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Illinois Tech Community Affairs and Outreach Programs Newsletter
Vol. 6, No. 1
March 2018

Giving Wings to Dreams, Transforming Lives

While kids have, at one time or another, fantasized about flying, that hope has been all but a distant fantasy for many. AeroStar, a community partner of Illinois Institute of Technology, is changing that. Aerostar is a not-for-profit whose mission is to enhance, promote, and support the academic awareness of aviation and aeronautical career-path opportunities for all students in our community, but particularly for those who are female, underrepresented, underprivileged, and at-risk.
Be it teaching kindergarteners how to fly a kite, introducing eighth-graders to the principles of aerodynamics, or assisting high school students in flying, AeroStar is “giving wings to dreams!”
Tammera L. Holmes is founder, president, and chief executive officer of AeroStar. Holmes is an African-American pilot, airport planner, entrepreneur, and aviation educator. She describes her mission as “helping children and teens soar to new heights.”
Holmes’s life changed in a pivotal moment when she was 16. Along with other students, she was invited by the Tuskegee Airmen to fly on a plane from Chicago’s former Meigs Field. During the demonstration flight, the pilot asked her if she would like to control the aircraft. Surprised by the offer, she accepted and instantly knew she wanted to be an aviator. She subsequently embarked on studies in aviation, ultimately earning a degree in aviation planning from Southern Illinois University. Yet, she was only one of two African-American women in her aviation graduation class of more than 200. This fact also had a profound impact on her life’s calling to make a difference.
While speaking about her career in aviation to a group of underprivileged high school students, she realized that none of the students had heard of the Tuskegee Airmen who had been so important to her starting her career. She instantly knew that she had to pay back the Tuskegee Airman by carrying their torch to a new generation of young aviators.
In 2008 Holmes established the AeroStar Aviation academic program for children in grades 5–12 interested in aviation, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while fostering college preparedness, life skills, discipline, and leadership. Thanks to initial funding from After School Matters, AeroStar was able to begin providing participants with free, year-round classroom instruction that otherwise would cost tens of thousands of dollars, an amount well beyond their reach.
Now, more than 500 students at over 50 institutions, including charter schools such as the Bronzeville campus of Perspectives/IIT Math & Science Academy as well as the Chicago Public Schools, have been involved in AeroStar’s programs. Almost all these students have gone on to study aviation in college.
Support for AeroStar’s programs has gained momentum. After School Matters continues to provide funding. More recently, significant support has come from NASA and the Boeing Company. This additional support has enabled AeroStar to expand its programs to students in grades K–4.
Hasan “Nikko” Swain is an example of an AeroStar success story. Currently a third-year student in Illinois Tech’s aerospace engineering program, Swain cites Holmes and AeroStar as being major forces driving his professional development. Learning to fly a Cessna 172, Swain became a licensed pilot at age 17. While at Illinois Tech, he worked as an intern at Northrup Grumman Corporation, where he focused on stealth technology and autonomous systems. Swain looks to complete both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Illinois Tech and to eventually work for NASA or Ball Aerospace. Expressing gratitude at having been a part of AeroStar, Swain says, “Ms. Holmes and AeroStar have given me extra confidence to do my best. I now hold myself to a higher standard as a result. If you try your hardest, that will help you going forward.”
While participating in the Obama Foundation Summit 2017 in Chicago, Holmes reflected on the accomplishments she has advanced through AeroStar.
"As an African-American female in aviation, I oftentimes feel alone. After a decade of fighting what has most certainly felt like an uphill battle, creating equity in the access to aerospace education and training, I have now come to the realization that the impact we’ve made is extremely significant. Not that I didn't think it would be, but being singled out as a pioneer in my field and a leader in my community for inspiring youth to take flight, seemed unlikely at the onset of this endeavor.”

AeroStar Youth Aviation Aero-STEM Expo 2018

Chicago students age 12 and up are invited to the second AeroStar Youth Aviation STEM Expo on Saturday, March 24, 2018, from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. in Hermann Hall, 3241 South Federal Street, on Illinois Institute of Technology’s Mies Campus.
This free event introduces inner-city youth to the aviation and aerospace fields and mentors career aspirations that may ultimately lead to well-paying, satisfying careers in flight and aerospace. Participants will interact with flight simulators, mini-drones, and robots. Additionally, industry professionals will provide mentoring opportunities. The expo will also feature a free lunch followed by an overview of aviation STEM activities in our community.

