He looked up to the sky and saw a helicopter.
It was during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion that an almost enchanted 10-year-old boy asked his grandmother: Who flies something like that?
"A pilot", she answered him, and believe it or not, that was the fabric of 23-year-old Andre McKenzie's inspiration. Since then, he has been cutting that fabric with precision and trying to sew an esteemed life as a "ghetto youth".
"I haven't changed my career path since. Aviation is my passion and dream, and I will not give up. I heard that Jamaica College had an aviation summer programme. I went and I did exceptionally well. Because of my performance, I was granted a scholarship to attend the Aviation University of the Americas located at Tinson Pen. During that time in college, it changed me to be a better individual. I was very disciplined, smart, and determined," McKenzie told the Jamaica Observer.
The Aviation University of the Americas provides aviation industry training, offering diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
"I worked super hard to complete a bachelor's degree in aviation theoretics, where I attained a first class honours gold division certification, and to top it off, I was also the valedictorian. After the completion of college, I was granted another scholarship to go to Naples Air Center in Florida to complete my flight training," he continued.
The Aviation University of the Americas does not offer flight training, but says it is currently in partnership with Naples Air Center in Florida that provides "favourable" rates to students of the university.
But, despite the grant received by McKenzie, his efforts were still thwarted by financial challenges, and so he had to return to Jamaica.
"I'm here in Jamaica trying to save some money and get sponsors so I can complete my flight training. I'm currently trying for the JDF [Jamaica Defence Force], so hopefully that goes well," he said, noting that he must complete flight training to be officially called a pilot.
McKenzie was raised by his grandmother Barbara McKenzie in Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston.
"She taught me how to master my chores at a very tender age. While growing in the so-called ghetto, there was a lot of peer pressure. But because our parents know best, she tried her best to ensure I stayed inside to get my priorities straight, such as homework, chores, et etcetera. We weren't the poorest family in the area, as a result of my parents and guardians working hard to sustain our household," he told the Sunday Observer.
His educational journey started at Excelsior Primary School. He then went on to Dunoon Park Technical High School, where he was form captain throughout his entire school tenure. McKenzie noted that it was at Dunoon he learnt how to overcome peer pressure.
"Peer pressure is the main reason why most youngsters aren't successful, because they don't want to feel left out. This generation is all about trends. To overcome such challenge, I had to hold my head and have a firm mind. My grandmother always said that I must leave friend and company, which I did follow in the last half when I got more mature and realised that I'm in control of my life and future and I can't afford to mess up because I want to make my family proud," he said.
But perhaps being favoured was also a stress factor for the aspiring pilot. Well respected by his peers, he was always the go-to person when things went sideways.
"For example, I could be in class and a fight occurs. They would storm down to my class and be like, 'Yow, Andre, war a gwan... come part it.' So that really got me distracted at times, where I couldn't perform to my best abilities."
Despite his academic focus, McKenzie admitted to the Sunday Observer that he also had a "huge file for hair and uniform violation".
He added, "I'm the type of person that, if I don't feel comfortable, I won't be able to succeed. Due to that indiscipline, sometimes I wasn't able to go on the school compound. However, I was still able to consecutively be in the top five throughout my years."
McKenzie, who enjoys reading, journalling, and playing football, recalled that after playing against Mona High School in the Under-17 football competition, the principal of Mona [Kevin Jones] decided to give him a scholarship to join the school's football team because of his performance.
"I was so excited because I was able to turn over a new chapter in my life, where I decided to make a change and follow the rules. I did well academically and graduated," he told the Sunday Observer.
For his success thus far, McKenzie didn't hesitate to list the names of some individuals whom he said were instrumental in developing him to become a better man.
"My grandmother, Barbara McKenzie, who is the person I give full credit for raising me; uncle, Xavier Chevannes, who set the foundation for our family; my dad, Andrew McKenzie, who helped me to be disciplined and determined; my mom, Christine Powell, who supports me emotionally; and my mentor, David Robertson, who motivates me to keep going not matter what and have faith no matter what the situation is".
McKenzie added, "My family is very proud of the man I've become due to fact that I was born in the so-called ghetto. The struggles I've been through make me stronger and the man I am today. It makes me proud that I was able to make my family happy. It is not where you come from, but it's where you going," he said.
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