Before they went out to march in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade Saturday morning, they first listened to George Boyd.
Boyd is a former Tuskegee Airman, part of the all-black air crew that fought in World War II. The 87-year-old former Air Force major had stories to tell, messages to share about opportunities and responsibilities.
“I don’t care who you vote for,” he said at the Christian Faith Centre, 1130 S. Broadway, “but don’t give up voting. If you don’t vote, you’ve truly lost.”
He spoke before a large group of adults and children took part in the mid-morning parade that went north on Broadway and into downtown.
After a pancake breakfast, many of the schoolchildren went to breakout sessions at the church to hear about King’s life and efforts as a civil rights leader before he was assassinated in 1968.
Adults and older students went into the sanctuary to hear Boyd.
He talked about the importance of respecting and helping others and about seizing opportunities.
He was 18 years old with three years of high school when he left his New Jersey home to join the segregated Army in 1944.
Anyone who had three years of high school and went into the military during the war received their high school diploma, he explained.
His dream was to be a pilot, but he said he washed out of flight school at Tuskegee, Ala.
“I could have claimed there was a racial bias,” Boyd said. “But maybe I didn’t do as well on those trainers as I should have.”
He went to work learning jobs to support the pilots in the air.
“I knew it was essential that we win World War II,” Boyd said, “and we all had to do what we could. The most important thing is I was an American citizen.”
He never went overseas during World War II, but he served as a radar intercept observer during the Korean War and in other capacities during Vietnam.
Boyd earned three college degrees, including a doctoral degree at the age of 75.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1970 when he was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, he remained in Wichita. He became an administrator in operation analysis for Boeing’s military division and served 10 years as the aviation director for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“I looked for opportunities just as Dr. King encouraged all of us to do,” Boyd said.
Wade Moore, pastor of Christian Faith Centre, organized the sessions at the church as part of events leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
“We only get a few days each year to talk about these things,” Moore said. “We have a lot of diverse cultures in this country. So often we have closed minds about what we think each culture’s about.
“We want to reach the young people so they can learn about these diverse cultures before their minds are closed.”