(8/8/15) The Chicago Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen was very happy to participate in the 86th Annual Bud Billiken Parade as an Honorary Grand Marshall. Taking part in events such as this are in keeping with our mission as a nonprofit organization charged with preserving the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and promoting postsecondary education and careers in the aerospace industry for interested youth. It is an excellent opportunity to let parents, educators, and students know who we are, what we do, and why.
As I’ve heard Col Eugene Scott, Marc Sengstacke and others say many times, the Bud Billiken Parade is a time for families and friends to come together in celebration. A time to celebrate our community, an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful summer day in Chicago, and a mechanism to remind children, teens and their parents about the importance of returning to and staying in school.
This is the same message the Tuskegee Airmen deliver when we visit schools. We tell students, dreams fuel your imagination, and your imagination allows you to picture a reality different than the one you are currently living. Imagination helps you to believe in possibilities that you didn’t think existed. And then, like the Tuskegee Airmen did almost 75 years ago, perseverance and discipline help you change those dreams into goals by making plan to achieve your objectives, and then sticking to it.
So while our float made its way down the parade route, I would periodically hop off after spying a group of youngsters in the company of an adult. I’d run over and ask, “Have you ever heard of the Tuskegee Airmen?” “Did you now that they were America’s first black military aviators?” Did you know that their accomplishments helped to pave the way for the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948?” I’d tell them,“that happened before Rosa Parks stood up by sitting down, and before Martin Luther King, Jr. and others wrote other pages in your history books.” I could tell from their eyes that I had their attention, so I continued, and pointing to the Tuskegee Airmen emblem on my shirt I said, “these men AND women, helped to make it possible for me to become an officer in the United States Air Force. They paved the way for my generation to have the career that I wanted and now we want to help do the same thing for youngsters like you.” I’d then take off to catch up with our float with an admonition to the nearby adults, “I’M A RETIRED LT COL., LOOK US UP ON THE WEB AND MAKE SURE THESE KIDS KNOW THEIR HISTORY. THAT’S AN ORDER!” And either I did a good job in selecting receptive audiences or there is an as yet unfulfilled desire to in our community to know that there are those who care, a desire to know that there is hope, and an affirmation that the lives and futures of our children matter.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, reach out us on Facebook or through our website at www.taichicago.org.
Vincent E. Saunders, III, Lt Col (Ret) ILANG
V.P., Chicago Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc