By Jennifer L. Warren
NEW WINDSOR – Glen Fraser was feeling goose bumps all over, while trying to contain his emotions, but tearing up, as he looked out to the six young men and women about to officially become pilots.
“What didn’t make sense, made sense to me,” said Fraser, Founder, Board President of the Lee Archer Red Tail Youth Flying Program. “I’m overwhelmed with emotion today and just so grateful that this is not just a one year program but something that has aspirations to become much bigger and better.”
The vision that Fraser was detailing was the full realization of the first-ever Redtail Flight Academy, along with its inaugural six member graduation class. A non-profit 501 C (3) program of the Lee A. Archer Jr. Red Tail Flying Program, the Academy honors the legacy and deep traditions of the Tuskegee Airmen, while serving as a direct link to career opportunities for underrepresented people of color using aviation as an aspirational platform to recruit, develop, expose and place underrepresented talent –with a focus on candidates of color in honor of Tuskegee Airmen.
Saturday, at Stewart International Airport, a select six member group of initially virtually zero flying experienced young men and women, hailing from different parts of the country, became the first graduating class from the Red Tail Flight Academy. Logging extensive flying hours on Piper 100 i “red-tailed” aircraft, along with an assortment of other challenging requirements for 10 months, the 2021-2022 inaugural class, having earned multi-engine commercial pilot licenses with an instrument rating, will now move on to internships at various aviation settings, where they can directly apply their pilot prowess. It’s a journey and responsibility none of them take lightly.
“It’s not easy being a part of this program, but it’s very worth it, and a mission that we all must keep alive,” said graduate Traye Jackson of Denver, Colorado. “The legacy of the Tuskegee will live on through us all.”
That very much living spirit was on hand Saturday, as two original Tuskegee Airmen were in attendance: Lieutenant Herbert Thorpe and Lieutenant Colonel Enoch Woodhouse, both Medal of Honor recipients. Their symbolic presence was potent, as it marked the 80th Anniversary of the first class of eight Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTA) students from across the United Sates and the Virgin Islands. The merging of both the first RedTail Class with the eight decade Anniversary was priceless on multiple levels. Both honored guests proudly sat on the front stage, where they were interviewed, offering wisdom to the graduates.
“You have to destroy myths that you can’t do things,” affirmed the 95 year young Woodhouse, who relayed tales of racism and other obstacles he and his other aviator friends faced and overcame. “All I wanted to do was become a pilot; in life, no matter what, be the best that you can be.”
Thorpe, 99 years young, spoke of his younger brother, also a Tuskegee Airman, who lost his life early on in his military career. The story served as an inspirational message to the graduating class about making the very most of your opportunities.
Adding to that theme of being the very best one can, was Glenn Gonzalez, Founder, Jetit (a disruptor in the private transportation industry), and the Keynote Speaker.
“Congratulations to each one of you for being part of the future, but be aware that the future changes and to be prepared for that,” Gonzalez reminded graduates. “You are creating a liftoff with acceleration by being involved, and leaning in causes the disruption; be a part of it.”
In addition to Jackson, other members of the Class included; Mya Coley (Chicago, IL), Calvin Frederick (Homestead, FL), Jasmine Frederick (Homestead, FL), Anthony Gilbert (St. Croix) and Jarius Gordon (Orlando, FL.).