Tuskegee Veterans, Kamau Bring Message of Responsibility
by Ari Armstrong, July 24, 2003
Hopefully both sides of the affirmative action debate can agree that the ultimate goal is to make the program superfluous. That is, once black students attain more academic success at younger ages, they will find it easy to be admitted to top colleges, whether or not affirmative action programs exist.
Obviously many of the problems within the African American community have their roots in slavery and racism. I think a variety of ill-founded government programs are also partly to blame. Ultimately, though, the most important solution is individual achievement.
Even though the Tuskegee Airmen faced overt racism, they persevered, they overcame, and they proved they're just as good as anybody else -- in fact better than most. These great men, veterans of America's military, soon will congregate in Denver to celebrate their achievements and remember their struggles. Every American is indebted to these men for their courage. The Tuskegee Airmen, and many others like them, have done more to achieve racial equality than any government program could.
Monte Whaley wrote a very nice article about the Tuskegee Airmen for the July 23 Denver Post. At a school talk, the "airmen told stories of their battles with both the enemies abroad and American prejudice. They explained how they were expected to get off a sidewalk when they saw a white person coming, even though the country was fighting a war to protect freedom." Get off the sidewalk -- what a shameful aspect of American history.
Honor is something the Tuskegee Airmen earned. It is not in boastfulness, but in quiet pride, that James Harvey said, "We shot down all the obstacles. We turned out better than our instructors." Whaley adds, "Just under 1,000 men got their wings as Tuskegee Airmen. They flew more than 15,000 missions in World War II. They escorted more than 200 bomber missions and never lost a bomber to an enemy fighter, Harvey said. They earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses."
Whaley continues, "The Tuskegee Airmen's story is rarely told in high school history classes, said Allare Gaskin, a Cherry Creek High School graduate and teacher at Summerbridge [where Harvey spoke]. Gaskin, whose black grandfather flew in the Pacific theater in World War II, said the lessons of self-reliance and grit taught by the Tuskegee Airman should be stressed in today's classrooms. 'Seeing stuff like that makes you realize that you don't have to become the victim,' Gaskin said."
A columnist for the Post, Pius Kamau, a physician and immigrant from Kenya, has written a couple articles recently that are as tough as they are inspiring. On July 17, Kamau discussed the recent police shooting of a disabled black child who was armed with a knife. Kamau writes:
What I lament is the community's short memory. We meet for a few hours, make a couple of speeches about how terrible the police are, and then disappear behind our barricades... Paul Childs lived a dysfunctional life, in a dysfunctional home where people were threatening each other with knives on a regular basis and where calling 911 became a police taunting game... Clearly this is a troubled home, a troubled group of people. No one lives in a vacuum; neighbors know what's happening next door. So where was the community? Why didn't they insert themselves to help this family find its feet and to help the mentally challenged child?
Libertarians who want to cut government social programs must remember that the responsibility falls on them -- on us -- to help people out when they need it.
Kamau adds, "We must never stop teaching our children right from wrong, and the beauty and importance of a good education." He notes the "importance of education and faithfulness to spouse and family... lessons that every adult black man and woman need to learn and pass along to peers, elders and youngsters." But these are universal lessons.
Kamau wrote another excellent column July 23 about Kobe Bryant, noting, "People who would be role models do not have sex with strangers." Kamau continues, "An athlete becomes a role model by going far beyond what we pay him to do... Role models are people we grow to respect. They live exemplary lives that youth should aspire to emulate and other adults look up to as examples of what's good in our communities. Respect is something that is earned."
Now, I disagree with Kamau about foreign policy and various political programs. But these differences concern me little. I hope my own children (when they come) are privileged to know role models like Kamau and the Tuskegee Airmen. I hope that I myself can consistently adopt Kamau's wisdom and teach it to my kids. Respect is something that is earned.