By CALLIE DANIELS BRYANT
For many, schooling takes a quarter of a lifetime for a steady career path. For Byron Keith Davis, that was two weeks.
The 38-year-old Southaven native said he heard about KLLM Driving Academy at Hinds Community College and knew right away that he should enroll. He had dreamed of becoming a trucker.
“I wanted to travel to different states,” Davis said with a chuckle. “I want to drive more miles and get paid more money – that’s all I dream, for sure.”
He stands out among graduates of the KLLM Driving Academy – he is deaf with two hearing aids, and the first deaf driver to graduate from that academy. Davis had lost his hearing to an illness when he was a child but this didn’t stop him from graduating high school. He worked various jobs in shipping and auto body shops but he wanted more.
When he heard about the KLLM Driving Academy he knew right away the career as a trucker is for him, especially now that he wants to become an owner operator who makes double the salary (at $141,000).
The director of KLLM Driving Academy, Josh Denson, told Hinds Community College news release: “Byron was determined to provide for his family and fulfill his dream of becoming a truck driver. He was able to accomplish all of these things through the opportunity provided by Hinds Community College and KLLM Transport Services.”
KLLM Driving Academy has had a partnership with Hinds Community College since 2012 where the academy provides training and the college handles coursework. For Davis, the KLLM Driving Academy collaborated with Hinds Community College’s Disability Support Services as well as Vocational Rehabilitation in the area to make sure that Bryon Davis had all his needs met as he trained at its facility in Richland, Miss.
Hinds’ Disability Support Services’ coordinator and interpreter, Loretta Sutton, said, “This process started when Hinds Community College Disability Support Services received a call about a young man interested in the KLLM Academy that is a part of Hinds. At first, I was like, ‘A deaf man wants to become a truck driver – how interesting.’”
Sutton had initial doubts about Davis enrolling in KLLM Driving Academy. She grew up with deaf parents and knew the deaf community.
“…I never witnessed anyone trying to become a truck driver,” Sutton said, “However, my whole perspective changed because Byron was persistent and he had so much determination.”
She continued, “Yes, other deaf people can apply to work with my department to complete the training Byron had as long as they met the requirements of Hinds and KLLM.”
Sutton presented the information to Hinds’ Disability Specialist, Mark Palmer, so they both could come up with a plan to accommodate Davis’ needs.
“Mark and I helped Mr. Davis by making sure the hotel and classrooms were accessible to his needs and made sure he had everything he needed such as transportation, food, interpreter service, etc.,” Sutton said.
Davis trained Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. with an one-hour lunch break. One road instructor and two instructors on range worked with him.
Davis said he learned how to back trucks, off set parking, parallel park on city roads and how to operate a 10-speed shift. He also learned up-to-date, safest techniques for all truckers such as appropriate lane changes and safe transport of hazardous materials. He says he uses his hearing aids to listen for loud noises and keeps his eyes on the road at all times.
When asked what the best part of his training was, Davis said, “All.”
Davis added that one of his teachers even learned basic sign language to teach him more easily.
Sutton said, “This was a long process but it was well worth the wait. I am so proud of this young man. He has set the tone for other deaf individuals who are interested in becoming truck drivers.”
Denson added, “Bryon was very receptive to the teaching from the instructors and had a great attitude. It was a great effort from the interpreters and the staff at KLLM and Hinds Community College to accomplish the overall goal of Byron being successful.”
After Davis completed the KLLM Driving Academy, the company hired him.
Denson said, “Here at KLLM, we are an equal opportunity employer. One thing we strive for is to help each individual have a successful career. Byron’s responsibility as a solo driver is to deliver loads safely and on time, communicate with dispatch, keep logs current and accurate and make sure refrigerated unit is working properly.”
Since the first week of this September, Davis has driven in every direction all over the United States, earning as many miles as possible to support his family back home in Mississippi.
“I collect 3,500 to 4,000 miles per route,” Davis said. “Golden if I ask dispatchers for more miles. I lease purchased my own tractors so I also provide unloading, load and drop and hook-do jobs.”
Davis is grateful for the opportunity to build a successful career, and he is determined to one day own a truck.
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