thomas, flight attendant. “Everyone knew Alaska was in the house!”

Alaska currently has 328 flight attendants who are people of color. Of those, 104 are Asian or Pacific Islander, 85 black or African American, 102 Hispanic, and 37 American Indian or Alaska Native. 
Alaska Airlines’ delegation to the annual convention of the Black 
Flight Attendants of America included, left to right, Karen Hebert, 
Ava McWilliams, Chip Hestle, Tonya Thomas, Mardra Jay,
Jossandra Bury, Cheryl Carter, Mara Guyton, Melanie Nelson
and Paulette Guyton. Not shown are Vicky Sullivan, Mya Tebau 
and Kathy Tucker-Smith.


“With just 13 percent of our 2,369 flight attendants being people of color, we obviously have more work to do to reflect the communities we serve,” said Sheri Viggiano, manager of diversity. “Thanks to the efforts of a group of our black flight attendants who are supporting our efforts to reach out to people of color in the community, we continue to move in a positive direction. Reflecting the diversity of the communities we serve is important to Alaska's economic health. If customers do not see themselves reflected in our workforce, they will take their business elsewhere.”

In addition to Thomas, Jay and Hestle, the Alaska delegation to the convention included flight attendants Jossandra Bury, Cheryl Carter, Paulette Guyton, Mara Guyton, Karen Hebert, Ava McWilliams, Melanie Nelson, and flight attendant supervisors Kathy Tucker-Smith and Vicky Sullivan.

Founded in 1974, the Black Flight Attendants of America sponsors career days at inner city schools, provides mentors for at-risk youth, and assists employees in finding qualified candidates for aviation careers. Its motto is “Serving the Skies and the Community.”

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