Color Us Connected is a series of articles by Tuskegee's Karin Hopkins, who is black, and Amy Miller, who is white and lives in South Berwick, Maine. Bi-weekly they each write on the same topic through their individual life lens. This week they talk about the possibility of the T-100 jet trainer landing in Tuskegee jumpstarting a new era of prosperity.
By Karin Hopkins
Tuskegee was once a model city. The population included many educated and successful African-Americans who blazed trails in education, science, medicine, aviation, law, entertainment and other professions.
Tuskegee is poised for a renaissance and this potential resurgence has this community ready for “Dancing on the Ceiling.” For those who don’t know, this is a song by Tuskegee native and iconic singer/songwriter Lionel Richie.
As I was writing this article, I was also listening to his music. That particular tune had me bouncing to the beat and finding correlations in the lyrics. “What’s happening here…something’s going on that’s not quite clear” in my head became a reference to the U.S. Air Force.
After all, officials have not yet ruled on the T-100 jet trainer contract. Nonetheless, we are excited and optimistic about the expected announcement, which according to informed sources will happen within days.
We have a lot of emotions pinned to the T-100. It evokes pride in the Tuskegee Airmen who trained in our community to fly Red Tail planes for service during World War II. These heroic African-Americans shot down more than enemy aircraft — they were also among the first African-Americans to kick Jim Crow in the tail a generation before the Civil Rights Movement picked up steam.
Corporate officials at Leonardo DRS have chosen Tuskegee as the manufacturing site for the T-100 and we in turn have rewarded Leonardo DRS with community-wide support.
Our corporate partner will increase jobs thereby stimulating our local economy, of special significance to me as executive director of the Tuskegee Area Chamber of Commerce. Everyone who is affiliated with the chamber envisions T-100 employees buying food at local restaurants and gas at service stations while also patronizing dry cleaners, barbershops and other service providers.
This all spells potential revenue increases for tax collecting entities such as the city and county. Elected officials equate the T-100 project with improved services — more street and road repairs, more police officers and firefighters as well — and new equipment for public safety departments.
Our schools also stand to benefit from the T-100 and school administrators already have invested in STEM programs at all levels, including 4-year-olds who are learning to code. The goal is to prepare a school-to-work pipeline for industries of today and tomorrow with the T-100 being on the list of potential employers.
So yes, we are ready to reclaim our spot as a model city and the thought of winning the T-100 has us “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
By Amy Miller
Although South Berwick is 1,275 miles from Tuskegee, where the US Air Force may decide to build a trainer jet factory, we are watching and waiting as if the contract is ours to win.
And although many people in South Berwick previously were only dimly aware that the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II were the first African American pilots ever to serve in the military and they became a highly decorated unit, we have become proud of our local airman, the late James Sheppard of Portland, whose son Robert lives in Kittery.
Tuskegee’s struggles and its triumphs have slowly edged into South Berwick’s consciousness and become, in some important ways, our struggles and triumphs. Because this is how sisters are.
We first heard of the T-100 jet project about 18 months ago when Ms. Kalaful Williams, assistant to the mayor, apologized for their slow response to our sister city invitation and informed us that Tuskegee’s new mayor was enmeshed in the enormous efforts his office was making to bolster Tuskegee’s chances to be chosen for the new aircraft manufacturing facility.
When Mayor Tony Haygood and his city agreed to become sister cities with South Berwick in the spring of 2017, it was almost as if our union was in some small way part of the same larger effort to rejuvenate this historic Alabama city that also meant winning the T-100 contract.
The citizens of South Berwick have followed the tale of Tuskegee’s bid. We have watched with pride as Mayor Haygood and other dignitaries traveled to Italy to meet with executives of Leonardo, the Italian corporation whose subsidiary, Leonardo DRS, will build the plant in Tuskegee should they be selected by the Air Force.
Leonardo DRS, a global aerospace and defense firm, wants to locate in Tuskegee for reasons that in part overlap the reasons my small Maine town approached Tuskegee to be our sister — Tuskegee’s extraordinary civil rights history and its proud identity.
Leonardo DRS was drawn to Tuskegee’s legacy during World War II as a training base for the Tuskegee Airman, also known for piloting Red Tail airplanes during combat missions in Europe.
Now it is down to three bidders, including Leonardo DRS.
Like the leaders of Tuskegee, we in South Berwick are wondering when — never if — they will be chosen. And we are thrilled that we will be able to celebrate with our new brothers and sisters in the south any day now.
Contact Karin and Amy at email@example.com