Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Youngest African American Female To Have Completed Flight Across Country

Kimberly Anyadike

15-year-old Kimberly Anyadike became the youngest African-American female pilot to ever fly across the United States, finishing a 13 day flight and 23 cities with the help of her safety pilot, 87 year old Tuskegee Airman, Levi Thornhill.

Anyadike, who met over 50 Tuskegee Airmen during her trip, says she "wanted to inspire other kids to really believe in themselves," and that she wanted to pay tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen along the way, as "They left such a great legacy. I had big shoes to fill.

All they wanted to do was to be patriots for this country. They were told no, that they were stupid, that they didn't have cognitive development to fly planes. They didn't listen. They just did what they wanted to do." A clip of the pilot, below:
“Tuskegee Airmen Briefing” Toni Frisell 1945

Anyadike is believed to be the youngest African American female to have completed the journey, and among the youngest people in the nation (regardless of race or gender) to have done so.

She left from Compton at the end of last month on a small red-tailed Cessna. The tail of the plane was painted red in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen who she hoped to honor:

They [The Tuskegee Airmen] left such a great legacy. I had big shoes to fill . . . All they wanted to do was to be patriots for this country. They were told no, that they were stupid, that they didn’t have cognitive development to fly planes. They didn’t listen. They just did what they wanted to do. (LA Times)

Video above is after the completion of the cross country trip

Anyadike’s co-pilot was also a Tuskegee Airman and during the 13 day trip, she stopped in 4 different states along the eastbound leg of the trip to meet surviving members of the all African-American Air Force unit. 50 Airman signed her small plane in thanks. Many were glad to see the legacy of African American pilots continuing into the next generation.

TAM is also a shining examples of black people doing for themselves. Founder, Jamaican-American, Robin Petgrave started the program to inspire youth and get them off the streets and away from exploitation. It is currently supported by the Association of Black Pilots and the Tuskegee Airman Chapter in LA, as well as the KIPP school (open to all inner city youth seeking college prep education). And TAM is part of a larger community effort to help inspire kids from Compton that many locals have spoken out in praise of and helped support through time, effort, media, and funds.

In a world where we are still willing to kick children out of a pool for being the wrong “complexion” or to disparage the intelligence of young girls while encouraging them to see their power in flesh and product, Anyadike offers a critical alternative of hardwork, knowing one’s history, and daring to dream. The collective effort of women and men from Congress to Compton ensured that the youngest black female pilot just made a safe and historic flight around our nation. Her skills and accomplishment will no doubt inspire other young girls and nationally disparaged youth; they certainly inspired me.

Anyadike also understands the importance of continuing the legacy, stating her other main reason for taking the flight amidst discouragement from others was:

Given that the first all African-American female crew (pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendants) flew only a year ago, Anyadike’s significance to women’s aviation cannot be underestimated. Not only does her flight represent an important shift away from a largely male, or male only, tradition in aviation (black or white) but was also part of the efforts of several strong women to keep the program where she learned to fly alive.

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, designed to inspire at-risk and low income youth to not only learn to fly but also to take hold of their dreams, was largely supported by female Congressmen. Senator Diane Finestein and Congresswoman Richardson have been key advocates for the program and were also on hand to meet Anyadike when she reached the East Coast. Congresswomen Juanita Millender-McDonald and Figueroa have been important local advocates for the program, taking their accomplishments to the hill.

Congresswoman Millender-McDonal also helped spearhead efforts to get the program re-funded under the Bush administration; those effots were stopped by then-Pres Bush, citing Katrina rebuilding as his reason, tho many believe it was part of a longstanding tradition of Republicans to refuse to fund targeted programs regardless of how beneficial they may be. While Bush failed to see the significance of the program, the male pilots behind the program were much clearer on its goals and were just as keen as the women involved to ensure female representation and gender equity in the program.

Tuskeegee Airman Thornhill, Anyadike & Petgrave

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