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The story of Jamaican-born, Miami-raised pilot and educator Barrington Irving (pictured) serves as a tangible reminder that young people, regardless of their station in life, can achieve heights far beyond their means. Irving stands as the first Black person to fly around the globe on a solo flight and also the youngest to ever achieve the feat. To add to his list, Irving is also the first Jamaican native to complete the legendary flight.

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Irving’s journey began in the rough streets of Miami’s inner city, where he was surrounded by crime, poverty, and other obstacles that daily stunt the growth of young Black children nationwide and the world over.

Watch Barrington’s story here:

However, young Barrington had the support of his parents and the cushion of high school athletics that primed him for his burgeoning college career. After receiving a football scholarship from the University of Florida, it appeared that life on the gridiron was the path set for Irving – until a chance meeting with a pilot changed his life.

While working in his parents’ bookstore at 16, Irving would encounter Gary Robinson, a Jamaican-born commercial pilot who regaled the teen with tales of his job and the benefits of his profession. After being asked if he would want to join Robinson in the profession, Irving declined after thinking he wasn’t bright enough to handle the rigors of piloting.

Still, Robinson took Irving under his wing and invited him on a test flight at the Opa-locka airport – housed in the same neighborhood where Irving grew up. From that moment on, Irving made aviation his primary focus and turned in his football scholarship in order to chase his dream in the skies.

Things began roughly for Irving as he saved money doing various odd jobs before enrolling at Florida Memorial University to study aeronautical science. During this time, Robinson served as a steady mentor and taught Irving the ropes as an insider. He learned how to fly by using flight simulator games and careful instruction from Robinson. As a student at Florida Memorial, Irving would go on to do a remarkable act befitting of his grit and will to succeed.

Seized by a dream to fly around the world, Irving would reach out to several airplane manufacturers for airplane parts, facing rejection letters numbering in to the dozens before donations began to pour in. Then he constructed a plane with the donated parts, totaling more than $300,000 in worth.

The single-engine airplane, a Cessna 400, was dubbed “Inspiration” – a proper name given the harrowing details of the 30,000-mile flight. Without a weather radar or de-icing system for the wings, Irving took off from Miami to embark on his journey on March 23, 2007.

Completed over the course of 97 days with several stops in between, Irving landed back in Florida on June 27 to much fanfare, after breaking two world records: he became the youngest person to ever fly around the globe solo and the first Black person to do so as well.

Barrington Irving created the non-profit organization Experience Aviation, geared toward teaching minority youth about aeronautics and pushing them to excel. The organization opened its doors on June 18 and already has attracted the attention of several youth from various walks of life.

Of Irving’s many achievements, including being awarded an Order of Distinction, Commander Rank badge in his native Jamaica, he was also awarded a Medallion of Excellence by the Florida State Senate. Irving is also one of 15 National Geographic Emerging Explorers, giving him and his new organization support, sponsorship, and a platform for the 28-year-old air pilot to continue in helping to inspire the next generation of young people who want to dream big and accomplish their goals with unwavering determination and know-how – just as he did.

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