The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

June 22, 2013

Tuskegee Airmen on mission to teach students

(Continued)

"Stay focused, pay attention," he said. "Don't wait for some individual to tell you that you can be smart. Have the confidence in yourself to do it."

Fellers, who is black, is deeply appreciative of the Tuskegee Airmen's efforts to break the color barrier that once kept African-Americans out of the skies.

"I don't know that I would have this job if not for that era that these men went through," he said.

Fellers fell in love with aviation while watching the crop-dusting planes swoop over his grandparents' fields near Bainbridge, Ga. when he was 4 and 5 years old. He rose from loading bags onto planes shortly after high school graduation to eventually flying jets across the globe as a Delta pilot.

Archer said it will be up to black pilots such as Fellers to help continue the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

"Maybe he's standing on our shoulders," Archer said. "But it's also important for the next generation who may be standing on his shoulders."

On Tuesday, the 29 students from Atlanta and the surrounding area stood and erupted in cheers as Archer and Mason were introduced. Many of the students were just a couple of years older than the Tuskegee Airmen when they trained in Alabama.

"I think that your potential is incredible — it's more than my generation ever dreamed of," Archer told the students. "You want to make sure you're giving it your best shot right now."

Mason, who helped to maintain equipment for the pilots and ground crew, drove home the importance of making good decisions, telling the teens, "You've got to do your best every day, all day."

"Your obstacles will be just as great to you as our obstacles were to us," Mason said.

Sarah Hopkins, 15, of Atlanta, said it was inspiring to hear how the airmen were able to rise above the racial divide. She has hopes of a career in aviation, and said the encouragement from the Tuskegee Airmen will help her pursue it.

"It's definitely in my grasp now," she said.

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