The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s got some really dedicated team members. It takes a small village to ensure the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is honored across the country. And it takes a very special duo to ensure the safe delivery, set-up and showing of one of our most prized educational outreach tools – the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit.
For 9 months out of the year, husband and wife team Terry and Jeanette Hollis are on the road, hauling this inspirational mobile theater not only to air shows, but LOTS of off-tarmac events, including schools, museums and community events. It’s not easy work, but the Hollis team does it seamlessly, much to the delight of the thousands of visitors that come to view the original film “Rise Above” in the panoramic theater. No one leaves without a little flutter. It’s history and excitement all wrapped together in an inspirational package that is changing hearts and minds all over the country. And this team makes sure that our guests get the most out of their RISE ABOVE Red Tail experience.
The Hollis’ are out on the road, beginning the 2016 tour of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit in Florida, but we had a chance to catch up quickly before they hitched up the trailer and hit the road. Read on for a great interview with Jeanette about how her and Terry have come to be such an integral part to the CAF Red Tail Squadron team!
What drew you to this program?
Terry grew up Alabama and I am from Mississippi, so the history of the Tuskegee Airmen played a large role in the area where we are from. We had a personal context for how important they are to our country’s history. Before the Red Tail Squadron, we were transporting the Negro Leagues Baseball Tour, part of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. When we learned about the opportunity to bring the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to communities across the country, we got really excited and knew we could bring our own touch to the program, with our experience and where we are from. The Squadron is unique in that we all really believe in the mission and are proud to be a part of it.
You’re job seems really intense. Why do you think it’s important to be on the road to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen?
It is an honor and a privilege to be associated with an organization such as the Commemorative Air Force. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen needs to be told. It is inspirational as well motivational, it gives many people a “lift in life” you might say to see the film “Rise Above” in the Traveling Exhibit. In time, we will see that the program benefits the school kids that come see it. It will show up in their life. This makes all the hard work and long hours completely worth it.
What is your typical day like?
When we visit a school, our day starts very early. We have everything ready to go before the kids arrive, which can be as early as 7:00 a.m. The generator gets started, all electronics turned on, temperature adjusted, and we test run the film. We have to do our best to ensure the visits are on schedule so we can meet the plan for the day, and that can be a real challenge if a group shows up late. We don’t want anyone to miss out on seeing the “Rise Above” movie! After the kids see the film, we have a Q & A session and hand out our inspirational dog tags so they can remember our Six Guiding Principles after they leave. It doesn’t give us any wiggle room for breaks, and the day can be a little taxing if we have public showings after the school kids are done. Usually, after 3 or 4 days at schools, we move on to an airshow, museum or whatever other event we are scheduled to be at. Here we’ll set up a booth to sell some of our merchandize for fundraising, as well as our registration kiosks for people to see the free movie. There is no shortage of something to do all the time! And in the heat of the summer, you can’t forget to keep the ice chest stocked with cold drinks… the airshow days can be long and hot!
What is your personal mission with each tour stop?
Terry and I want to make sure that everyone that comes by the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit leaves with a smile, and a grateful feeling for how the CAF is honoring the Tuskegee Airmen.
What has been one of your fondest memories on the road with the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit?
We have been able to have some really good visits with the Squadron’s P-51C Mustang pilots while we’re at events. This organization is like family, and we love them all. But certainly our greatest treasure has been the time we’ve been fortunate to spend with the original Tuskegee Airmen that have made appearances to meet with the public at the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit. To get to know them personally has been a gift.
What would you tell someone that is considering becoming a supporter of the CAF Red Tail Squadron?
Whether volunteering or making a donation, the CAF Red Tail Squadron is the best cause that we know of to support. The message delivered by the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang touches everyone in a special way. It is truly an inspirational experience. We have seen so many people leave the Traveling Exhibit too choked up to talk right then, but they always come back to say how truly wonderful the experience was. We hear words of thanks all the time. Donors that step up to support the CAF Red Tail Squadron are making a direct impact on people all across the country by sharing this remarkable story of the Tuskegee Airmen. And we really need more volunteers in many aspects of our mission. Consider participating in whatever way you can!
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.