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A red and gray airplane flies toward the clouds and a blue sky.

Sept. 1, 2023

Sharing His Love of Aviation

By Tania Longest

On a hot August day, Rod Hall introduced a throng of schoolchildren at Manassas Regional Airport to the Red Tail P-51C Mustang, one of the four remaining Mustangs flown in World War II by the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first Black military pilots. The aircraft is one of the showpieces of the CAF Rise Above Traveling Exhibit, which teaches visitors the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). An original movie, Rise Above, complements the plane and physical items that people can view.

Hall, a senior policy advisor in Nelson Mullins’ Washington, D.C. office, worked with his fraternal organization, Sigma Pi Phi, also known as the Epsilon Sigma Boulé Foundation, to bring this free weeklong exhibit to people in Manassas, Virginia. The “Boulé” is the nation’s oldest Black Greek-letter fraternity for men, which was founded in 1904, at a time when college-educated Black men had few outlets for sport and intellectual engagement. Its alumni include W.E.B. Dubois, Arthur Ashe, John Hope Franklin, and the Tuskegee Airman Lee Archer.

The organization’s chapter in Northern Virginia was founded in 2015. Its objective: “to stand as exemplars and change agents in the communities in which we live and serve,” said Hall.

Finding ways to introduce people to history and positive role models through aviation was a no-brainer for Hall. “I’ve always been excited aviation. It helps facilitate the movement of people and commerce. It helps make the world smaller,” he explained.

Hall started his career on Capitol Hill as a staffer for former Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who was a member of the House Aviation Subcommittee. “I got immersed in aviation policy.”

Before joining Nelson Mullins in May, he served as the Federal Aviation Administration’s assistant administrator for government affairs, a position to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama. He brings more than two decades of government and private sector experience to advise corporate and municipal clients on legislative, political, and regulatory issues. 

“We had the organization and the muscle to bring CAF Rise Above Traveling Exhibit to our area. We reached out to other community partners and stakeholders for support. It allowed us to have a free exhibit for a week,” Hall said.

At week’s end, more than 3,500 people, including Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who attended its Aug. 22 opening, came to see it.

“It was an incredible crowd,” said Kim Pardon, of the CAF RISE ABOVE Educational Outreach Program. “Sigma Pi Phi were amazing hosts. They are such a credit to our community.”

The partnership between Sigma Pi Phi and the CAF RISE ABOVE Squadron, a nonprofit that educates audiences about Tuskegee Airmen and Women Airforce Service Pilots, to bring the exhibit to Manassas started at the beginning of the year.

Hall says the exhibit inspired wonder. “I was most delighted to see the number of young people that came through. What stood out to me was the looks on the kids’ faces when they saw the Mustang next to the exhibit.”

But Hall is not done.

He and Sigma Pi Phi are on a mission to improve the lack of diversity in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) pipeline. They are finding innovative ways to spark interest in STEAM in children and teens by funding the organizations that nurture these interests. 

He points to the lack of diversity within aviation to illustrate his point. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.3% of all aircraft pilots and engineers were women, 3.9% were Black, 1.5% were Asian and 6.1% were Latino. 

“Sigma Pi Phi is committed to doing our part to ensure that kids within our jurisdiction who have interests in these areas, have the support and encouragement they need to be successful,” he said.