In today’s 24-hour news cycle, lots of information makes it into the headlines, onto our social media platforms and eventually into our minds. Some of it is truly newsworthy some of it not so much and within seconds can fade from our conversations.
When more than a dozen African American astronauts landed in Denver in August for a historic gathering, the occasion was something to talk about. More than a month later, the news is still relevant. Achievements of this caliber don’t fade. They shine brighter and brighter with the passing of time.
Shades of Blue, Inc. held its 15th annual gala and fundraiser at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum on Aug. 29. During the evening, Black astronauts were honored and the Shades of Blue Ed Dwight, Jr. Award was presented to Nichelle Nichols, an actress, singer and recruiter for (NASA) National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“This is the first time ever all these folks were in the same room,” said Willie Daniels, president and founder of Shades of Blue, Inc., a nonprofit organization conceived and created by a group of airline pilots, educators, and business people who have an interest in aviation and aerospace and who wish to help introduce students to the career opportunities available in the field of flight. “Many have spoken to each other but they have never met each other in person.”
The event, emceed by CBS4 meteorologist Dave Aguilera, attracted more than 300 people from around the country, including Dr. Yvonne Freeman, president of the Georgia chapter of Shades of Blue, Inc.
She said it was a great success to assemble this many astronauts in one place. “This is our season to celebrate collective achievements,” said Freeman, NASA Associate Administrator from 1993 to 1996. As a member of the senior executive service, she was the highest ranking African American female in NASA in the United States.
Freeman added that Ed Dwight’s story is one of “thriving. Thriving is a whole different armor than surviving. Before his life as a fine art sculptor of large scale memorial and public art projects, Dwight was a U.S. Air Force test pilot and America’s first African American astronaut candidate, among many other entrepreneurial ventures.
It was his story and so many others lighting up conversations around the museum as the Ret. Col. Frederick Gregory delivered the keynote address, filled with rich details about the history of black pilots and astronauts in the U.S., dating more than a century ago. Gregory, himself, attended the U.S. Air Force Academy where he received his undergraduate degree in military engineering. He logged approximately 7,000 hours in more than 50 types of aircraft as a helicopter, fighter and test pilot. He flew 550 combats rescue mission in Vietnam. In 1978, he was chosen as a member of the first class of Space Shuttle astronauts. Gregory became the first African American to pilot a space craft, the orbiter Challenger on mission STS-51B.
The 82-year-old Nichols, known for her role as Communications Officer Lt. Nyota Uhura aboard the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise in original series “Star Trek,” was recognized for her gallant efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to prove that women and people of color are capable of serving leadership positions in the pinnacle of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industry. Many of those people were standing with her at the gala.
Nichols officially lent her support as an adult, but as a young girl she had written to NASA often about her desires to be an astronaut. At one point NASA officials applauded her tenacity, saying that maybe her son, or in short, the next generation might be an astronaut. Her inclination was more immediate. She believed, “It might be me.”
When asked what she would say today to the younger Nichelle who wrote those letters to NASA, Nichols said I’d tell her, “Job well done. We did it.”
Dr. Guion Bluford, recruited by Nichols and the first African American astronaut to go into space said the gala was a “great opportunity to see other astronauts I haven’t seen in a while. Also to encourage and support the program.”
Shades of Blue, Inc., has more than 2,000 students worldwide that are pursuing careers in aviation and aerospace.
Astronauts and pilots in attendance with Bluford, included: Lt. Commander Victor Glover, Leland Melvin, Stephanie Wilson, Livingston Holder, Dr. Robert Satcher, Dr. Bernard Harris, Captain Willie Daniels, Dr. Jeannette Epps, Ret. Captain Winston Scott, Dr. Yvonne Cagle, Joseph Tanner, Dr. Joan Higginbotham, Ret. Col. Fredrick Gregory.
Daniels said once the evening was completed, the astronauts wanted to know if and when there would be another reunion. He’s been asked to put reunions together at different places around the country. No plans are in place, but he said that he’s thinking about it.
For more information about Shades of Blue, Inc., visit www.ourshadesofblue.org.