Two Life Lessons from the First Black Student at a White School
Young woman who changed history
When American Vice-President, Kamala Harris was inaugurated, you may have seen pictures of a young black girl popping alongside her. You may have even wondered what the connection was between them. That little girl made history back in the sixties.
She was just six years old when she became a student at an all-white school, William Frantz Elementary School, on 14 November 1960. The first African American to do so in New Orleans.
Her name is Ruby Bridges. Born in Tylertown on the 8th of September 1954, her family relocated to New Orleans in search of a better life. Ruby was one of six students who took and passed the test for admission at an all-white school. This had come about because of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. The Board of Education which ordered all schools to desegregate.
On her first day at school, she was escorted by US Marshalls, because of threats made against her. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach young Ruby. She ended up being the only student in her class because many white parents pulled their children out of school.
Ruby was subjected to racism within the school community as well as outside of it. On one occasion she was threatened by a woman holding a black doll in a coffin.
I grew up in a country ruled by white people, where racial segregation was the order of the day. We faced racism as children, teenagers, and adults. We watched our parents being subjected to inhumane treatment. It was ugly.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a six-year-old to find herself amongst people who didn’t want to be around her. During break times, she couldn’t sit or play with the other children. It must have been lonely. It must have been horrible.
I understand the reason behind her parent's decision to send her to an all-white school. They wanted her to receive a better education.
After all the racism she faced at such an impressionable age, I am not surprised that Ruby Bridges grew up to be an activist. In 1999 she formed a foundation whose vision was to end racism. The Ruby Bridges Foundation promotes respect, tolerance, and appreciation of people’s differences.
Ruby’s experiences are a reflection of what life throws at us sometimes. Here are two lessons we can takeaway.
1. Sacrifice is a Strategy
It takes courage to take the first step, but sacrifice is a strategy. It may be all you need to change your life and your community.
Six black children passed the test which would determine whether or not they could attend an all-white school. Of those, only Ruby actually enrolled at William Frantz Elementary School. The parents of the other children who didn’t enroll were probably not willing to subject them to hatred and racism.
It must have been heartbreaking for Ruby’s parents to watch her being discriminated against in school. The little girl couldn’t even use the toilets without being escorted. What her parents did took courage. It also achieved a lot more than giving their daughter a better education. It was a huge sacrifice, but it paved a way for others to follow.
2. Staying Power is King
White parents threatened Ruby and her family. They pulled their children out of school, but Ruby stayed. As the school year progressed, the white kids eventually returned to school. By the second year, Ruby no longer needed to be escorted to school.
Decades later, we have The Ruby Bridges Foundation. It exists because Ruby’s family refused to be intimidated, they refused to give up.
Don’t be afraid to be the first and remember that staying power is king. Hold onto your dream and don’t give up too quickly. If you keep fighting, if you keep getting back up again when you’re down, you will eventually win.