Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ruby Bridges

U.S. marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Public School in New Orleans 50 years ago. The first-grader, the only black child at the school, was there because of court-ordered integration.

It's Black History Month and as I was walking down the hall of my son's school today I could help but think about Ruby Bridges.  In 1960 this sweet six year old girl was the first African American child to attend a Southern all-white elementary school.  The NAACP has asked parents to volunteer their children up.  They knew it was going to be a challenge.  While the government had desegregated schools, many people were still against it.  Ruby Bridges' parents decided to take a chance and enrolled her in William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.  Ruby says that as she drove up to the school she thought it was Mardi Gras because there was a large crowd outside shooting and throwing things.  When her parents took her into the school, the white parents outside marched in and pulled their children out.  The teachers refused to teach her.  For one year she sat in a class being taught all by herself.  She faced a crowd of people each day, yelling, protesting, throwing things, a woman who threatened to poison her every day as she walked to school, another who used a black baby doll in a coffin to scary Ruby.  Her father lost his job.  Her grandparents who were sharecroppers were thrown off the land.  

Ruby persevered.  She would pray each day as she walked to school to drowned out the screams of the protesters.  Neighbors found her father a new job, watched her home to make sure it wasn't vandalized, offered support on her walks to school.  Ruby Bridges grew up, she worked as a travel agent for years until she took on the full time job of stay at home mom to care for her four sons.  She now chairs the Ruby Bridges Foundation, a group formed to promote "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of differences.

I was looking at the sweet faces of the first graders today, thinking of that little child, the sweet innocence of a six years old, the fragileness of childhood.  As I helped my sweet son with geometry today I got a little teary thinking about this Ruby, the sacrifices she made, the innocence lost.  How could people be so hateful?  Was their way of incorrect way of life so important to them that they felt no guilt about torturing a child?  Those deeds were so ugly and evil, it is hard to imagine that they ended up unscathed.  I'm glad that Ruby made it.  That she was able to continue on and have a good life.  That she teaches peace and tolerance, rather then kicking back at the ugliness of her childhood.  I recently saw this article making the rounds on facebook.  It reiterates what I've been hearing and reading in all the education magazines and programs Dr. J and I find ourselves gravitating to, when it comes to equality, education is the next forefront.  We recently saw a round table discussion where a man said, "People thinking of the civil rights movement as a moment stuck in time, the 50's and 60's but I'm telling you that is not true, and right now education is where it is at."  I find this woman's plight so moving.  Her entire life is being destroyed because she wanted to a better education for her children.  The irony of course being that I bet you thought a public education was free in this country?  There is one point where the report says, "Is this woman going to far to get a good education for her children?" and I want to scream out, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!"  This mother is worried about education, safety, and ultimately her children's future.  What parent isn't willing to push just a little harder when it comes to that.  We have our own little example of that in our family.  Dr. J interviewed at many wonderful hospitals.  Initially he chose a California program that he loved.  It was a lot closer to home, the program and training were both excellent and well regarded throughout the field, the weather was fantastic, and the city was a beautiful dream.  The only problem, the housing in the area was expensive.  Lucky for us we thought, the house market downfall has thrown housing prices into our price range, and so we started to search for schools that we could send our kids to.  Nothing, nada, a big fat zero.  These schools had some of the worst test scores in the state, a state that happens to have some of the worst test scores in the country.  We finally found some areas that had ok (not great) schools, only to realize the houses there were in the million dollar range, far outside our budget.  And so we started looking elsewhere.  It was hard to turn away from that dream, to say goodbye to perfect beaches, vacation weather, dream training, but in the end the kids matter more.  And so we will be doing another four years of either freezing cold winters, or horrible summers, or maybe both, but when it comes to the kids, well it is the kids.  All good parents want the right to send their kids to safe good schools that will prepare them for a better life.  Education in this country is a big deal.  We need to do more.  We need to expect more.  We need to find a way to give our children the best education possible and then help those children whose parents can't.  The well being of our country depends on this.  I wish I had the answers.  I don't.  I do know though we need to do better.  We need to take off from where Ruby Bridges took us.  Those first kids made a the first step, for that I thank them!!!!

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