Profiles in Leadership: Capt. Anthony Holder

Capt. Anthony Holder

For a seven-year-old boy growing up in the Bronx, New York, becoming a pilot and flying through the air seemed as wistfully brilliant as tying on a makeshift bath towel cape and pretending to be Superman. The desire to fly like his favorite superhero fueled the lifelong journey that retiring airline pilot Capt. Anthony Holder (B.S. ’71) would have. Throughout his career, Holder, who flies for FedEx, has accumulated more than 20,000 hours of flight time, flown 10 different aircraft (including a B-52 bomber and, more recently, the Boeing 777 jumbo jet) and travelled the world. Yet Holder and other Black commercial airline pilots account for less than two percent of commercial pilots in the United States.

“There’s just not enough African-American pilots,” Holder says. “A lot of times when I talk to groups, especially school children, I make it a point to tell Black children, and especially women, they should look at this as an option as a career field.”

Holder’s dream of flying, he says, was cultivated at Howard, where he majored in engineering and minored in English. He joined the Air Force ROTC program soon after he came to Howard, which became the stepping stone to his career and where he gained his first experiences as a pilot. After graduation, he joined the United States Air Force, completed his pilot training and began flying several aircraft. He was stationed in Guam and honorably discharged in 1978. Holder has been flying with FedEx for more than 35 years.

“I fly because I just really love it. I was very fortunate to choose a profession that offers me those things that I’m interested in, those things I like to do,” Holder says. “I like the adventure.”

Like Holder, Capt. Thomas Flanagan III (B.A. ’81) is also an alum and a pilot. Unlike Holder, Flanagan says he stumbled into his love of flying as he got older. Flanagan was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. His mother taught at Howard, and when he began his studies at the University, he also sought out a place in the Air Force ROTC program. He flew his first solo flight in 1981.

Flanagan recalls that there were 600 other students at his flight school, but he was one of two Black students. Motivated by the absence of other African Americans, he excelled in his schooling. He flew cargo aircraft in the military before transitioning to commercial aircraft for Delta Airlines, where he’s been for 25 years.

Flanagan, along with Holder, notices the disparities in the number of minorities in aviation. He attributes the lack of Black pilots to the newly emerging career options in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, believing these new careers may reduce the awareness of aviation as a career option. Flanagan believes that encouraging youth to consider a career in aviation may help bridge the racial gap. Both pilots take time to mentor young children and open their eyes to the possibilities of becoming pilots or having other careers in aviation.

“In the beginning, I flew for the physical thrill of actually flying an airplane through the air—upside down, sideways, loops, acrobatics, all of that kind of stuff,” Flanagan says. “Now I fly for the destination, being able to see various new places all around the world.”

Whitehead is an intern in the Office of University Communications and a junior journalism major in the School of Communications.

By Erika Rae Whitehead

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