Last month, CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and CAF Vice President of Education Bill Shepard hit the road for Kansas City, Missouri, near where he was born in Lawrence, Kansas. Students at George Melcher Elementary School, in the heart of Kansas City, were treated to some pretty exciting, and inspirational, activities. Shepard was particularly eager to bring the message of the Tuskegee Airmen back to an area used to call home, and infuse a local school in need with this important piece of history.
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. Along with visiting the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, these 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 leaders and members of Friendship Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri set out last fall on a “Power of Positive Change” campaign for Melcher Elementary School. Since the beginning of the school year, they have been a regular presence at the school, organizing programs to meet the needs of students. Their efforts were based around the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s Six Guiding Principles, based on the life lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen. Bringing the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to the school was the pinnacle of their work at the school this academic year.
“The CAF was able to bring something these kids 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 CAF Red Tail Squadron and CAF headquarters’ education team also collaborated with two local groups to make an even bigger impact for this important audience. Members of the Kansas City chapter of Black Pilots of America, Inc. and the CAF Heart of America Wing, based in New Century, Kansas, were on hand to guide the students and share their perspectives.
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.
Actor Willie Minor, of the HBO original film “Tuskegee Airmen,” 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”!
“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’s visit to Melcher Elementary was made possible by the Trice Education Resources, Inc., Bob Sight, Inc. Dealership and Adams Point Conference Center. The organization of the event was made possible through a partnership with Friendship Baptist Church’s Adopt-A-School Ministry.
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.