NASA celebrates legacy of first black American astronaut

Fifty years ago, a tragic accident ended the groundbreaking career of Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., a Chicago native and stellar Air Force pilot who became America’s first black astronaut.

On December 8, 2017—the 50th anniversary of his death—NASA honored his often-ignored legacy and contributions to the agency.

Earlier in the year, the Chicago Crusader reported about the lack of visibility of NASA’s first black American astronaut and helped to raise awareness about Lawrence’s incredible journey.

In planning a story for its annual Black History Month edition, Chicago Crusader staffers discovered that little was being done to honor Lawrence, while NASA held memorials to mark the 50th anniversary of three, white astronauts who perished in a fire aboard the Apollo 1 space module, during a preflight test.

The Crusader story lauding Lawrence’s achievements was published in dozens of black newspapers after the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) carried it on its newswire.

Born in 1935 to the late Gwendolyn Duncan and Robert H. Lawrence, Sr., the future Air Force pilot was a man ahead of his time. Long before magnet and STEM programs were part of the high school curriculum, Lawrence excelled in math and science.

At 16, he graduated with honors from Englewood High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University. He married the late Barbara Cress from the prominent Chicago Cress family and entered the Air Force at age 21 before earning a doctorate in physical chemistry from Ohio State University, becoming the first astronaut at NASA to earn a doctorate degree.

As a United States Air Force pilot, Lawrence accumulated over 2,500 flight hours. In June 1967, Lawrence graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (Class ‘66B) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In that same month, he was selected by the USAF as an astronaut for their Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, thus becoming the first black astronaut.

Lawrence died while training another pilot, Maj. John Royer, to perform the “flare” maneuver— an operation that Lawrence had already mastered— in the F-104 Starfighter.

“Major Robert H. Lawrence truly was a hero,” said Cabana. “He set the stage for what was to come.”

“Major Robert H. Lawrence truly was a hero,” said Cabana. “He set the stage for what was to come.”

According to NBC News, “Lawrence’s memory languished in obscurity” partly due to the fact that, the Pentagon only recognized someone as an “astronaut” if they actually flew to an altitude above 50 miles.

However, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Va.) mounted a campaign that forced NASA to put Lawrence’s name on the Space Mirror Memorial in 1997—thirty years after Lawrence’s death.

“On December 8, 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, Lawrence had his name unveiled on the Florida memorial,” NBC News reported.

The ceremony recognizing Lawrence, in December— although spirited, at times— was a somber one for the 300 guests that included decorated NASA astronauts, dignitaries, relatives, and friends, who had flown and driven miles across the country to honor Lawrence at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Lawrence’s older sister, Dr. Barbara Lawrence, attended and spoke; another prominent Chicago resident who was present was E. Dawn Griffin, the oldest daughter of Ernest Griffin, founder of Griffin Funeral Home in Bronzeville. The Griffin Funeral Home, which closed in 2012, handled the funeral arrangements for Lawrence.

Members from Lawrence’s college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, also attended to honor one of their own. On the sprawling grounds of the NASA facility, they participated in a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony that began at the Center for Space Education and culminated with an emotional wreath-laying ceremony at the base of the national Space Mirror Memorial, a massive black granite structure where Lawrence’s name is among those of 20 astronauts who either died in flight or in training.

The ceremony brought out some of NASA’s astronauts and biggest officials. Charles Bolden, America’s first black NASA chief administrator, and Stephanie Wilson, the second black female astronaut, attended the service. Another black astronaut, Winston Scott, played the trumpet in a band that performed various jazz songs, including, “Fly Me to the Moon.” Reportedly, jazz was one of Lawrence’s favorite musical genres.

Dr. Herman B. White Jr., a physicist and lecturer at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Lawrence’s alma mater, gave a presentation where a memorial scholarship and a conference room bear Lawrence’s name. Recently, Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio renamed a dormitory in Lawrence’s honor.

