EAST ORANGE, NJ — Although it may seems that the Eagle Flight Squadron Inc., of East Orange, would be permanently grounded with the death Wednesday, Aug. 17, of the Rev. Russell Reed White Jr., its founder and the former pastor of Bethel Baptist in Orange, the program will continue with the help of Bibi Taylor and her husband, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor, who have committed to donating $10,000 donation to the squadron.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, Bibi Taylor one of White’s former Eagle Flight cadets, and her husband announced they would pay tribute to her mentor by starting a scholarship fund specifically for East Orange youths to attend the educational program. The scholarships are being offered through the Taylors’ Lester Taylor III Foundation charity.
“We also just recently committed a $10,000 donation from the Lester Taylor III Foundation to the Eagle Flight Squadron, which is based in East Orange, to commemorate the memory of the Rev. White, who recently passed away,” said the mayor Wednesday, Aug. 31. “And we’re asking respectfully that those funds be earmarked for East Orange students. And one of the things that we identified is that my wife went through the Eagle Flight program from sixth grade through 12th grade but, presently there aren’t any East Orange kids in the program, notwithstanding the fact that it’s based in East Orange.”
The mayor said their goal in funding the scholarships is “to raise awareness to the accessibility and availability of this educational program. We’re putting our money where our mouth is, so we can support this initiative.”
His wife said it’s all for a very good cause, which is celebrating the life and legacy of White. Bibi Taylor is the former president of the East Orange Board of Education and currently serves as the president of the Essex County College Board of Trustees.
“I was one of the first female student commanders of the program; I actually was a student pilot flying at the age of 16 through the Eagle Flight Pilot Training Academy,” she said Wednesday, Aug. 31. “Rev. White was just genuine. He genuinely cared about children, about ensuring that they experienced things in an urban setting that they otherwise would not have had the opportunity to have access to. He really instilled a great deal of discipline. His entire motto for the program was ‘honor, dignity and integrity,’ and that’s how he lived his life and tried to instill those same principles in his students that went through the program. I tell my husband and my family all the time, if it were not for Eagle Flight, I would not have the courage to accept the challenge of public service. It’s just one of the reasons that we decided to raise our family in East Orange.”
The Taylors said education is vitally important, adding that their mission is to help children and their parents to understand that “education is the key to the future.”
“Lester and I are marrying our passions for public service and education and ensuring that everything that we do is family and community oriented,” said Bibi Taylor. “Ultimately, we have a family and we also know that we can’t do it independently of our community. So, whatever we do, ultimately, has to affect the greater good. Education is one of the vital components. We want them to get a quality education to not only become productive citizens, but also to come back and give back to our community.”
Bibi Taylor said White was all about giving back to his community. It wasn’t just his motto, she said; it was a way of life for him.
“That was the first vision for Rev White — he wanted to have inner city, urban children to be exposed to aviation,” she said. “Eagle Flight, it’s based in East Orange. When I came through as one of the first classes of Eagle Flight, we were pretty much 100 percent East Orange children and slowly expanded to other communities. Unfortunately, throughout the years it just lacked a lot of enrollment. But now we’re trying to be advocates for the program and trying to raise awareness that the program is up and running and thriving. It’s up to us, as proud graduates, to give back to the community and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities that we had.”
The mayor said that applies to all East Orange students, not just those in the Eagle Flight program, saying this is why they decided to fund the ECC scholarships through the Lester Taylor III Foundation.
“My wife and I, through the Lester Taylor III Foundation, just gave out some scholarships to students who are graduating from East Orange Campus High School and from the City East Orange who are going to Essex County College,” said Mayor Taylor on Aug. 31.
“We’re very proud and humbled to be in a position to raise the resources and funds to help fill the gap. Many children and families across the country are making business decisions to not go to a four year institution but start off at a community college. First, because of the expense, quite frankly. The reality is in East Orange many students don’t have the option to go to a four-year college because of the expense. But what we identified is that students don’t even have money for transportation in some instances, so they might get a scholarship or grant but then still can’t make it happen because of books or transportation.”
The Taylors said something more than a one-time cash infusion was needed to help the next generation of East Orange students successfully pursue their higher education goals.
“So what we did through the Lester Taylor III Foundation — and I have to say that it was my wife’s idea to do it, give the gift of education — rather than give $500 for books; rather than give $1,000 to help pay for a class; we committed to paying for a full semester of college for students who apply,” said Mayor Taylor.
“We also doubled down and gave out checks for NJ Transit vouchers, so they could buy transportation to and from school. We don’t want them to have any excuse or any reason or barrier to completing a semester of college.”