A Pilgrimage to Remember

Published in The Faith and Politics Institute’s Conscience & Courage Volume 6 Summer 2012

By Ruby Bridges

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I made the trip from New Orleans to Alabama for the 2012 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. I knew I would be meeting some of our nation’s leaders and others, like me, who had a hand in shaping the Civil Rights movement. I had no idea, though, how powerful the trip would be- it serves as one of the most inspiring experiences of my life.

The people I met on the pilgrimage, though from diverse backgrounds, are all like-minded in a very special way.

They are family, and the glue that binds us is the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King. His dream is why we were all there and what we all dedicate our lives to. I was honored to meet the next generation of leaders, who talked about finding their place in history. I saw them embracing their family members’ legacies to keep Dr. King’s dream not only alive, but moving forward.

Pondering how to do this effectively and visiting the many historic sites in Alabama, I couldn’t help but think back to the neighborhood where I grew up in New Orleans.

There, William Frantz Elementary, the school I helped desegregate in 1960, remains vacant since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city almost seven years ago. The school is under construction, and it will soon be a state-of-the-art facility. However, a paradigm shift must take place in order for that building, the community, and me to fulfill our destinies.

The surrounding neighborhood is struggling to survive. Drugs, crime, blight, and an absence of opportunity plague people living there, not unlike many communities across our nation. We need solutions to these seemingly insurmountable problems.

I’ve been told that my ideas are grandiose. Yes, they are. However, so were the ideas that marched me through screaming crowds and up the stairs of William Frantz Elementary more than 50 years ago. In order to truly make lasting positive change- to keep Dr. King’s dream moving forward—we need to think big and act big. That is what I left the pilgrimage with.

The trip helped me to re-center, find my focus and become inspired. I remembered how far we have come, but I recognize the great distances that we have yet to march. I’m inspired by the leaders who participated in the journey across Alabama. I am hopeful that they will take the spirit of that experience with them back to the hallowed halls of Congress and evoke it everyday when they conduct their important work to make our great nation greater.

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