Profile - The CAF Red Tail Project

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South St. Paul, MN, United States
The mission of the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) Red Tail Squadron is to preserve and share the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military pilots. The Airmen served with distinction during WWII (and beyond). They overcame racism on the ground to fight fascism in the air, fighting for a country that turned a blind eye to policies and a large population that discriminated against these men and their families because of the color of their skin. The CAF Red Tail Squadron restored and flies a red-tailed P-51C Mustang such as the Airmen flew during WWII. The airplane appears at air shows in North America and at each stop her crew tells the story of the Airmen and how through persistence and courage they overcame huge obstacles in order to serve in the military. In 2011, the CAF Red Tail Squadron developed a traveling exhibit called "RISE ABOVE" to educate people - especially young people - about the Airmen and how they demonstrated the importance of setting goals and overcoming obstacles in order to succeed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

If It's March, We Must Be In Florida

     The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is in Florida this month and into April.  Yesterday and today it’s at Simpson Park in Lakeland, Florida so school and youth groups and the public can stop by. Next week, it will be at Daisy Stocking Park (isn’t that the best name for a park ever?) in Daytona Beach Tuesday through Thursday to do educational outreach. Then it will move on to New Smyrna Beach for the Balloon and Sky Fest on the weekend; the Mustang will also be there.
     The Traveling Exhibit’s appearance at Daisy Stocking Park is going to be sponsored in part by the Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Preservation Institute out of Daytona Beach.  That sponsorship opens up a history story all by itself:
     In 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune opened a small school for girls of color called the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona.   
Mary McLeod Bethune
     The first year she had six students – one of whom was her young son, Albert who was, of course, not a girl but she felt he deserved the chance to learn, too.  By 1910, the school had 102 students and by 1920 there were 351 students.  In the beginning, the curriculum was focused on practical courses such as home economics, cooking, dressmaking and other skills that could help young black women earn a living. 
     Soon higher education courses were added. The school was renamed the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute and in 1923 it merged with the Cookman Institute for Men out of Jacksonville, Florida.  The school was now a co-ed high school.  By 1931, the school had evolved into a junior college and changed its name once again, this time to Bethune-Cookman College.  In 1941, it became a four-year college and in 1942, Dr. Bethune retired as president of the institution. The final name change occurred in 2007 when it became Bethune-Cookman University or “BCU” for short.
     As she guided the school from its one-room beginning to a well-known school and then a respected college for young black people, Mrs. Bethune was constantly asking local institutions and individuals for financial support.  It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but she was completely focused on the difference that that money could make in the lives of young people, which gave her the passion to do the asking. 
     When we at the Squadron approach potential sponsors and donors or send out direct mail letters asking for money to help fund the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the red-tailed Mustang named “Tuskegee Airmen,” it’s not our favorite thing to do, but we’re totally focused on how those funds can make a difference in someone’s life which helps steel our resolve to continue to ask.  Each young member of a school or youth group that sees the “Rise Above” movie in the Traveling Exhibit receives a free inspirational dog tag.   
     No one is ever charged admission to see the movie and anyone is welcome to hang out near the Mustang if it is parked close by. We want the “Rise Above” educational experience to be up close and personal for all of our guests, but that costs money that we have to find since our guests pay nothing.  So… if you’re looking for a way to share a portion of your 2011 tax refund with a really good volunteer-driven non-profit program, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the CAF Red Tail Squadron. 

     Here's a link to a story that a local Daytona Beach newspaper published regarding the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang coming to town.  It features a good picture of the Squadron's leader, Brad Lang, as well as one of Marvona Welsh, the woman who just about single-handedly weaves together the details of the Squadron's tour from city to city for 42 weeks of the year.   Marvona typically stays in the background but I'm of the opinion that every once in a while a hard-working team member should get a shout-out and this is hers (for March...). 

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit

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