Web Sites and Documents >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Role Models' Lives A Message

February 19, 2005

Douglas Armstrong says he strayed badly as a youth growing up in East Hartford, especially by dropping out of high school. But through a new program called The Connect that debuted Friday at Fox Middle School, he wants to help Hartford youths avoid his mistakes.

"I came to realize there was no place in the world for [high school] dropouts," said Armstrong, 29, who is now a married father of three children and lives in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor.

Armstrong graduated from high school, spent four years in the Marines, and then attended the Army National Guard flight school. He is now a warrant officer with the HHC 169th Aviation Unit of the Connecticut National Guard, based in Windsor Locks, and the state's only African American Black Hawk helicopter pilot.

Armstrong is one of a group of successful African American men from Greater Hartford, all under the age of 35, who have volunteered to become role models and mentors for male students of color through The Connect. It is an initiative of the Greater Hartford African American Alliance and the Neighborhood Enforcement and Stabilization Team.

"My goal is to leave a mark, to make a positive difference," Armstrong said. "The kids in Hartford aren't exposed often enough to black men who have come from their neighborhoods who have made it in life."

Other members of The Connect are Kevin Henry, a Hartford Housing Authority manager and law student; I. Earnell Kelly, a mechanical engineer for United Technologies Corp.; Rickey Rowe, who co-owns Rowe Enterprise Construction on Albany Avenue in Hartford with his father; Kijuan Ware, an assistant football coach at Dartmouth College; and Gabriel Boyd of the Hartford Youth Project of the Urban League of Greater Hartford.

The men will make presentations at city schools, work one on one with students and take students on field trips to observe their jobs. Andrea Comer, president of the African American Alliance, said that often the boys see the young men hanging out on the streets with their cars and gold chains as successful.

"We want them to see guys close to their own age who are going to law school, flying a helicopter and running a construction company, and realize that's not out of their reach," Comer said.

"African American Aviators: Past and Present" was the theme for The Connect program on Friday. Fifth- and sixth-graders from Martin Luther King Elementary School and seventh-graders from Fox Middle were a well-behaved audience for Armstrong, Tuskegee Airman Connie Nappier Jr. and other speakers who aimed to inspire the students to think big and go on to college.

"There is no limit to your possibilities," Nappier told them. "The good Lord gave us all a gold mine - a brain - so all you have to do is use it."

Armstrong said it was an honor to be on the stage with Nappier.

"He broke down so many barriers for black men in the military," Armstrong said. "Black aviators don't face the same discrimination today because of Connie Nappier."

The students got a glimpse of Armstrong's and Nappier's profession when they went outside to observe the landing of a CH47D Chinook helicopter on the lawn near King Elementary. Several Connecticut National Guardsmen helped out, answering a multitude of student questions, as they toured the inside of the helicopter and checked out a Humvee.

"It was a special occasion to have our National Guard here," said Jaquan Samuels, 11, a sixth-grader at King. "I learned that you can get a good education and help your country in the military."

Seventh-grader Christopher Jones, 12, of Fox Middle, said The Connect presentation was one of the liveliest they'd had at the school. "I want to go to college, then I'd like the action of fighting for my country," Christopher said. "One day [like Armstrong] I want to come back to school and tell the students about my life."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?