A Tiny Package of Courage

The following is a message from Summit Education Initiative Executive Director Derran Wimer. It appears in the March 2017 “Align & Engage” enewsletter.

In February I traveled to Atlanta for a Luminaâ„¢ Foundation meeting. I had a few hours before I needed to be at the airport, so I decided to visit the Center for Civil and Human Rights. After all, I was in Atlanta, one of the hubs of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The museum is worth every penny of the $16 admission. The museum is both powerful and moving. The information is enlightening and the exhibits elicit latent emotions, which quickly rise right to the surface. The courage and resolve the activists demonstrated is inspiring. The entire exhibit highlights the efforts and struggles of these brave and passionate adults to mobilize, march and stand firm for civil rights for all people.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges sitting before a Norman Rockwell painting of herself as a child.
Photo: www.biography.com

Then there is little Ruby Bridges, the little African-American girl who was the first to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. (We have all seen the iconic photograph and the Saturday Evening Post front page image of Ruby being escorted into her school by four very large, white U.S. Marshals.)
 
Ruby was one of only six African-American children to score high enough on the school’s entrance test, designed to keep black children from “qualifying” to attend the all-white school. She was the little girl who was born the same year the Brown v. Board of Education decision upheld that schools could no longer be “separate but equal.”
 
Ruby Bridges. A tiny package of courage, all dressed up and ready for school. She simply wanted to go to her neighborhood school and learn, with all of the other children. Only it wasn’t that simple. It was difficult. It was frightening. There were many times she didn’t want to go back… many times her mom had second thoughts about sending her. Her dad lost his job because they sent Ruby to the all-white school. Yet, Ruby and her parents persevered. Ruby eventually graduated from an integrated high school and went on to live a productive and successful life.
 
At the museum, as I looked at life-size picture of this courageous little girl, with imposing U.S. Marshals walking along her side, I wondered:
  • Are the educational opportunities better now than in 1960-61?
  • Have we allowed re-segregation to seep to a return of separate but equal?
  • Do today’s students deeply desire educational opportunity?
  • Do today’s students take advantage of the opportunities that Ruby’s courage helped introduce?
  • What should I be doing to ensure that Ruby’s struggle was not in vain?
  • Do I have Ruby’s courage?