‘Rise Above’ helps tell tale of Tuskegee Air­men

Daily Southtown - - WEEKEND - By Jessi Vir­tu­sio Jessi Vir­tu­sio is a free­lancer for the Daily Southtown.

One way to honor Vet­er­ans Day is to learn more about the Tuskegee Air­men, Amer­ica’s first black mil­i­tary pi­lots and their sup­port per­son­nel.

Min­nesota-based Com­mem­o­ra­tive Air Force Red Tail Squadron worked with Prairie State Col­lege in Chicago Heights, the vil­lage of Rich­ton Park and Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars Post 311 in Rich­ton Park to bring the “Rise Above” trav­el­ing ex­hibit to the area.

The group has part­nered with schools and com­mu­nity cen­ters as well as cor­po­rate en­ti­ties and vet­er­ans-cen­tered groups, said Bill Shep­ard, vice pres­i­dent of ed­u­ca­tion, via phone while run­ning er­rands in Canada where he lives.

“We do about 35 to 40 shows or events per sea­son, which would equate to 38,000 to 45,000 each year over the last eight years who have ex­pe­ri­enced the story of the Tuskegee Air­men. We of­ten go out of the coun­try to Canada as well as across the United States.”

The “Rise Above” trav­el­ing ex­hibit vis­its Rich­ton Park Com­mu­nity Cen­ter Nov. 9-11 and Prairie State Col­lege in Chicago Heights Nov. 13-14. In ad­di­tion to pub­lic hours, schools may visit from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Nov. 9 in Rich­ton Park and Nov. 13-14 in Chicago Heights.

“What is fea­tured is a unique, one-of-a-kind panoramic movie talk­ing about the Tuskegee Air­men and the legacy that they left be­hind to rise above the sit­u­a­tion they found them­selves in in the 1940s,” Shep­ard said.

“It’s re­ally the story of their tenac­ity and how they were able to ac­com­plish chang­ing so­ci­ety to al­low them to fight for the coun­try, like any Amer­i­can. We want to bring that story for­ward.”

The ex­hibit is a mo­bile theater screen­ing the orig­i­nal short movie “Rise Above” by Emmy Award­win­ning film­maker and avi­a­tion cin­ema spe­cial­ist Adam White, of Hem­lock Films, and fea­tur­ing views of the P-51C Mus­tang, the sig­na­ture air­craft of the Tuskegee Air­men in World War II.

“What is iconic about that air­craft is it was the fastest pro­duc­tion of air­craft to ever come to fruition,” said Shep­ard, a Red Tail Squadron leader who is one of the P-51C Mus­tang pi­lots.

“To this day 70-some years later, it’s still one of the most sought-af­ter air­craft that peo­ple have a love for.

“The air­craft was at a chang­ing point of the war. It was a time when we were able to take the fight to our foe and go to an ag­gres­sive po­si­tion rather than de­fen­sive. What I en­joy most about fly­ing it is con­nect­ing to his­tory,” he said.

“I of­ten sit back and imag­ine a young 18- to 22-year-old Tuskegee Air­man flew the same type of plane across the coun­try. The air­craft is a time ma­chine to take me back to what young men were able to do at a time when they weren’t wel­come to do it. That gives me strength to do what I need to do.”

Shep­ard, who works out of

‘Rise Above’ trav­el­ing ex­hibit

Com­mem­o­ra­tive Air Force’s Dal­las head­quar­ters, said he en­joys see­ing the im­pact the “Rise Above” trav­el­ing ex­hibit has on chil­dren and how it teaches about the Tuskegee Air­men be­ing re­al­life heroes.

“We want to bring all those sto­ries to life through telling the story of the Tuskegee Air­men who lived by the prin­ci­ples that CAF Red Tail Squadron cel­e­brates: ‘Aim high, be­lieve in your­self, use your brain, be ready to go, never quit and ex­pect to win,’” he said.

COM­MEM­O­RA­TIVE AIR FORCE RED TAIL SQUADRON

The “Rise Above” Trav­el­ing Ex­hibit fea­tures a 160-de­gree panoramic screen that cre­ates the feel­ing of be­ing in the cock­pit of a P-51C Mus­tang, the sig­na­ture air­craft of the Tuskegee Air­men.

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