Press Release

2021 AIAA SciTech Forum Features Free Program Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (includes live discussion with Stephanie Wilson, NASA Artemis Astron

By SpaceRef Editor
January 5, 2021
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The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Aerospace Special Interest Group of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE Aerospace SIG) are pleased to announce the program: “A Tribute to Service: Community, Country, and Humanity,” scheduled for Monday, January 18, 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. ET. The program is open to the public at no charge and complementary to all 2021 AIAA SciTech Forum attendees. Access to the Tribute to Service program is limited; registration is required for media and attendees to receive the program link before the event.


The Tribute to Service program is part of AIAA’s and NSBE Aerospace SIG’s ongoing commitment to generate platforms for diverse technical interchange in the industry. The online event will recognize several Black Americans who exemplify Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s concept of service.


This special program is made possible with support from the following collaborators key to accelerating innovation and diversity in STEM: Legacy Bridges STEM Academy, Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), and University of Texas at Dallas. 


“The creative partnership between AIAA and NSBE Aerospace SIG demonstrates how science and technology intersect with the themes of serving the community, country, and humanity,” said Dan Dumbacher, Executive Director for AIAA. “We are pleased to offer the Tribute to Service program as a natural extension of the 2021 AIAA SciTech Forum. This year’s SciTech Forum features eight days of sessions focused on Accelerating Innovation Through Diversity.” 


Highlights of the Tribute to Service program include:


Focus on Community: A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. (10 – 10:25 a.m. ET)

Attendees will have the unique opportunity to hear from Virginia Ali, cofounder of Ben’s Chili Bowl with her late husband, Ben. Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a mainstay of the Black community in Washington, D.C., for nearly 62 years. Mrs. Ali will share stories about sitting with Dr. King and later with the first Black President of the United States, Barack Obama, and share how her restaurant has served as a gathering place for everyone. (This message was taped prior to the event.)


Focus on Humanity: Fireside Chat on Diversity and Inspiration (10:25 – 11 a.m. ET) – Live Discussion

Two accomplished Black military and civil aerospace leaders will participate in a live fireside chat discussing their challenges to rise to leadership positions and their personal inspirations. This session will be moderated by the NSBE Aerospace SIG Chief Engineer, Lindani Johnson. Attendees will be invited to interact with these leaders and ask them questions.


  • Charles Bolden (USMC, Ret.) is founder and CEO Emeritus of The Charles F. Bolden Group, 12th NASA Administrator (the first Black Administrator), and a four-time Space Shuttle astronaut.  
  • General Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.) is former Vice Chief of Staff; Commander, Air Force Materiel Command (one of a few African Americans to ever hold the rank of four-star general), and chairs the NASA Advisory Council.


Honoring the Tuskegee Airmen (11 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. ET) – Video Documentary and Live Conversation

Watch the second episode in the documentary series, “Red Tail Angels – The Story & Legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.” This series showcases the hardships, struggles, and ultimately the successes of the first Black men given the opportunity to serve as military aviators during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps (became the U.S. Air Force). 


Attendees will hear from one of the few living Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTA) about his story of service and perseverance.Nathan O. Thomas was a member of 99th Pursuit Squadron. He will be in conversation with Joi C. Spraggins, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania State NSBE Aerospace SIG Ambassador, and founder of Legacy Bridges, a NASA-Related Career and Technical STEM Education Center. She also is CEO, Legacy Bridges STEM Academy, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit for developing legacy leadership and innovative STEM and business education solutions.


Focus on Service: Girls Can Fly! Meet Trailblazers in Aerospace and Aviation (12:30 – 1:25 p.m. ET) – Live Conversation

Join the conversation with three Black women who will share their dreams, discuss their service, and look ahead toward their next feats. This conversation will be moderated by the NSBE Aerospace SIG Director, Enanga Daisy Fale. Attendees will be invited to interact with the panel and submit questions.


  • Carole Hopson, Pilot, Author, Mother: Hopson works as a First Officer for United Airlines.
  • Marion Johnson, A real “Hidden Figure”: Johnson worked from 1967 to 1969 as an Associate Engineer, Project Leader with The Boeing Company during the Apollo missions. 
  • Stephanie D. Wilson, NASA Astronaut: Wilson has served her country as a three-time NASA Space Shuttle Astronaut and recently was named to the Artemis astronaut team.


The Tribute to Service program will be concluded by Dexter Johnson, Ph.D., 2021 AIAA Diversity and Inclusion Awardee. Dr. Johnson is the NASA Technical Fellow for Loads and Dynamics, as well as an AIAA Associate Fellow and the NSBE Aerospace SIG Aerospace Partnership Director.


To attend the 2021 AIAA SciTech Forum, “Accelerating Innovation Through Diversity,” register for the SciTech Forum here. Credentialed media can request one of the limited press passes.


Read the full Tribute to Service program on the event page. Free registration for media and attendees is available here. Additional resources also are available at the bottom of the event page for anyone to get engaged in volunteer projects and learn more about service opportunities to enrich the community.


About AIAA

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society.  With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit, or follow AIAA on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.


About NSBE Aerospace SIG

The Aerospace Special Interest Group of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE Aerospace SIG) is a strategic technical function within the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), a global organization founded in 1975, comprising of more than 24,600 members worldwide. The NSBE Aerospace SIG was started in 2003 with a mission to stimulate active aerospace industry participation by equipping members and partners of all generations with tools to create and innovate aerospace solutions throughout their lifetime. As a platform for aerospace industry-specific technical research, technical development, outreach, and advocacy programming, the NSBE Aerospace SIG provides both a network and pipeline for students and professionals to enter and grow within the aerospace industry. For more information, , or follow NSBE Aerospace on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Media Contacts

Rebecca Gray, AIAA,, 804.397.5270                                                                                                                               

Yvette Watson, NSBE,, 703.549.2207

SpaceRef staff editor.