UTSI welcomes AEDC commander for 29th annual Black History Celebration

  • Published
  • By Kali Bradford
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The University of Tennessee Space Institute hosted its 29th annual Black History Month Celebration Feb. 14 in the UTSI Auditorium where Arnold Engineering Development Complex commander, Col. Randel Gordon, was the speaker.

He spoke about a personal hero, U.S. Air Force Capt. Ed Dwight Jr. A trailblazer in the world of aerospace, Dwight holds the distinction of being the first African American to enter the Air Force training program from which NASA selected astronauts.

While he never made it into space despite being selected as the first African American astronaut trainee in 1961, his determination and talent paved the way for future generations.

“You may have never heard about but him, but that is probably by his own admission,” Gordon explained. “He is a man who is famous for the thing that never happened in his life.  But his story is one of extraordinary events and one that continues to inspire me. Hopefully, it does the same thing for you.”

Gordon continued his address by sharing details about Dwight’s life not only as an Airman, but long after his career with the Air Force ended. According to Gordon, Dwight went on to work as an engineer with IBM and become a successful entrepreneur. He also achieved acclaim as a bronze sculptor whose masterworks included sculptures such as Hank Aaron, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, and U.S. President Barrack Obama. To date, Dwight has created over 130 memorial sculptures and over 18,000 gallery pieces, which include both paintings and sculptures. Several of his sculptures have been flown into space, most recently one aboard the vessel Orion.

“His story is just remarkable,” Gordon said. “It’s a remarkable story of resilience and excellence. He rose to the top of his ranks and preserved a level of tremendous dignity amongst a lot of different pressures that are still happening.”

Gordon finished by adding that Dwight’s story continues to inspire him in his own military career.

“While he is most famous for the thing that didn't happen; in the process of doing that, he came to be in the right place for himself,” Gordon said. “Someone told me once that you can go and become a great person when things are going to fall into line. It's when everything is falling apart, and the chips are down, that's when your greatness comes out. Ed absolutely demonstrates this. His story gives me a lot of excitement and a lot of inspiration.”