Bolden, who piloted the space shuttles Columbia and Discovery, praised Lawrence for his spirit.

“He took that first step,” Bolden said. “If he had lived, he would have been flying on that space shuttle also.”

Col. Robert Cabana, who flew on four shuttle missions, agreed.

“Major Robert H. Lawrence truly was a hero,” said Cabana. “He set the stage for what was to come.”

Dr. Barbara Lawrence shared her experiences with her brother as they grew up on the South Side of Chicago. She said, when Robert was young, he was a very disciplined student and dedicated to learning.

“I’m truly proud to have been his sister,” she shared. “He wasn’t interested in being the first black astronaut. He was only

interested in being given the opportunity to do what he wanted to do. I’m sorry he wasn’t here a little longer, but I think his job was one that was well done.”

SECU MD Foundation introduces Tynes Scholarship at Morgan State

— To recognize the many contributions made by Donald Tynes, Sr., longtime member of its Board of Directors, SECU, Maryland’s largest credit union, is introducing the Donald Tynes, Sr. Scholarship Program, which will be offered through the SECU MD Foundation.

The SECU MD Foundation will award five scholarships in Tynes’ honor to students enrolled in Morgan State University’s Graves School of Business. Each scholarship will be $2,000.

Eligible Morgan State University sophomores, juniors and seniors are encouraged to apply for the Donald Tynes, Sr. Scholarship Program. Applications will be accepted starting on February 1, 2018, and will be open through the end of April. Applicants can apply through the SECU MD Foundation website at

“SECU has been fortunate to have Mr. Tynes, a Morgan State University alumnus, serve on our Board of Directors,” said SECU President and CEO Rod Staatz. “With the launch of the SECU MD Foundation, a charitable organization founded by SECU, we are happy to be able to support his ongoing commitment to Morgan State University students to help them achieve their dreams.”

The SECU MD Foundation’s mission is to contribute to and support the continuous learning and educational needs in the communities served by SECU. The Tynes Scholarship will be one of three scholarship programs offered through the Foundation this year. The others include the University System of Maryland Scholarship (USM) Program, through which scholarships are awarded to SECU members planning to attend a USM institution, and the annual State Employee Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to Maryland State employees and their college-bound family members.

“With the SECU MD Foundation, SECU remains fully committed to helping our communities become stronger and financially healthier through education,” said Staatz.

Tynes led the SECU Board of Directors in formulating and governing corporate policies and practices, and establishing administrative procedures for compliance with federal laws and the State of Maryland’s Office of Financial Regulations.

A native Baltimorean, Tynes formerly served as Chairman of the Credit Union Foundation for the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. The Foundation’s programs address financial literacy, small credit union support, leadership development, scholarship awards, professional development and education.

A graduate of Baltimore’s Dunbar High School, Tynes earned a BA degree from Morgan State University and an Executive MBA from Loyola College of Maryland.

During a 33-year career in Maryland State Government, he served as Deputy Secretary of the State Department of Personnel; Assistant to the Chief Deputy Comptroller for the State’s Comptroller’s Office; and Human Resources Director for the University of Maryland System. He also served as Director of Personnel for Anne Arundel County Government.

Songful Annapolis native gains GRAMMY consideration, set to perform after signing with record label

Music has publicly been Craig T. Dobson’s passion since his first church singing debut at the age of six years old. Dobson recalls belting out soulful notes, while moving to and from classes in the halls of Annapolis Jr. High School. Administrators and guidance counselors who heard Dobson singing in front of their offices stopped to notice whose soulful voice captured their attention. Positive feedback from administrators and peers inspired Dobson to get involved in the school’s chorus and talent shows.

“My parents tell me, and I kind of remember,… that I was singing songs on the radio at age two,” Dobson said upon reflection. “I started singing in church at a very early age. But I think when I was in the seventh grade, that’s when I realized that I had something, because I noticed that people started paying attention.”

