Mentorship often involves the sharing of personal experiences and stories passed down among generations with the sole purpose of bettering the life of others. Over the past week, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen has likely become the focal point for many a mentoring discussion before and after screenings of the film Red Tails. During the film’s opening weekend, a group of military aviators in D.C. met with a local youth group to discuss the important role the Tuskegee Airmen played in U.S. history, aviation history and African American history. Lt. Cmdr. Jo’Andrew Cousins, a Coast Guard pilot, was present during the event and shares his thoughts on mentorship and carrying on a legacy.
Written by Lt. Cmdr. Jo’Andrew Cousins.
In the hustle and bustle of military life, it is easy to forget how much today’s youth look to us for leadership, guidance and friendship. But last Saturday was a reminder of the importance of sharing an important legacy I am proud to be a part of; it was opening weekend for Red Tails, a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Military pilots from the Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force met with local community members on a Saturday morning to share our personal experiences as mentors to a local community youth group with aspirations to serve.
It all became real for me when Isaiah, a Troop 505 scout, sat beside me. He was nervous, but his grin was wide and his eyes glimmered as he proclaimed, “I want to be a pilot.” Once I learned he was a fifth grader, I immediately recalled that I too was in fifth grade when I decided I wanted to be a military pilot.
Across the table from me sat Charles Nesby Jr., a former F-14 Top Gun instructor pilot. It was his skillful flying in the movie Top Gun that inspired me to fly.
As I shared my passion with Isaiah, and sat across someone I looked up to, it was a true gift to see mentorship across generations.
After two hours of discussion, we departed to the theater to finally get a chance to see the history that connects generations of aviators. The film highlighted the devotion to duty and sacrifice made by the Tuskegee Airmen. In contrast to today’s military, their devotion to duty and sacrifice was made during an era when the concept of an African American pilot was an aberration.
The plight of African American pilots today pales in comparison to the overt attempts to derail the Tuskegee Airmen, but I would be remiss to proclaim victory.
Many societal problems face today’s youth and those problems are much more complex. In this online age, where nothing ever disappears, mistakes once made and learned from have the potential of becoming an indelible mark, limiting future opportunities.
This is why it is imperative for leaders to mentor today’s youth.
Unlike the youth during the Tuskegee Airmen era, today’s youth have a remarkable opportunity. As a member of the most dynamic military force in the history of mankind, I feel an obligation to take a little time out of my day to reach back and mentor and encourage others to do the same.
Mentoring helps improve the human condition. When you mentor, you join a group of people who share their personal history as a means to inspire and ensure a future where the past doesn’t repeat itself.
Though the story of the Tuskegee Airmen highlights achievement in the face of discrimination, in a grander sense it is really about human dignity and having the right to serve and defend your country.