Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Sitting next to history

Waking up on Day 4 of SJI — with my feet lazily hanging over the edge of the bed — the first thing to cross my mind was, “I wonder what will be on sports check today?” As I walked to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face, I began rehearsing answers to possible questions, attempting to stay ahead of the Leon Carter

After getting dressed, a mild headache began to move across forehead. Rolling my eyes and breathing deep, to try to press pass the now added headache to my list of possible woes ahead of me this morning, I figured a decent breakfast would cure my slow start.

Little did I know, food would not be the thing to turn around my downtempo morning.

I began to consume a makeshift parfait, when an older gentleman’s voice rang out to me with the comfort of a seasoned grandfather’s tone. He said, “Good morning young man. Do you mind if I sit?”

I hesitated to answer because I knew that I didn’t have time for small talk — seeing that I needed to study for the sports check that ever loomed within the next 30 minutes. Despite my concern, I politely invited him to take a seat, and then a few minutes later his wife would pull up a chair beside me.

Looking up, I noticed the man wore a bright red shirt and over his left breast read “Tuskegee Airmen” in white typeface. I was immediately shocked. Was I really sitting face to face with so many years of history? I’m talking a history more than unique than others.

The ‘Red Tails’ — as they were referred to — are one of America’s most hidden treasures, primarily due to the color of their skin and the unparalleled role they played during WWII despite segregation within military.

As we began to talk, all worries, qualms and concerns I had were relieved. He spoke of where he grew up, his time and experience during his service, but most of all how he fell in love with his wife, Mildred, “on first sight.”

James Shipley, 95, was his name and he was all the cure I needed.

— Andre Toran