Dobson is now a husband and father who works as a special educator. He serves as the Worship Leader and Lead Director at Asbury Town Neck United Methodist Church in Severna Park, Maryland. Dobson honors his gospel roots and remains a fan of musical artists such as Luther Vandross. When Dobson listened to “A House is Not a Home,” at the age of 18, he concluded that he wanted to pursue music as more than a hobby. Shortly thereafter, Dobson became a member of the Annapolis-based R&B based group, “Seductive Music Unique Vocals” (S.M.U.V.).

Despite Dobson’s raw singing talent, and performance abilities, he faced disappointing losses of record deals. And during the summer of 2016, Dobson coped with a health ordeal that required five hospital stays. Dobson later emerged with improved health, faith-filled, and armed with new goals to solidify his name and his legacy, by completing his own CD.

Dobson’s wishes are coming true, plus much more. In 2016, the Glen Burnie resident began working with an independent record label which is based in Atlanta, Georgia called 9Nineteen Music. Keith J. Collins, Jr. — also an Annapolis native— is CEO of the record label. Dobson recorded the EP (extended play record) entitled “Craig T. Dobson” in Atlanta and shot his first music video there. By October of 2017, Dobson found out the EP garnered 11 GRAMMY considerations in the first round of the GRAMMY Award process when 9Nineteen Music submitted the music.

“Over 150 music executives and producers, listen to over 22,000 submissions, and then they select a certain number for consideration. So, once you get considered, and if they vote for you, then you move to the second round. Then if you pass the second round, you’re nominated (for a GRAMMY),” Dobson said, explaining the process. “So we made the first round, and all five songs on my project were selected. So there were three categories. All five of the songs were considered for Best R & B Performance, and then of course all five were considered for Best R & B Album, so we had 11 (GRAMMY) considerations for this year.”

Dobson and his record label competed with major music artists. Dobson’s music is frequently streamed across the world. He described the experience as “huge,” especially since all five of his songs were considered, out of over 22,000 submissions.

Dobson regards the experience as a sign to do more, musically. He travels to Atlanta to finish his first feature CD. Collins and his partner, Bob Antione— a multi-platinum music producer —heard Dobson’s voice and believed in him.

Collins added that he recalled seeing Dobson sing at weddings and in church. He looked Dobson up on Facebook, after writing a song. After a conversation commenced, the native Annapolitans ended up working together.

“I see big things happening in the future, definitely. We’re actually in the process of constructing the next album for him (Dobson),” Collins said, mentioning that Annapolis has a lot of musical talent. “I definitely take pride that I’m from Annapolis, raised in Annapolis. I’ve talked to a lot of people in Annapolis… and the music scene in Annapolis right now looks real good.”

Dobson’s first performance of the year will kick off on February 9, 2018 at 7 p.m. at Peerless Rens Club, located at 406 Chester Ave. in Annapolis. Dobson will perform during the Pre-Valentine’s Day Evening of Romance. Visit or Eventbrite, then search Craig T. Dobson, to purchase tickets.

#ThankYouBlackWomen and the power of the black vote

In the Age of Trump, logging onto Twitter can elicit everything from hysterical laughter to deep concern and fear. From time to time, I’ve even had the urge to teach the Trump Administration basic math. However, the Wednesday after Democratic candidate Doug Jones won the special election in Alabama for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacant U.S. Senate seat, I woke up excited about the election results in Alabama.

The first thing that I did that morning was log onto Twitter. When I looked at the trending hashtags, I saw one that I’d never seen before. One that surprised me: #ThankYouBlackWomen.

I must’ve rubbed my eyes twice just to confirm what I was seeing but there it was: #ThankYouBlackWomen.

In the Alabama special election, African Americans represented slightly less than 30 percent of voters and cast 96 percent of their ballots for Senator-elect Doug Jones. Quite simply, African American voters, especially women, had a dramatic impact on the race, shifting the power dynamics of the Senate.

