As a child, James Durant,’68, spent hours outside his home in Garden City Park gazing upward, watching planes make their approach to New York International Airport, known popularly as "Idlewild," now JFK International Airport. Durant was fascinated by aviation; he imagined himself a pilot guiding massive passenger jets onto runways.
Decades later, Durant found his place in aviation, not as a pilot, but with a degree in Aviation Engineering Technology, overseeing aeronautical and non-aeronautical operations at airports in the New York metro area. He also has made it his mission to steer young people, especially those of color, toward choices that will help their dreams take flight.
Although Durant retired in 2002 from his position as an Airport Duty Manager at John F. Kennedy International Airport after 28 years with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he is hardly grounded. The Port Jefferson resident remains active as a member of the Farmingdale State College Council and the FSC Alumni Association Board of Directors, as well as with other local community organizations, taking students on bus trips to visit colleges.
Wanting to do more, in 2021, he founded the James Durant ’68 Scholarship in Aviation for Aeronautical Science students, with the idea that it could help some in the Professional Pilot program pay for flight time. (Flight training costs students about $9,000 a semester.) “I want to see them achieve their dreams,” Durant said.
His other “job” for the past several decades has been volunteering with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Eta Theta Lambda Educational Foundation, Inc., taking students on bus trips to visit Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Over eight days, volunteers and students travel 2,800 miles, visiting 14 colleges. “It gives them time to find out who they are and builds self-esteem to see minorities in leadership positions.”
The trips are also a chance for students to learn more about Black history; not only do the chaperones discuss Black history with students, they often stop at historical landmarks, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. On one trip, the group got a living history lesson when they met Rosa Parks, the woman who, in 1955 refused to give up her seat to white passengers on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, leading to her arrest. This sparked a year-long boycott of the Montgomery bus system by Black residents, and eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation on public buses unconstitutional.
While Durant views Black History Month as an opportunity for everyone to learn more about the history and accomplishments of Black people, he thinks Black history should be woven more into American history.
Durant’s involvement with FSC also takes up much of his time; his loyalty to the College is both deep and enduring. He credits FSC with starting his professional journey. “It (the College) let me go with my heart, my dreams, and I never regretted it,” he said. “It was the best thing I ever did. It really molded me into manhood. The nurturing I got from the staff, and some faculty really changed me and put me in the direction of my career.”
After earning his AAS degree, Durant completed his bachelor’s in Aviation Engineering Technology at Western Michigan University and later earned a master’s of Liberal Studies at Stony Brook University. He spent time in different jobs, including working at FSC in the Admissions Office and as a Residence Hall Counselor, before breaking into airport management.
Durant loved working at different airports; he even proposed to his wife at JFK Airport. In 2022, the Durants celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
“I was interested in airport management; I didn’t have the finances to become a pilot,” Durant explained. “I’m more people-oriented; I like to see how things are managed and get things done through people working as a team.”
His positive FSC experience continues to inspire him to help others. “You have to remember your foundation; what is your base, what you learned from your base,” Durant said. “It changed me for the best.” And he wants nothing more than to see young people succeed. “When they make it, I make it,” he said. “I feel like I gave back to something. It’s good to give back.”