Oftentimes being kind requires a bit of courage, being an advocate for change means going against the status quo and this is uncomfortable. It can feel risky to stand up to someone or to have a different opinion than the rest of your friends. And sometimes, just speaking to someone new requires a lot of courage. When I was 6 years old, I was extremely shy. I did not like to talk to or be around people that were not my immediate family. And going into new situations made me feel very anxious. It’s the reason I cried as much as I did as a child and why I sucked my thumb even though I was a “big girl”. So, when I read about Ruby Bridges my heart was filled with compassion and admiration for the level of bravery she showed at the young age of 6.
At 6 yrs old, Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to attend an all white school in Louisiana in November 1960 ending segregation in the Southern school system. Despite it being against the law to segregate students, the citizens of Louisiana resisted and openly opposed the idea of allowing students of colour to attend classes with their white peers. Ruby was one of five African-American students that passed a proficiency test to prove that she was capable of competing with her peers at an all white school. The parents of the children at her local public school were outraged at the thought of integration and many pulled their children out of the elementary school Ruby was set to attend. The image above shows her being accompanied to school by four marshals to keep her safe as she entered the school, because there were groups of angry parents at the entrance of the school shouting hateful things at her and her mother. Yet, Ruby held her head high and bravely walked up those steps to make history and pave the way for other children of colour to attend public schools.
At the school, there was only one teacher, Barbara Henry, who was willing to teach Ruby and she was Ms. Henry’s only student that first year because the parents of the other students refused to let their children be in a class with Ruby. Ms. Henry would play with Ruby at recess as well as the school kept Ruby separate to keep her safe. Despite all of the anger and hatred she faced, Ruby never missed a day of school that year! It took incredible amounts of bravery on behalf of Ruby and her parents to be the first to go against the accepted status quo and integrate the public school system in their neighbourhood. There were consequences for Ruby’s parents for the choice they made—Ruby’s father lost his job, and the local stores refused to sell to Ruby’s mother. Despite the hardships they persevered because they believed that the educational opportunities that would be available to Ruby in the new school were worth it.
Where in your life now requires you to be brave? What situations make you feel scared, anxious or nervous? The next time you find yourself in a situation that scares you, remember Ruby Bridges, and what the end result will be of you taking the action that scares you. Then take a deep breath, find your courage and take that action! Courage is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you practice.