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Ruby Bridges: A look back

Ruby Bridges (Photo by Jason Kruppa)

New Orleanians are justifiably proud of all the praise being heaped on the city's young, energetic entrepreneurs. NolaVie writers have been among the first to cover their successes and innovative creativity. Now the country at large is recognizing the energy and vibrancy of this new generation, taking note of their risks and their accomplishments.

Still, while it’s not particularly fashionable to look back, it’s a good thing for all of us to do every now and then. It keeps one’s feet on the ground, even if one’s eyes are on the horizon. And it keeps one humble.

I was particularly reminded of this Thanksgiving week when I went to see the movie Lincoln. That came on the heels of a conversation I had a few weeks ago, when I spent some time talking with Ruby Bridges. This is a lady whose risk had nothing to do with capitalizing a fledgling startup; her risk involved simply trying to go to school in New Orleans without being physically injured.

She was 6 years old when she entered the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in the Ninth Ward. She went because her parents told her to. Sharecroppers both, with limited education, they wanted more for her. Now, 52 years later, after having integrated a school whose student body went from all white to now all black, I asked her if she thought it was worth it.

“Sometimes I do feel it was done in vain,” she says. “But I still honestly believe in my heart and soul that, if we are going to get past our differences, it’s still going to come through our kids.”

But how to make that happen?

“I wish that school could be recognized as a special place,” she says of the school she entered through howling mobs, one racist parent even going so far as to carry a small coffin with a tiny black baby doll in it for her to see. “I want to see Franz become something more than just another charter school.”

What she wants is for New Orleans to recognize the William Franz School as an important part of its history. She uses as her example Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas where, in 1957, federal troops had to be sent to keep order and in 1998 was designated a national historical site.

But it’s not just the history that Ruby Bridges focuses on. She wants that school to be front and center in teaching its children about community service and social justice.

“It’s a huge task,” she says. “But somebody needs to teach that.”

Sadly, she hasn’t gotten very far with her project. But she’s not stopping, convinced that change can come through children.

“I just can’t seem to give up on my dream,” she says. “I’m still hoping it will come true.”

For more information about what Ruby Bridges is doing, go to http://rubybridgesfoundation.org.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]