Tuskegee Airmen Chapter Elevates At-risk Youth

 - August 22, 2013, 3:00 PM

The Chicago chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen recently completed another schedule of successful summer programming aimed at steering interested and at-risk youth into aviation careers.

Chicago Tuskegee programs consist of the Legacy Flight Academy, the Educational Assistance Program (which provides scholarships) and the Youth Aviation Summer Program.

The last is sponsored in cooperation with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Lewis University, the mayor’s Safe Summer Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy initiative and other partners and serves as many as 200 students from Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, providing introductory aviation and flight and operations safety instruction; airport and aviation careers briefings; life skills counseling; and lectures on overcoming adversity, the value of education and conflict management.

In Phase I of the program, six students attend a week-long Aviation Careers Education (ACE) Academy conducted in-residence at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill. These graduates become student leaders for the two follow-on portions of the program.

During Phase II of the program, 50 students are provided a basic one-day introduction to aviation with the help of student leaders and EAA Young Eagles pilots. The program includes principles of flight, aircraft systems and controls and an introductory flight.

Phase III of the program covers airport operations. One hundred students attend a week-long airports operations seminar at Chicago O’Hare Airport.

Ken Rapier, Chicago chapter president of the Tuskegee Airmen, said the chapter also operates a Young Eagles program every other Saturday, in cooperation with the EAA, that has generated “quite a number of successes,” producing aviation mechanics, administrators and pilots, including USAF Academy graduate and F-16 pilot Capt. Kenyatta Ruffin. Ruffin subsequently created the idea for the Legacy Flight Academy, which takes a handful of promising students through flight training up to first solo. The Educational Assistance Program, begun in 2004, has distributed ninety $1,000 scholarships gleaned from donations and fundraisers. All funds raised are distributed in the year they are raised.

“Most of our students come from the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area,” Rapier said, adding that his chapter also steered interested children to Chicago’s Air Force Academy High School. The Chicago Tuskegee Airmen chapter has approximately 80 members, according to Rapier.