Thursday, March 29, 2007

Beyond FINESSE: The Tuskegee Airmen

My husband’s parents married in 1964, when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states. For this reason, I rate pioneers in racial integration high on my list of heroes. Since my husband’s parents also lived for many years on Air Force bases in the U.S. and abroad, I also appreciate those who contributed to the early integration of the military. By the 1960s, it was fairly common to see mixed-race families in the military and from what I’ve heard, my in-laws experienced very little prejudice during their years on American bases.

The Tuskegee Airmen were among the first pioneers of racial integration in the U.S. military. Since they happened to be pilots like my dad, they rank way up there among my personal favorite figures in American history. I guess that’s why I’d have loved to have been at today’s ceremony in which more than 300 Tuskegee Airmen and widows of deceased Airmen were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. A New York Sun editorial points out that President Bush and some of his harshest critics were scheduled to preside at the ceremony at the Capitol, “for a cause so just that it bridges partisan divides.”

The resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen is quoted in the Sun editorial as stating, in part:

“In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt overruled his top generals and ordered the creation of an all-Black flight training program. Due to the rigid system of racial segregation that prevailed in the United States during World War II, Black military pilots were trained at a separate airfield built near Tuskegee, Alabama. They became known as the ‘Tuskegee Airmen.’ The Tuskegee Airmen inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces, paving the way for full racial integration in the Armed Forces. They overcame the enormous challenges of prejudice and discrimination, succeeding despite obstacles that threatened failure.”

Every description I’ve read about the Airmen states that they “flew with distinction” during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen boasted more than 400 pilots who were deployed overseas, with 150 who lost their lives in training or combat. Despite an established reputation bolstered by the award of multiple Presidential Unit Citations, numerous Silver Stars, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, and more than 700 Air Medals, the Tuskegee Airmen continued to battle racism when they returned home after the war.

But that only made them more determined to succeed. Two Tuskegee Airmen—Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and Daniel “Chappie” James—eventually became the first African-American four-star generals.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Beyond FUN: The Safe Side

Children are abducted and abused and worse. It’s a terrifying reality. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 2,000 (!) children are reported missing every day. So consider this a non-diversity, non-tolerance, sit-up-and-take-notice public safety announcement for grandparents, parents, guardians, aunts uncles babysitters teachers… anyone who cares for or about a child.

The Safe Side, a unique supporter of the NCMEC, publishes materials for home and school use designed to help keep kids safe. Founders Julie Clark (also founder of the Baby Einstein Company) and John Walsh (host of America’s Most Wanted) have teamed up to provide a line of products that promote safety awareness among children. My girls’ favorite is their Stranger Safety DVD starring the very hip, kid-friendly (but still a kinda-know!), and fall-down funny Safe Side Superchick, actress and filmmaker Angela Shelton. The video teaches safety tips that kids can immediately put into action, like not answering the door alone. My girls also love practicing the “This is not my mom! This is not my dad!” yell. And after watching the video they seem to take even more time to carefully assess strangers. (“Are they a don’t-know or a kinda-know? Hmmmm.”)

Only after watching the video with my kids a few times did I learn Angela Shelton has her own intense story of childhood abuse that adds incredible weight to her work as an advocate for children and women who’ve been abused. The Angela Shelton Foundation provides financial assistance to organizations and projects dedicated to helping survivors of abuse “heal and lead joyful lives.” According to its website, the foundation “was born out of the on-going and remarkable response to the documentary, Searching for Angela Shelton. With the intent of humorously surveying women in America, Angela Shelton drove around the country to meet other Angela Sheltons. She discovered that 70% of the 40 Angelas she spoke to had been victims of rape, childhood sexual abuse or domestic violence, herself included.”

That was just the beginning of filmmaker and actress (and model and public speaker and writer) Angela Shelton’s new life. Through her foundation, presentations, and blog, she reaches out to women like herself who’ve endured atrocities and are struggling to overcome them so they can “lead joyful lives.” And as Safe Side Superchick, she helps kids stay safe in a fun, joyful way, too.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Beyond FACTS: A Monday Mixed-Bag

Thanks again to Matt at Empathy for his March 5 post, “A Promise,” and for this terrific photo. The post tells the bittersweet story of an Iraqi boy, an American GI who cared enough to make a huge difference, and a grieving widow who was determined to make her husband’s dream come true. Good things do happen; now if we could just help the thousands of Iraqi children displaced, traumatized, and permanently injured in so many ways since April 2003. Listening to Amnesty International might be a good place to start. According to the February 14 press release “Amnesty International USA Urges United States to Provide More Assistance to Refugees”:

“Nearly 2 million people are fleeing Iraq in what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres recently called a ‘humanitarian disaster.’ According to Guterres, there are more than 1.7 million Iraqis internally displaced, including some 500,000 who have been displaced since the bombing of a Shi’a holy shrine in the city of Samarra in February 2006. Since 2003, up to 2 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Of these, some 700,000 currently reside in Jordan and approximately 1 million reside in Syria.

“Many of the Iraqis fleeing the country are members of vulnerable populations, such as religious minorities, or now have affiliations with the U.S. government that put them in danger inside Iraq. If such people are not allowed to seek safety, they remain in genuine danger of persecution. As a leading member of the Multinational Force (MNF), the United States must do everything in its power to ensure that durable protection is afforded to Iraqi refugees as well as to the 1.7 million internally displaced people inside Iraq.

“‘United States policy and military action contributed to the dreadful situation that now prevails in Iraq, yet the United States has resettled fewer than 500 Iraqis displaced as a result of the war,’ said Sarnata Reynolds, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) refugee program director. ‘While AIUSA applauds (the) establishment of an Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force and acknowledges (the) commitment to resettle 7,000 Iraqi refugees during the coming year, many more people need help. The United Nations estimates that 40,000 to 50,000 people flee Iraq each month—where will they go?’”

Also thanks to PublishersMarketplace for this link to a San Francisco Chronicle article, “Largest library closure in U.S. looms.” I love that kids are finding a voice as they protest the threatened closures to their beloved libraries, and despair that federal cuts of so many worthy programs have occurred under the radar in the past few years. People in urban and rural areas suffer most from such cuts, while those of us in the isolated suburbs rarely feel their effects. “Something screwy is going on,” one lady is quoted as saying in this article. Talk about an understatement.