By Reggie Paulk
Shades of Blue held its fifth annual awards dinner and fundraiser on September 7 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Denver. The Ed Dwight Jr. Award was presented in recognition of the accomplishments of two outstanding men: Barrington Irving, the first person of African descent ever to fly solo around the world, as well as the youngest person to do so; and Lt. Victor Glover, a recent graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School. Alan Godman, a Denver-area high school science teacher, was also honored, as educator and teacher of the year. President Willie Daniels II presided over the event and Channel 4’s Dave Aguilera emceed.
Shades of Blue is the brainchild of Capt. Willie Daniels II. The mission of the nonprofit is to “provide young people with the educational opportunities, training and employment assistance needed to pursue careers in the aviation and aerospace industries, and to assist educators with the development of curricula that will prepare students for careers in those industries.” The organization backs up the mission statement with action.
Many in the aviation industry know how difficult it is to become a pilot for a major airline. Often, a pilot who meets educational and experience requirements is stifled because they don’t have the proper industry contacts. If becoming an airline pilot seems difficult, imagine the rigors an aspiring astronaut must endure to earn that coveted title. In addition to an advanced degree, an astronaut must possess certain other credentials, such as those earned at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. Even then, the road to Kennedy and Houston is a long and arduous one. With far fewer slots available than aspirants to fill them, becoming an astronaut is a highly political process that is challenging under the best of circumstances. Inevitably, the adage, “It’s not what you know, but who,” comes to mind. Shades of Blue provides the “who.”
A quick glance at the board of directors roster reveals a group of people with ties to the highest levels of aerospace organizations. From graduates of the Air Force Academy, to pilots and vice presidents of major airlines, Shades of Blue has within its ranks highly educated and credentialed people who have dedicated themselves to helping our youth fulfill their aerospace dreams. And these resources are easily obtainable by students and educators alike.
Shades of Blue reaches out to youth to find those who may be interested in a career in the aerospace industry. Students who become members are fostered and encouraged throughout their educational careers, so they may obtain their ultimate goals.
“We’re making a life commitment with these young folks, and I think that’s pretty significant,” Daniels said during his introductory speech.
The designer of the award bearing his name was among the honored guests. President John F. Kennedy handpicked Ed Dwight Jr. as the first African-American astronaut appointee. The renowned sculpture received a commission to create the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial, which will be installed between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Attendees included Col. Guion S. Bluford Jr., a veteran of four shuttle flights totaling 688 hours in space, and Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., who served as a pilot on two shuttle missions and mission commander on two others, for a total of 680 hours in orbit. Bolden assisted in the Hubble Telescope deployment and was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2006.
Guest of honor Cheryl McNair serves as a founding director for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, founded by the seven Challenger family members in order to continue the crew’s mission. Her husband, Dr. Ron McNair, was aboard the space shuttle the day it was lost.
Barrington Irving, a soft-spoken 23-year-old, silenced the room as he described the monumental task of obtaining sponsorship for his round-the-world flight.
“I wish I had this many people around me at your age,” Irving said, as he addressed the young people in the audience.
An airline pilot approached Irving when he was the impressionable age of 16, and asked if he had considered becoming a pilot. Up to that point, the thought had never occurred, but after talking with the pilot, Irving’s life goals changed. He became a pilot and eventually decided he was going to fly around the world.
“A lot of people said I couldn’t do it,” Irving said. “But there’s always that one person that will give you the time.”
Irving faced many hurdles. The first was the cost of the airplane. Half a million dollars proved too large a sum for sponsors. When he couldn’t get a sponsor, people asked what he would do next.
“I’ll do individual pieces,” was his response. “But it wasn’t easy. Many people laughed at me, but I got some seats. People stopped laughing when I got the engine.”
It took Barrington Irving 97 days to fly solo around the world. Listening to him speak, it was evident that the biggest challenges he overcame were the years leading up to his flight.
“I started off with nothing, so if I lost everything, I wouldn’t lose anything,” Irving said.
His drive and determination were evident as he encouraged the young people in the audience, and his message was clear.
“Young people have to realize their dreams,” he said.
Lt. Victor Glover
At 31, Lt. Victor Glover is the oldest student member of Shades of Blue, but one of the most accomplished. Glover recently graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School. As a naval pilot flying F/A-18s, he conducted more than 120 carrier landings. He’s currently a weapons test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base and aspires to fly in space.
His message was direct.
“Your parents love you, guide you and care for you,” he said. “Teachers have the awesome responsibility of trying to challenge you and inspire you. But you have to be relentless about going out there and getting your dreams to become a reality. I want you to remember how important the ‘you’ aspect is in all this.”
Before Daniels turned over the podium to Alan Godman, he stressed the importance our educators play by relaying how the Japanese view their teachers.
“They place their educators up on a pedestal with all of the doctors and lawyers and their peers,” he said. “They consider these individuals to be the bearers and passers of knowledge.”
Godman has mentored students in colleges such as Embry-Riddle, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. He teaches a two-semester aeronautics course that immerses students in the theory and practice of aeronautical basics. From airfoils to flight planning, he exposes his students to elements of aviation that motivate and inspire the next generation of aerospace professionals.
“Shades of Blue provides an avenue that is possibly unmatched in education, by supporting research and providing funds,” said Godman. “The opportunity provides an interest to kids who’ve always wanted to fly. It’s an honor to be recognized by a group of professionals such as this. It’s something I’ll always cherish.”
Beyond praising the accomplishments of students and teachers alike, this year’s Shades of Blue award dinner and fundraiser also honored its corporate sponsors, without which the organization’s accomplishments wouldn’t be possible. Jeppesen, Raytheon and the Space Foundation received corporate leadership awards in recognition of their valuable contributions.
For more information, visit [http://www.ourshadesofblue.org].