Ruby Bridges

Education has always played a large part in my life. My father is a highly educated man. I have always looked up to him, not only because of his six-foot-four stature, but also because he holds a variety of bachelors and masters degrees, as well as doctorate degree that allowed for him to travel the world as a post-doctorate fellow. Not only are his degrees numerous, but for a large chunk of my life, he has served as a university professor. On “take your daughter to work day,” I joined him in his classrooms, listening in on his graduate lectures, knowing that while I may not understand what he is teaching (I sat in on his German class), I could see his students’ engagement and love for the content matter, and believed my dad had such a powerful job – he was an educator.

Even as a child, I remember my father stating that while a professor’s salary didn’t allow for him purchase each of his girl’s a vehicle on our 16th birthdays (our naive, culturally influenced desire) he was able to provide us a college education when we turned 18. When discussing life insurance policies, he made sure that all three of us would be provided with enough money to get our first college degree. When I completed my master’s degree, he aptly stated “Congratulations” and if my memory serves me correct in nearly in the same breath asked me when I would be starting my Ph.D. No, I’m not there yet…

Luckily I married a man who also values education so much so that he is working on his second master’s degree. However, he is of the belief that if he keeps getting degrees, he will never have to pay back his student loans as they will forever be in deferment. I think the US Department of Education and I are in for a ride…

I am thankful for those that have come before me, ensuring not only a proper education system, but also equality in education. This past September Ruby Bridges turned 60 years old. If that name doesn’t conjure up a visual image, think back to your history books. In November 1960, surrounded by four U.S. Marshals, this little six-year-old entered William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, becoming the first African American child to enter the all-white school. With her white bows in her hair and a little satchel in her hand, she braved the mob hurling insults and objects her way, simply because of her race. Unwavering, she marched up those stairs. In her biography, it was stated the “Ruby, in her innocence, first believed it was like a Mardi Gras celebration.”

Ruby spent that first year as the only child in Mrs. Henry’s class, the only teacher willing to teach an African-American child, as white families pulled their children out of the class. As the year progressed, the stress and trauma impacted Ruby and she began working with a child psychologist who helped her process all the pressure. Though it took time, things settled down and the following year more African-American students joined Ruby. Eventually white students joined her in class, and while the racism was still alive and active, life carried on and eventually Ruby graduated.

All in all, it was Ruby’s mother, pushing for her to get a better education at the all-white school. It was her mother who encouraged her to pray as she faced the racial slurs and belligerent racist crowds. Her mother believed in education and was willing to fight for it.

Sadly today, we still have racism allowed in our school systems. Living in Chicago and hearing all the horror stories of the CPS, there are a few things I know about the inequalities in our education system today.

1) It still isn’t safe for our children to walk to school – a police presence is still around our elementary schools as children walk, but desegregation isn’t the reason. The threat of gang related aggression is what makes the walk to school difficult and traumatizing for our Chicago kids.

2) It also isn’t a safe place to learn. To no fault of the educators, when you are struggling with under resourced kids, the last thing on their mind is the test later in the week. They are focused on the now of knowing how to survive. For some, it is where their next meal will come from. For others, it is how to walk home, crossing gang lines that they were born into. Or even simply walking home, hoping to avoid a racially-biased search.

3) Our kids aren’t thinking long-term. It is hard to have conversations about education unless these kids see someone willing to pour into them, opening their minds to think of college. It takes investment. It takes someone willing to say “I don’t know how we can get your college paid for, but I am willing to come along side and help you figure it out – because education IS worth it. You ARE worth it.”

I admit that I am naively writing about these items. I haven’t experienced them first hand. I haven’t even spent years researching them. However, I believe these items to be true today. Dare I dream that I can look back to this writing and declare them false?