While the disturbing and shocking allegations against Roy Moore certainly helped increase turnout and steered some voters to Jones, people, especially African Americans, voted because they understand that Trump and Congressional Republicans are taking our country to unimaginable lows.

Republicans have controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress since President Trump was elected. In that time, the president has sought to normalize White supremacy and Congress has continued to strip away the protections afforded to millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP has passed spending bills that actively take resources away from communities of color. They even found the time to give a massive tax giveaway to a handful of super rich families and major corporations.

Yet, over that same year, they’ve refused to pass legislation to stabilize and decrease health insurance costs, to reauthorize health insurance for nine million kids, to prevent gun violence which kills 10 times more African American kids than White kids or to protect our hard won right to vote.

While voters were rejecting Moore, they were also rejecting more; they were rejecting the Republicans’ dangerous and destructive agenda that’s forgotten who we are as a nation and put millions of American families at risk.

Those Americans rejected Republican plans to take away their healthcare and stack the deck in favor of corporations over families. They rejected ending environmental regulations that protect kids from asthma. They rejected a party, which believes its okay to suppress and outright disenfranchise voters just because of their race.

When the Alabama voters checked that box, they made their voices—and no one else’s—heard and it shook the nation.

As we prepare for the upcoming 2018 election, all of these issues will be on the ballot again: access to healthcare, tax increases on people who work for their paychecks, preventing gun violence, investing in our children’s education, increasing the minimum wage and protecting our voting rights.

As Americans, we have a voice in these decisions, a voice that was paid for in the blood, sweat and tears of Americans who came before us. Our voice belongs to us, because we fought for it and we continue fighting for it.

We need to honor their sacrifice by showing up at every election. We need to honor James Chaney— a civil rights worker who was killed by members of the KKK in 1964 for registering African Americans to vote— by proudly earning that “I Voted” sticker. It’s up to us to keep the voice of our community strong and we do that by showing up and casting our ballots, like so many did in Alabama and across the country.

Our foremothers and forefathers sacrificed life and limb for our right to vote.

Simply too much is at stake for us to sit on the sidelines. The issues that affect our lives and our children’s lives are debated every day at City Hall, in state General Assemblies and in Congress. We were given a voice in who makes these decisions for us; let’s keep using it.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly represents Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District and serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. You can follow Congresswoman Kelly @RepRobinKelly.

Writing Contest for Maryland Middle School Students

— All Maryland middle school students are invited to enter a statewide writing contest focusing on the themes of peace and social justice.

Sponsored by Anne Arundel Peace Action, the Maryland Peace Action Education Fund, the Benjamin Peace Foundation and Annapolis Friends Meeting, the contest is open to all 7th and 8th grade students enrolled in public or private schools in Maryland and to home school students corresponding to the same grade levels.

This is the 22nd consecutive year the contest has been conducted.

Four cash prizes will be awarded: $350 for first place; $250 for second place; $150 for third place; and $100 for fourth place. The winners will be honored at a special ceremony, although attendance is not required to receive an award.

To enter, students must submit an entry of up to 1,200 words on this topic: “A student group at your school wants to organize a showing of the controversial 1915 movie, The Birth of a Nation, which is considered to be a masterpiece of filming but is racist in content with a sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan. The student group claims that they are exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech in seeking to stage the movie. But other students have objected, and the school principal is reluctant to allow the program. You are asked to serve on a committee to work out a solution. What would you advise and why?“

Entries must be accompanied by a separate cover sheet including the student’s name, address and phone number or e-mail address; school’s name, address and phone number; and the name of the teacher sponsor if applicable.

Entries and accompanying materials must be postmarked no later than April 30, 2018 and mailed to Fred B. Benjamin Peace Writing Contest, 310 Riverview Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21403-3328.

Anne Arundel Peace Action and the Maryland Peace Action Education Fund are affiliated with Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with approximately 100,000 members nationwide.

For more information, call 410-263-7409 or e-mail