Airlift to America

The airlifts of East African students to the United States in the late fifties and early sixties touched the lives of those students, and their families, communities and nations, but also the lives of so many others, then and now. Please share with us your memories and thoughts about these airlifts, the participants, and the accomplishments. Click here to send us your comments.

Zeituni Onyango, sister of Barack Obama, Sr. commented on the book: “Praise God and thank you very much for the book Airlift to America. This is wonderfully memorable, it tells the tales of his beginning more than anything else! I love it and will for sure pass it over to Malik Abong'o Obama my eldest nephew. He will too be very happy to read his father's hidden truth. We for sure did not know how he managed his fee and who made it possible for his stay. Thank you once more for assisting my brother Barack Obama, Sr. on my family's behalf. Cora you are a
wonderful person, you did a great job that you should be honored for. (Email dated September 21, 2009)

COMMENTS ON THE AIRLIFT AS FOUNDATION WORK: Mary R. Page, Director of Human Rights and
International Justice at the MacArthur Foundation commented: “A wonderful and inspiring story! Congratulations. This is the impact (long term) that many foundation folks seem unwilling or unable to appreciate.” (Email dated September 21, 2009).

: On reading a review of “Airlift to America” in the Nation, Charles Hitchcock former Dean, Suffolk Community College, New York, wrote that “It brought back memories of Mboya's presentation to our senior seminar on African studies at Colgate. He opened it by saying that he had met a plane load of Americans at the Nairobi Airport and spotted one woman gaping at him. She said she had never seen anyone quite as black as he was. To which he replied, but madam I have white blood in me; my ancestors ate missionaries.” (Email dated September 19, 2009).

PRAISE FROM PRESIDENT OF COLLEGE THAT AIDED AIRLIFT STUDENTS: Dr. Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University, said he was proud that Adelphi gave scholarships to three of the participants because “This bold initiative charted a new course in the preparation of African leaders, created new relationships with United States institutions of higher education, and helped pave the way for increased access by African-Americans to colleges and universities whose closed doors were opened by those who came under the auspices of the program. These airlift students returned home to become builders of the newly independent East African nations and helped unravel the threads holding colonialism together.”

SINGER-SONGWRITER CARLY SIMON’S FAMILY WAS AMONG THOSE WHO HOSTED AIRLIFT STUDENTS: Popular singer-songwriter Carly Simon recalls that "In 1960, Boniface Odero, an Airlift student from Kenya, came to live with my family in our house in Riverdale, New York. Due to her education by Cora Weiss (executive director of the African American Students Foundation, sponsor of the airlifts), my mother took to this idea like a dove to its mate. After all, she and Cora were fast friends and co-activists, and during the years when my sisters and brother and I were all underage, it was not atypical of my mother, Andrea Simon, to invite students and actors, poets and political protesters for a 'little stay' at our boisterous, busy and crowded house. Boniface stayed a year.” She concludes that she is “so proud of this book, proud of the history of the unique initiative which brought Odero and his fellow students to this country, and proud of our lasting humanitarian program and the hearty spirit which drives it."

ROGER WILKINS LOOKS BACK ON THE AIRLIFT ERA: Roger Wilkins, former board chair of the Africa America Institute and Clarence J. Robinson Professor Emeritus of the Clarence J. Robinson program at George Mason University, calling the Airlift “ a noble and far-sighted endeavor,” wrote “A little more than half a century ago when I was in college, the few Africans on campus felt isolated by Negro students, most of whom were running as fast as they could away from African students and from any hint of our own African ancestors. Due in large measure to the thawing spawned by the far-sighted and brilliantly executed African Airlift, African and American brothers, sisters, cousins and ancestors, have since produced enterprises in commerce, politics and education enriching to parties on both sides of the Atlantic. "

ANOTHER COMMENT ON THE AIRLIFT AS FOUNDATION WORK: Chet Tchozewski President Global Greengrants Fund, agrees that “This is such a fascinating story for social change grantmakers. [I]t teaches us a lot about the long timeline necessary to accurately evaluate results -- As MLK said, ‘The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ I think the arch of social movement struggle is also long-very long, but it too bends toward success....” (Email dated October 2, 2009).

A NON-AIRLIFT STUDENT COMMENTS ON THE BOOK: Sylvia Saunders, a PhD in biology and retired professor at Manhattan Community College, was a student from Jamaica at the time of the Airlift, who also worked for one of the airlift organizers. She wrote: “I must admit that my experiences parallel those of some of the airlift students: adventurous ambitious dark skinned girl from a poor family in a tiny third world British colonial village thrust into a segregated American college as a token integrator - and self-supporting to boot! I wish I had AASF to lean on when I arrived here in 1957. That I survived is still a wonderment…To my mind, the peoples of earth comprise one beautiful jigsaw puzzle. And as such, each tiny piece of this puzzle is essential to the whole. I still cannot fathom why some of the larger pieces of the puzzle persist in believing that the smaller pieces are unimportant and must be ignored, trampled, or even discarded. Who knows when a tiny puzzle part may produce another Barack Obama or a Wangari Maathai?” (Email dated October 4, 2009).

A WOMAN AIRLIFTEE THANKS THE AMERICAN WOMEN WHO HELPED SUPPORT HER STUDIES: Agnes Ojany expressed her thanks for the Airlift “by vigorously applying my knowledge to become the first woman ‘Chief Executive of a State Corporation’ in the Kenya Government, in 1985. The above position further enabled me to work, for a short period, with the late Barack Obama, Sr., the father of the current US, President. Barack Obama, who then was the Chief Economic Advisor to the Minister for Finance, who is our current President, Mwai Kibaki. After my retirement, I moved forward to register and manage an NGO, The ‘Development Centre for Gender Empowerment’ as Executive Director, to support the education of the Children Orphaned by HIV Aids pandemic, in Nyanza province. By doing this, I know I am fulfilling the wishes of those ‘American women’ who helped to financially support my upkeep during my studies in the US.” (email dated July 11, 2009)

Support for this website was provided by the TASK Foundation, named for its founders, Ted and Ann S. Kheel, who helped organize the airlift and hosted airlift students at their house.