In April, several CAF units hit the road for Kansas City, Missouri to bring their message to a school that was especially in need of the kind of inspiration only CAF can provide. The team effort included Vice President of Education Bill Shepard and members of the new Red Bird Squadron, Heart of America Wing and Red Tail Squadron. Shepard was particularly eager to bring the program back to an area he used to call home, and infuse a local school in need with this important piece of history.
Leaders and volunteers from Friendship Baptist Church set out last fall on a “Power of Positive Change” campaign for George Melcher Elementary, organizing programs to help improve the overall culture of the school. Their efforts were based around the Red Tail Squadron’s Six Guiding Principles, based on the life lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen. The CAF’s special event was the pinnacle of the church’s work at the school this academic year.
Dr. Merlyne Starr, longtime supporter of the Red Tail Squadron and volunteer at Friendship Baptist Church, is credited with the idea behind the campaign, building it upon the Six Guiding Principles and inviting the CAF to participate in the final event.
What better way to educate and inspire students to rise above their own obstacles, just like the Tuskegee Airmen, than to bring the excitement of aviation direct to their doorstep! Students were treated to attention-grabbing activities like CAF’s interactive C-47 That’s All Brother cockpit simulator. Stepping inside, students got a sense of what it’s like to be in command of a real cockpit, in an aircraft that led the Allies in the invasion of Normandy. The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit’s mobile panoramic movie theater gave them the sights and sounds of the Tuskegee Airmen and their aircraft.
“CAF units worked together to expose these kids to something they have never seen before and most likely would not have access to,” said Shepard. “Melcher Elementary is a school with some of the greatest challenges, and it was an honor to partner with the volunteers of Friendship Baptist Church and support their program to help change the culture and future of this school. We both believe in the power of the Tuskegee Airmen to inspire students to rise above their own obstacles and achieve success.”
The event’s organizers were impressed not only by what CAF brought for the students, but by their dedication and enthusiasm.
“The CAF volunteers and staff had a wonderful attitude about working with our youth,” said Dr. Mary Long, co-chair of the Positive Change Campaign and owner of the Kansas City-based Diversified Leadership International. “They were so friendly and focused on their interactions with the children. We observed our students realize new goals and dreams for themselves, and change their way of thinking.”
Melcher students rotated through six unique stations designed to emphasize the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen, including CAF’s new “Flight Plan for Life” activity. Based on the premise that every pilot needs to have a well organized and thought out plan in order to have a successful mission, so does a young person. This goal-setting activity helped the students create a path to success while articulating their life goals.
“Our Wing understands the need and importance of educational outreach, and the opportunity to be involved in this event fit perfectly with that,” said Jarrett Bertoncin, PIO and Safety Officer for the Heart of America Wing. “We are building out our own education program, and working on follow-up plans at the school. We’re hopeful to tie in the Air Power History Tour with these students and the Rise Above message.”
Actor Willie Minor, of the HBO original film “Tuskegee Airmen,” also made a special appearance and brought another rousing element to the event. He gave the kids a fantastic real-life message about being a “champ or a chump”…. and the only difference is “u”! Members of the Kansas City chapter of the Black Pilots of America were also on hand to guide the students and share their perspectives.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to share how the Tuskegee Airmen have shaped American history,” said Melcher Elementary Principal Patricia Hayes. “The program taught valuable principles – like always believe in yourself, never quit, don’t be afraid to think – to our students in a unique, inspirational format.”
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.