By Clayton Moore
Just a month before America elected its first African-American president, a Denver nonprofit organization held a celebration of its admirable mission: to ensure that young men and women from all backgrounds are afforded similar opportunities to rise just as high in the fields of aviation and aerospace. Shades of Blue, originally formed by a group of United Airlines pilots in 2003, held its 6th annual awards dinner and fundraiser at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on Oct. 10, 2008.
“We thought the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, with its new Space Odyssey exhibition and planetarium, would fit very well with our theme, ‘A Peek Into the Future,'” said Shades of Blue founder Capt. Willie Daniels. “It’s an opportunity for us to show corporations, parents, kids and
school districts the opportunities that are available to them. We decided to keep the speeches to a minimum, give our guests the chance to enjoy a show and even have some dancing. It’s been a really fun, memorable event.”
The large gathering of guests was first treated to a showing of the “Cosmic Collisions” presentation, narrated by Robert Redford, at the museum’s new planetarium and a tour of “Space Odyssey,” the museum’s permanent exhibition devoted to space science and exploration. The evening also included a silent auction featuring extraordinary items like original sculptures by groundbreaking astronaut trainee and renown sculptor Edward Dwight, Jr., who also designed the awards presented throughout the evening. As he has in the past, Channel 4 meteorologist Dave Aguilera served as master of ceremonies.
Guests included students, teachers, aviation and aerospace professionals, and representatives from the organization’s corporate sponsors, such as Jeppesen, Lockheed Martin, the Space Foundation,
Raytheon and United Airlines. The organization’s educational partners were also represented—Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, Metropolitan State College of Denver and Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
Awards for corporate support of Shades of Blue’s mission were given to the Jeppesen Company (accepted by company COO Capt. Brad Thomann), and to Lockheed Martin Corporation, which was designated the organization’s Corporate Sponsor of the Year for their financial and organizational backing and for their extensive range of student programs.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with Shades of Blue to ensure that we have employees in the future,” said Joy Knight, community relations director for Lockheed Martin, who accepted the award on behalf of her company.
The evening’s first individual recipient of the Shades of Blue Award was Capt. Rick McCullough, who received special recognition for his contributions to aviation safety. As chairman of the event review committee of United Airlines, McCullough was responsible for a safety analysis program that eventually led to the FAA’s adoption of the Flight Safety Awareness Program (FSAP), which tracks data on operational incidents across the industry.
“Capt. Rick McCullough deserves this acknowledgment,” Daniels said. “He was the fleet manager for the Boeing 727, 777 and 747 at United and eventually became the first African-American chief pilot, a role in which he still serves today.”
In his remarks, McCullough stressed the importance of teamwork to the success of both aviation and business efforts.
“The days of the Lone Ranger going off by himself to get things done are over,” he said. “The only way to truly succeed these days is to submerge into a group and accomplish success together.”
The Shades of Blue Teacher of the Year for 2008, Jenna Fleur Lin, has a lot of experience partnering with Shades of Blue. She helped organize this past summer’s Mathstronauts Math and Science Camp at Church of the City in Denver, which brought together more than 200 area students with aviation professionals from Shades of Blue as well as Tuskegee Airmen Fitzroy “Buck” Newsum and James E. Harrison.
Using her background in education and her master’s degree in applied mathematics, she founded Math Pioneers, a program designed to help students and teachers gain a greater love and
appreciation for math and science. During her brief remarks, she described a field trip during which her students got to see how exciting it could be to pursue a career in aviation.
“These kids really wanted to work on this project,” she said. “They were asking, ‘What do we have to study? What classes do we have to take?'” She recalled that one student from a troubled background, whose brothers had been involved in gang activity, had been so inspired by the idea of a career in aviation that he eventually became the shining star of the class.
Daniels and his dedicated board of directors are also seeing the fruits of their efforts. Because the organization has now existed for more than five years, its leaders are seeing the first generation of
Shades of Blue students graduating and entering the workforce.
“It’s amazing to see the kids reaching for these great opportunities,” Daniels said. “One young lady graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree and has hired on with the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Barrington Irving, one of our student members, made a groundbreaking solo flight around the world. Another young man went to the U.S. Air Force’s test pilot school and is now flying F-18s for the Navy. He’s even being considered for a possible astronaut position.”
Another contributor to this summer’s Mathstronauts Camp was also the final award recipient of the night, topping off the evening with a spectacular demonstration using liquid nitrogen to demonstrate the hands-on utility of scientific knowledge. Dr. Darryl Lee Baynes founded Minority
Aviation Education Association, Inc. (MAEA), the largest science and math outreach company in the country owned and operated by African-Americans. His previous experience includes terms as the aerospace education officer for the Civil Air Patrol and as a teacher and aviation consultant for NASA’s Teacher Resource Center.
“They made me promise not to blow stuff up. I told them I don’t do it all the time,” Baynes joked to a crowd enthralled by his simple but dramatic scientific demonstrations, which included several nervous Air Force Academy cadets recruited to serve as the “Science Man’s” assistants. He noted that it’s often the most basic ideas that turn out to be most useful, citing that modern powdered baby diapers originated with tools designed for Mercury Astronauts.
“We take simple ideas and expand them,” Baynes said.
Daniels and the Shades of Blue board of directors then took the stage to thank all the sponsors and participants in their many educational ventures, and also to give a special award to board member Robert E. Meyer, one of Daniels’ fellow United Airline pilots and one of the driving forces behind Shades of Blue.
The evening was capped off with a performance by a jazz band led by Dr. Glora Nelson, the state director of the MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) program. It was a moving evening for Shades of Blue’s founder, who was surprised when his mother invited all of Daniel’s siblings to fly to Denver for the event.
“I tell you, it’s actually getting kind of scary how this program has taken on a life of its own,” Daniels said. “Things are really moving, and we’re getting a lot of work done with the help of our corporate partners and volunteers. We have over 300 kids in the pipeline now. The greatest thing is that we’re seeing so much success with the kids graduating and landing some really well-paying opportunities. It’s amazing what you can make happen when you bring the right people with you.”
For more information about Shades of Blue, visit [http://www.ourshadesofblue.org].