(Photo: Courtesy Eugene J. Richardson Jr.)
It has been 23 years since Eugene J. Richardson Jr. retired from a more than 30-year career as an administrator in the Philadelphia school system. But for the 88-year-old Richardson, retirement has been far more than a time of leisure and rest. In fact, it has been the gateway into a broad new series of professional undertakings.
In addition to starting a business and a nonprofit organization that seeks to motivate young people to discover their passions, Richardson has become an active spokesman and lecturer on a topic he known quite intimately: The experience of the Tuskegee Airmen.
During World War II, Richardson was a part of that elite group of African-American pilots who were trained to fight in the war. They were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. And Richardson not only speaks around the country about the airmen, but also serves as the chairman of the speakers’ bureau for the airmen, seeking to ensure that the legacy of these men lives on.
“I am all over the place giving talks these days,” Richardson said, in an interview with BET.com. “In recent weeks, I have been to the University of Mississippi, to Vanderbilt University. I have also been working with the State Department, speaking in Haiti, Canada, Italy and Kosovo. I’m pretty busy these days.”
Being a Tuskegee Airman was a highly coveted achievement in the segregated American life of the 1940s. And for Richardson, it fulfilled an ambition he had held since childhood.
“For me, it was simply a dream come true,” he said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was interested in airplanes. My dream was to fly an airplane. And the war came along and made it possible.”
Richardson served in the armed forces as a Tuskegee Airman before returning to civilian life in Philadelphia and enrolling in Temple University on the GI Bill. After a career that ranged from selling cemetery lots to working in a Philadelphia department store, he landed in the field of education where he would eventually serve as an assistant principal and as a principal.
But it has been life after retirement that has been particularly busy and rewarding, he contends. He remarried the year after he retired and he and his wife, Helen Richardson, have been deeply involved in Find Your Wings, the nonprofit they founded together. It is a career development organization for youth in grades 4 through 12 to “recognize their legacies and see their potential.”
The aim, Richardson said, “is to get young people to learn about themselves, their attributes, their skills and their passions and to direct then toward a career that matches those skills.”
“If young people work in the fields where they feel a passion, it won’t feel like work. They will do the things they like professionally and get paid for doing those things.”
In addition to those duties Richardson and his wife operate Career Consciousness Inc., a consulting firm that offers executive training and coaching. “Through the services that we offer, we create a mindset shift from seeing work as a burden to seeing work as a relationship,” he said.
“I am pretty busy these days,” he said, “but I feel quite fulfilled. It’s a wonderful experience.”
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(Photo: Johnathan P. Hicks)