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Rantoul, Illinois

Ok, it's been a while and you can track my progress at

With that said, here's the new focus on this site and let's call it 'Stories can Walk'....I am asking you to journey with me to simply pay attention and find one thing in each of your own travels to hang on to. One thing. Don't try to remember everything, recount every detail of your travels, but just one thing to remember each new city, each new neighborhood. So, here goes:

Rantoul, Illinois, is less than an hour from where I live. It's a declining city in some respects, a victim of higher than normal unemployment and the closing of some factories. It's also home to the Chanute Air Force Base or the Chanute Air Museum, which is on the campus that was formerly an active air force base. Having helped with my daughter's recent field trip there my goal was to pay attention. I have recently been to Spain, Wales, England, and Ireland on work related trips and also returned from Chicago and Boston within the last few weeks, but none of the aforementioned sites moved me to tears. But, something at Chanute did.

You see, the now famous Red Tails of Tuskegee began not in Alabama, made famous by the George Lucas film, but the mechanics and initial training of the first African American flight squad, known originally as the 99th pursuit squadron, began in Rantoul, Illinois at Chanute. This rather mundane community in Central Illinois became one of the first integrated military bases in the Midwest and a vital player in the growth of African American military involvement in World War II.

The point of this is simple: pay attention to even mundane cities because their stories may surprise you. I explored the story of the Guinness family influence while in Dublin, Ireland, in early October and I walked around Barcelona in mid October with a friend who grew up in vineyard country outside the city.

The stories stick with me because stories travel and this little outpost in Rantoul, Illinois, remains a small tribute to how important stories often have humble beginnings. In recent weeks, protests have developed in cities around the United States and yes, many of these protests are simply stories that can walk. And if you have been paying attention, you'll note that many of these marching people are part of a more complex story that sometimes runs, somtimes walks, but is seeking to make progress. 

One of the first leaders of the Red Tails was Benjamin Davis and he spent his life at West Point segregated, but ended his military career celebrated. He led the Tuskeegee soldiers who came to Alabama from modest Rantoul because he was not allowed to lead the white soldiers elsewhere. His father was the first African American general in the U.S. Army and as the Red Tails film brought attention to some of the first African American fighter pilots, the story didn't begin with a firefight over Europe. This story began in a small town in Central Illinois. 

What one thing will you notice as you walk today? 

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.