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Our Commitment

After retiring as CEO of the world’s largest airline, Doug Parker, with his wife Gwen, committed to creating a nonprofit that would break down the barriers that exist in aviation. They spent years witnessing disproportionate airline pilot statistics.  Only 3.5 % of U.S. airline pilots identify as Black while only 0.5% identify as Black female airline pilots, with an overall percentage of female airline pilots totaling 7%. Piloting is an extremely difficult and noble profession that requires a diverse set of skills and intellect. Unfortunately, the systemic and financial barriers that exist have made it more difficult for some to succeed than others. Aviation can’t truly have the best pilots navigating the skies if these barriers exist.

Breaking Down Barriers (BDB) is committed to removing all barriers to aviation that exist for underrepresented young adults, including the financial barriers to entry. We believe there is an enormous opportunity to transform the lives of underrepresented groups and their communities. Our work will begin with recruiting and retaining the best in the Dallas, Texas area before extending our mission nationwide to all minorities and to other aviation professions. 

BDB is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to removing the financial hardships of aspiring pilots and providing supplemental support through mentorship and education opportunities. We will provide awareness and outreach to engage young adults that have been historically overlooked and under resourced.  We are excited and passionate about our work, and we hope you will join us as we break down the existing barriers in aviation to make way for the very best.

Meet the Team

Doug Parker

Doug is the former Chairman and CEO of American Airlines. After an impressive 35 -year career in the aviation industry, Forbes hails him as the "key architect of airline consolidation in the 21st century," attributing his leadership to shaping the aviation industry as we know it today.


He currently sits on the board of Qantas Airways. ​After retiring from American, Doug shifted his focus to nonprofit initiatives and established the newest aviation nonprofit organization, Breaking Down Barriers. He also serves on the board of the National Medal of Honor Museum in Texas.​ Holding degrees from Albion College and Vanderbilt University, Doug holds education in high regard. He is now dedicated to offering flight training scholarships to high-achieving minorities who encounter financial obstacles on their journey into the field of aviation.

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Gwen Parker

Gwen is an exceptional philanthropic leader with a compassionate spirit. Dedicated to serving the communities of Dallas, Texas, Gwen actively contributes to various nonprofit organizations. She is a member of the Dallas Mavericks Advisory Council and a facilitator for Together We Dine, a program that promotes race relation conversations in association with Project Unity. Gwen actively participates in Highland Park United Methodist Church, contributing to community service.

Having majored in education at the University of Arkansas, Gwen initially served as a middle school teacher before embarking on her career as a flight attendant with American Airlines. Her dedication to supporting young adults in education has been a driving force behind her and Doug’s initiative to establish the recently launched aviation nonprofit, Breaking Down Barriers.

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Martin Nesbitt
Board Member

Marty Nesbitt is a founding partner and Co-CEO of The Vistria Group, a private investment firm that seeks to deliver both financial returns and societal impact. With more than $10 billion in AUM, The Vistria Group delivers attractive returns and positive outcomes for the lives and livelihoods its portfolio company's support.

Prior to founding The Vistria Group, Mr. Nesbitt served as CEO of The Parking Spot, an operator of off-airport parking facilities. He conceptualized and co-founded the company and was responsible for all strategic and operating aspects of the company. Mr. Nesbitt also served as an officer of the Pritzker Realty Group, L.P., the real estate group primarily responsible for the Pritzker family business interests. He also served as Equity Vice President and Investment Manager at LaSalle Partners.

In his various leadership capacities, Mr. Nesbitt has been successful at guiding executive teams toward exceeding goals, maximizing investment returns and trailblazing on the importance of diversity and equity in the workplace.

Mr. Nesbitt currently serves on the Board of Directors of American Airlines Group, CenterPoint Energy, and Chewy, Inc. He serves as Trustee of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Advisory Board Member at Rush University Medical Center, and Chairman of the Barack Obama Foundation. He previously served as Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee and was Treasurer of President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential

Mr. Nesbitt has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BA and honorary doctorate from Albion College.

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Elise Eberwein
Board Member

Elise is the former Executive Vice President of People and Global Engagement at American Airlines. With a remarkable career spanning over 35 years in the industry, she has played a pivotal role in shaping the airline landscape. 


Elise commenced her illustrious career as a flight attendant with TWA, gradually taking on various roles within the airline. Her professional journey extended to include significant positions at Western Pacific Airlines, Frontier Airlines, America West, US Airways, and ultimately, American Airlines. At the latter, her legacy endures as the airline recently announced a ten-year scholarship initiative named in her honor to fund current employees’ aspirations to become pilots.


Elise is a member of the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board. She currently sits on the board of Montreal-based CAE.

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Keiva Rodriques
Board Member

Keiva Rodriques serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA), and she is responsible for providing guidance and management oversight for internal affairs related to the MAA.

