By Ed Brock
A love of aviation took Sheila Thomas-Johnson to new heights and earned her national recognition, a position she uses to break racial stereotypes and misconceptions.
Thomas-Johnson, 41, an Adamson Middle School teacher, regularly weaves into her lesson plans, she admits "creatively," lessons on multiculturalism and ethnic diversity.
"It's extremely important for our children to understand and embrace different cultures," Thomas-Johnson said. "If they don't learn to embrace different cultures, it's going to be very difficult to work in a diverse world."
Thomas-Johnson said that she and her brother had a love of aviation at a young age, both wanting to be military aviators,
but, coming from a family of educators, she chose to pursue a career in education. Still, she remained true to her passion for aviation.
She dispels stereotypes, teaching her students about all cultures, the chairwoman of the National Tuskegee Airmen Youth Program said. She added that it's easier to change mindsets at a young age before they become set in their ways.
"It's very challenging, but to be honest it's easier with children than with adults," Thomas-Johnson said.
Val Archer, one of the original members of Tuskegee Airmen, called Thomas-Johnson an "outstanding teacher, a very dedicated member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen."
Teachers, such as Thomas-Johnson, keep the story of the Tuskegee Airmen alive, he said. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first U.S. military black fighter pilots and earned recognition for their role in World War II.
"We certainly want everyone to be aware of the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II," Archer said, especially "after years of being hidden, sort of secluded and not recognized."
"She has a credentials list that is quite long, quite extensive," Archer, 75, who serves as president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, said. "I could go on for a few days about Ms. Johnson."
Archer met Thomas-Johnson in Columbus, Miss., years ago, he said. She had established a yearlong aviation program at her middle school to train students in a style similar to that of military basic training . The program partnered her school with the local U.S. Air Force base and earned her recognition as the National Air Force Association Teacher of the Year, also called the Christa McAuliffe Memorial Award, in 1998, the first black woman to earn the award. She also received the Excellence in Teaching Award for the Southern Region from the National Council of Negro Women in 1999.
Through the Tuskegee Airmen, Thomas-Johnson hopes to turn the aviation program she began in Mississippi into a national program.
Although she has taken flying lessons, she hasn't had the time to fly solo because of time she spends in the classroom.
Thomas-Johnson is married with two children: Kristin, 16, and Phillip, 19.