Riding the Wings of their Red Tail Flying Program

By Jennifer L. Warren

BEACON – Aaron and Michael Perez could intensely feel the full circle, nostalgic, rewarding vibes of returning to “family” a few months ago when they attended the Annual Tuskegee Red Tail Flying Program’s Annual Scholarship Dinner in Wappingers Falls. It was an event the brothers deeply desired to be a part of, as its program- and mentors- forged an indelible, priceless mark on both of their lives.

“The Flying Program taught me how to dream; it literally taught me how to fly, broke my perceptions of what could be possible as the son of Peruvian immigrants;” explained the Beacon High School graduate and now 30 year old Aaron. “Colonel Fraser (Glenn) and all the mentors from the program reminded me each week during the school year to work hard, be inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, and give it my all.”

Aaron and Michael Perez at the 26th Annual Tuition Assistance Awards Celebration of the Major General Irene Trowell-Harris Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen on Saturday, February 3, 2024. Hudson Valley Press/CHUCK STEWART, JR.
Aaron and Michael Perez at the 26th Annual Tuition Assistance Awards Celebration of the Major General Irene Trowell-Harris Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen on Saturday, February 3, 2024. Hudson Valley Press/CHUCK STEWART, JR.

Aaron diligently followed that course, which steered him toward pursuing his dream to study electrical engineering, earning an elite selection for an advanced study summer program, the MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science) at M.I.T. It was here he learned about the highly competitive, fully funded for undergraduate studies Gates Millennium Scholarship (the birth child of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), requiring a 3.36 GPA, deftly crafted essay and consistent volunteer community involvement, which was awarded to a select 1,000 students out of 50,000 applicants. “A last dollar scholarship to enable high potential, low income minority students who excel at coursework and continue to be leaders,” the huge financial assist was exactly what Aaron was seeking to help offset collegiate financial burdens to his parents.

With the unwavering guidance of, as well as shining recommendation letter provided by Fraser, support of his Red Tail Family, and potent essay about his Red Tails journey and transformative life lessons it instilled, Aaron landed the elusive Gates Scholarship, bringing tears of pride to both his parents’ eyes. He also earned admittance into both MIT and Harvard, selecting the latter for its more well-rounded offerings and “less familiar path.”

Reflecting upon those early Red Tail seeds and the catalyst confidence they created to apply for the Gates Scholarship, Aaron is filled with gratitude as well as some profound advice to those who are in a similar adolescent crossroads he was.

“I didn’t know a lot about each next step, but knew what resources I had, who I could ask for help, and what I could and needed to do in the step I was in,” recalled Aaron, who earned that dream engineering degree, but ended up working as an investment banker and machine learning product manager, received his M.B.A., and is now looking toward helping create a more sustainable future through technology for the agricultural sector. “I worked hard, and I was resourceful because I saw the example of my parents who worked hard in house cleaning and janitorial services, and I had mentors pushing me to believe in myself.”

Aaron himself was a mentor while he was immersed in passionately carving those very paths to create his own goals and lofty envisioned future. His younger brother Michael, at 14 years old, was keenly observing his “big brother,” 15 year old Aaron chasing his dreams, and after being asked what his post-high school plans were and not having a definitive answer to provide, was incited to Google top colleges, printing out the one that appeared first, Harvard, positioning the logo on his desk, eying it daily. That visual reminder, along with a 4.0 average at Beacon High School as well as a host of community involvement, resulted in an esteemed Harvard acceptance; soon after, he too heard about the incredible specifics of the Gates Scholarship. Similar to his brother Aaron, Michael was a four year Red Tail member, who had a close relationship with Fraser, and also crafted his essay about how he was profoundly shaped by its tenure.

“Excellence will overcome obstacles is a famous quote of the Tuskegee, and it drives me to achieve; they were just so good at what they did, refused to be overlooked and achieved incredible things as a result,” said Michael, who majored in Art Film and Visual Studies at Harvard and is currently a concept designer for Ralph Lauren in New York City.

And similar to his big brother, Michael is flooded with appreciation when looking back on his evolution and the lessons he has mined, ones he too, wants to pass on to the next generation.

“Colleges want diversity; it enriches their campus, and the top-tier colleges get a lot of funding, so they do have resources to help out,” said Michael, who carries unwavering pride for his Peruvian roots and feels honored to be a part of a Scholarship Program that prioritizes breadth of one’s background, character, and involvement. “This should motivate more students in high school to apply for this Gates Scholarship and others to have more access to these amazing opportunities.”

For Michael, one of those most prized pearls was a priceless sense of belonging.

“All of the Gates Scholars get together to form a community and really bonded, making me really feel a part of Harvard,” explained Michael. “It’s nice that we all came from underrepresented communities.”

Both the Perez stories affirm: Once that foundation is secured, anything is possible.

“Each step of hard work opened doors I didn’t even know were there,” Aaron recollected about his Harvard and Gates Millennium Scholarship experience. “They were opportunities that have changed my life.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email