For further details about the expo, including registration and expo sponsorship opportunities, visit Parents of all participants under age 18 are required to sign a release as part of the registration process.

The expo is sponsored by AeroStar and Illinois Institute of Technology in partnership with AAR, After School Matters, the Boeing Company, L & B, Lights On Afterschool/Afterschool Alliance Washington, D.C., Milhouse Charities, Tuskegee NEXT, and United Airlines.


Historical Perspective

In late August 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American youth, boarded a train at the 63rd Street station in Chicago’s Woodlawn community to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi. Money was steeped in Jim Crow laws and maintained a strict, racially repressive code of social behavior between Black people and White people. While in Money, Till was accused of flirting with Carolyn Bryant, a White woman. Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law reacted by kidnapping, torturing, and killing the teen. They tossed his severely mutilated body in the Tallahatchie River anchored to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, identified him by the ring on his finger.

Till-Mobley insisted on an open-casket visitation and funeral at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ at 40th and State Streets. This act created a seismic shift in the American civil rights movement and racial injustice. The world was shocked at this exposure of racial brutality and violence. More than 100,000 individuals crowded State Street to attend Till’s visitation. Then Illinois State Senator Marshall Korshak, representing Governor William Stratton, called Till “a young martyr in a fight for democracy and freedom, in a fight against evil men.”

Acquitted by an all-White, all-male jury in Mississippi, Till’s shameless murderers admitted to the crimes, protected from further prosecution because of “Double Jeopardy” laws. This further ignited the struggle for civil rights and social justice for African Americans, and ultimately, all Americans. The Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott, the integration of Little Rock Central High School, and the march from Selma to Montgomery are just a few in a series of milestone events whose leaders were profoundly inspired by the bravery and grace of Till’s mother and uncle.

Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ: 4021 South State Street—A Monument to Civil Rights History

Built in 1922–23, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ at 40th and State Streets is an architectural and historic landmark of international stature especially because of four days in September 1955 when it was the center of the American civil rights movement.
Designed by local African-American architect Edward G. McClellan, the church was intentionally simple in its ornament and window placement. Because it was the state’s first Church of God in Christ congregation, it was viewed as the flagship or “mother church” of the congregation in northern Illinois. In 1927 the original plans were completed with the construction of a large second-floor sanctuary. Small additions were added in the 1940s. For 37 years the building remained largely the same as it was during the funeral visitation for Emmett Till.

In 1992 a major exterior façade and interior renovation became necessary. The original 1920s red-brick façade was covered with the current yellow brick and glass block. The original historic façade remains underneath, perhaps to be restored one day. Although there have been modifications, the building continues to preserve the location and scene of a watershed event of world importance to the civil rights movement.

Current Perspective

Still…Till is a new ongoing community dialogue hosted by Pastor Christopher Harris and Bright Star Church and Bright Star Community Outreach at the historic Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ building. Still…Till considers not only the life and death of Emmett Till but conditions such as community and systemic racism that contributed to his murder and perpetuate contemporary violence.
On four consecutive Tuesday evenings this past February, the community explored ways to redress systematic oppression and advance racial healing and reconciliation. The first session was a film screening about the life Emmett Till. At the conclusion the audience discussed the injustices that still persist today. “We need to stand our ground and demonstrate that violence against African-American youth will not be tolerated,” said one attendee. Another declared that “Every day is a new beginning. If we haven’t been part of the solution, today must be the day that we reach out to each other and start the healing.”

Future installments of Still…Till will continue this dialogue by looking at what in our society is “still Till” and how all in the community can be part of the solution.

TURN Trauma Counseling Helpline

Bright Star Community Outreach’s TURN Center works to help all people affected by urban violence and trauma. The TURN Center seeks to help individuals in healing to becoming renewed and self-sufficient. To this end, the TURN center has trained faith and community leaders to offer post-trauma counseling services. One of these services is a new toll-free helpline to provide support, counseling, and education to victims of violence. The Chicago-based toll-free number for the TURN Trauma Counseling Helpline is 833.TURN123.

And There Is More…

Illinois Tech’s Office of Community Affairs and Outreach Programs looks forward to continuing to provide future updates on Illinois Tech in the community and, most importantly, to keeping you aware of events and activities that impact the communities of which we are proud to be a part.