Mrs. Rodriques holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil  Engineering from the University of Maryland College Park and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Baltimore. Mrs. Rodriques has 20 years of professional experience in program management, business administration, construction management, and aviation. She joined the MAA in 2019 as Deputy Chief Engineer in the Division of Planning and Engineering where she provided organizational strategy and policy development for the planning, design, environmental compliance, and  construction of projects for both BWI Marshall and Martin State Airports. Mrs. Rodriques currently serves on the Green Building Advisory Committee supporting the General Services Administration providing independent policy advice and recommendations to GSA's Office of Federal High-Performance Buildings.

She is active in several trade organizations including the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) and the Northeast Chapter of AAAE where she serves as a member of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Mrs. Rodriques also serves as a volunteer for Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, sits on the Women in Engineering Advisory Board at the University of Maryland College Park, and serves on the Board for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.

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Byron Sanders
Board Member

Byron Sanders is a committed advocate for education, economic development and creating equitable communities. As the President and CEO of Big Thought, he explores innovative ways to narrow the opportunity gap and believes it’s our charge to shape society so young people have the chance to live the innate greatness that’s inside of them. Byron has been with the organization since 2008 in various capacities, as a supporter, volunteer, advisor, partner and board member.

Byron is a recipient of the 2014 Dallas Business Journal’s Minority Business Leaders Award and was recognized in its 2012 40 Under 40 Awards; in 2020, he was an honoree of the paper’s Most Inspiring Leader Award. In 2017, he was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar by the program led by the presidential centers of George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson. And in 2020, he became the first person of color to receive the CASEL O’Brien Award for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning. 

Byron believes that a person’s purpose cannot be fulfilled if they’re not engaged in their community. Locally, he actively serves as a board member with For Oak Cliff, CitySquare, ChildCareGroup, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Mavericks Advisory Council, Trinity Park Conservancy, and the Getting Smart Advisory Board, and he is on the United Way’s Community Impact Council. He is a member of Dallas Assembly, Leadership Dallas ’13, Leadership ISD ’12, Latino Center for Leadership Development Fellows and several other service engagements.

Byron is an alum of The University of Tulsa and now serves on the institution’s Board of Trustees. Above all, he loves spending time with his wife, Celeste, and two children.

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JacqueRae Sullivan
Board Member

JacqueRae Sullivan is a Dallas native, who attended Tarleton State University after earning an athletic scholarship to play basketball. She would go on to earn her degree in Professional and Relational Communications.


She started her career with Southwest Airlines as a Flight Attendant and now has nearly two decades of experience in the airline industry.  In addition to her career she has a passion for giving back and is intentional with service to her community and her church.  She is extremely excited about being an integral part of why Breaking Down Barriers is successful while serving in her new role as board member.


JacqueRae married Rashard Sullivan in 2020 and has two amazing bonus children Sidney (13) and Sekai (9).

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Maya Leibman
Board Member

Maya Leibman recently concluded the last decade as Chief Information Officer (CIO) of American Airlines (AA) where she was responsible for all technology efforts as well as strategic tech imperatives such as transitioning to the cloud, AI, and the advancement of Agile and DevOps tools and principles.


Prior to her time as CIO, Maya was President of AAdvantage, the world’s largest loyalty program. After 30 years with AA Maya has now moved on to other ventures in London where she is learning to love cucumber sandwiches and how to mind the gap.

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Taylor Toynes 
Board Member

Taylor Toynes is a remarkable individual who has made a significant impact in the South Oak Cliff community in Dallas, Texas. In 2014, Taylor Toynes, along with his W.W. Bushman fourth grade class, initiated For Oak Cliff out of necessity. He began teaching at Bushman Elementary in his hometown neighborhood of South Oak Cliff through Teach for America. While in the classroom, Taylor observed that many of his students lacked essential school supplies due to extreme poverty within the community. In the summer of 2015, he took action by organizing the inaugural Back To School Festival, a community-driven event aimed at equipping students and families with necessary supplies, resources, and services for a successful school year.  From an office building in the black-owned Glendale Shopping Center to purchasing a 20,000 sq. ft. building atop 10 acres of land, For Oak Cliff offers a range of services for the community. 

As a community leader, Taylor Toynes has been relentless in his mission to overturn systemic oppression in South Oak Cliff and he continues to make a profound impact, addressing pressing needs and fostering a sense of community empowerment. 

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Dana Donati
Board Member & CEO

Dana is the CEO of Breaking Down Barriers. With over two decades of aviation experience, Dana has led two airline-owned flight schools and held various flight operations positions at Republic Airways. Dana holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and is a Certified Flight Instructor.

A graduate of the Community College of Beaver County, Robert Morris University, and Embry-Riddle University, Dana is deeply passionate about aviation education and is 
committed to assisting individuals in navigating aviation training.

Dana served on the FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board and is a member for the Community College of Beaver County Foundation Board. Determined to eliminate
barriers within the aviation sector, Dana focuses on empowering more females and minorities to realize their full potential in aviation.

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