When she was 12, Michelle Saucedo would put her nephew Emanuel Prince on her hip and walk around the projects, while his mother, Shauna Hill, a drug user, roamed the streets of Rockford, Illinois. Saucedo and little Emanuel created a bond like no other. As he got older, she would encourage him during his hardships that he can make it.
And he did.
Despite moving between relatives and seeing his siblings struggle against common urban problems, Prince finished college, became a licensed pilot and is now looking to soar to new heights.
At an early age, the state decided Prince and his five brothers and two sisters should be placed with family members while his mother completed rehab. In December 1999, his grandfather drove to Rockford to move Prince’s mother, stepfather and all the children to Johnson’s apartment on the west side of Chicago. The family lived together in a two-bedroom apartment.
In January 2000, at age 13, Prince said he ran away from his mother and abusive stepfather and ended up living with his biological father and girlfriend with four kids in Freeport, Illinois.
His father spent time in jail for shoplifting. A year after his release, while the elder Prince lived with the family, he robbed a bank and went back to prison for 11 years.
Young Prince, however, was on a different trajectory.
It wasn’t sports or entertainment to which he aspired. He was too short to be a ballplayer. He couldn’t sing or rap. The turning point came at age 15 when Prince attended a Mc Donald’s-sponsored event featuring Jim McSwigan, an African-American operation owner for all the McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago.
But it was meeting Jerry Calabrese – a corporate vice president – that turned the tide. Prince approached Calabrese about a summer internship at McDonald’s and was hired for the next three summers and Prince began seeking out mentors.
During the second summer of his internship, Prince was paid by the Aviation department, while maintaining a 2.9 grade point average.
“Emanuel was ambitious, personable, and responsible,” Calabrese said. “He is one of those special people who you meet and say, how can I help him be the best he can be? I am truly fortunate to have met Emanuel and am a better person for it.”
In 2002, Calabrese turned Prince on to Youth Guidance, a college prep program, primarily structured to assist inner city high school athletes get into college. CEO Kevin Gemas made an exception for Prince because of Gemas’ relationship with Calabrese.
Prince went on to become a member of the Science Club and treasurer on the student council. He graduated and was accepted to overwhelmingly white Daniel Webster College in Nashua, New Hampshire – a real culture shock after attending all-black Lucy Flowers Career Academy in Chicago.
Prince was fortunate. He got out away from the risks and dangers, including coming out unscathed as he and a relative walked into a shooting spree as they left a store shortly before Prince left for college.
One of six sons, Prince is the only one among his brothers who has not gone to prison.
It wasn’t easy.
At Daniel Webster College, Prince said, he was reminded every day that he was black. Martin Luther King Day wasn’t acknowledged until his junior year, but there was a day off for skiing.
The intense training at school, where he pursued a degree in Aviation and Flight Operation while working part-time at an Auto Zone as a sales manager, was relentless and he nearly quit for good. He did leave college three times because of financial problems. When he graduated in 2008, he was employed full time and missed the commencement ceremony because he was working.
His degree was mailed to him.
Prince joined Com Air as a customer service agent, and by 2008 he officially became a pilot. He flew to Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, Indiana, Roanoke, Norfolk and Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport before Com Air shut down in 2012 following a series of accidents and lawsuits.
After Air Com, Prince worked on and off for five years at Manchester Airport as a customer service agent and he took on small flying jobs, traveling throughout New England. He operated Nike’s GIV’s planes as a replacement pilot in 2011 and also flew for Miami Air International, having the opportunity to transport people to Cuba, including celebrities Serena and Venus Williams and members of the NBA championship team Miami Heat. He has been to nearly every continent, except Australia and Antarctica.
Some of his peers have never left the west side of Chicago.
Prince was laid off as a result of overstaffing, but he hopes to find work flying for a major or private airline and relocate to Atlanta, Phoenix or somewhere in Texas. He would like to run a chartering service for companies that own private jets and one day would like to own his own chartering business.
The 27-year-old said his Aunt Michelle was right: “You can be anything you want to be and not what others are doing.”