A mother’s decision to homeschool her son set him on the path to make history as the first Black airman to complete the Pilot Training Next (PTN) program.
Kemiko Lawrence is one proud mother. In August, she posted on Facebook congratulating her son, 2nd Lt. Anthony Lawrence, for completing his training with Air Education and Training Command (AETC).
“He is an official member of the third graduating class and the first Black officer,” Kemiko boasted.
This commemoration wasn’t just for the moment. It was for every struggle leading up to it, including her decision to advocate for her son’s learning by pulling him from a school system that labeled and dismissed him.
If you ask Anthony what he remembers about being a kid in school, it’s apparent that it wasn’t the path for him.
“Sitting all day wasn’t really my thing. I never wanted recess to end. I always wanted to be outside,” he said.
He also said school structure was stressful in a nonproductive way and admits he was probably disruptive because his attention was always directed toward looking up and out the window.
By age 11, Anthony had lost interest in learning. Kemiko was continually receiving calls that he was having behavioral problems.
“Every week there was something different,” she said.
Their family had tried both private and public schools, but nothing seemed to work.
The catalyst for change came when the school administration informed Anthony’s parents that for him to continue attending, he would need to be on medication.
“They specifically said he needed to be on Ritalin to control his behavior,” Kemiko said.
Ritalin is a drug used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. During this same time, legislation had been passed in three states barring teachers and school staff from recommending the drug, and the Lawrence’s home state was soon to follow. Kemiko refused to medicate her son.
“He was just bored. His interest wasn’t being cultivated,” she said.
She withdrew Anthony and began their homeschool journey.
Kemiko started by going to the library every day to rekindle his interest in learning.
“I stopped with all the worksheets and the need to do complete subjects and just let him look at whatever pictures and magazines he wanted. He was always very interested in flying and things that went fast.,” she said.
Kemiko allowed his education to begin with what he liked. Homeschool opened his world of possibilities.
“I always knew I was smart and could do the work. It was just finding what interests me and applying my efforts toward that,” Anthony said.
The little boy who used to sit in class and stare out the window knew he wanted to fly.
Anthony enlisted in the Air Force in 2011 and later completed his degree before signing up for the PTN.
PTN is a part of AETC’s initiative to “reimagine” how airmen learn by using simulators and virtual reality, according to its website. Typical pilot training is an 18-month learning process and the fiscal burden of training pilots is expensive over that amount of time. The program is described as an innovative new six-month version that offers the same robust training, allowing more pilots to be fully qualified and ready for their aircraft in a shorter time period.
This learning model provides more opportunities during the pandemic because of the remote learning feature. The program’s self-paced academics and competency-based timeline allows students to progress at their individual pace.
Since Kemiko’s Facebook post praising her son’s completion of PTN as the first Black graduate, which was shared almost 2,000 times, people from all over have reached out to Anthony. Not only to congratulate him on being the first Black officer to complete the program, but to seek advice. His next goals are to bloom wherever he is planted and mentor as many people as he can.
Mark Lawrence, Anthony’s dad, has a great sense of pride in his son’s resilience being on display for others to see.
“I’ve taught him to make a contribution not only to yourself but to others and benefit society,” Mark said.
The impact of this moment hits differently for Anthony. Having had his fair share of people who said he couldn’t accomplish his goals, the opportunity to positively influence others is one of his priorities.
“To make history is always bigger for the next person. In that way, I feel honored and inspired to keep going. Because I know there’s someone else in the same situation as me looking to do the same thing.”