A Message From Ruby
Though I did not know it then, nor would I come to realize it for many years, what transpired in the fall of 1960 in New Orleans would forever change my life and help shape a nation. When I think back on that time and all that has occurred since, I realize a lot has changed. I also know there is much more to be done. That fateful walk to school began a journey, and I have now developed a vision to continue moving forward.
November 14, 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the day I desegregated William Frantz Elementary School. Most people know me as the six-year-old girl perpetually in a white dress and pigtails, as depicted in Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With.” The “problem” Rockwell alludes to has been a part of our history since the first enslaved people were brought to the Americas over 400 years ago, and it is one that each of us must still confront today. For me, the painting also serves as an ever-present reminder of my purpose.
It was not until experiencing many of life’s lessons that I realized this calling. Ironically enough, it came to me decades later while at William Frantz. I had not given much thought to the events of my childhood until my youngest brother passed away in 1993, and I began looking after his daughters. They happened to be students at William Frantz, and I began volunteering there as a parent liaison. At that difficult time in my life, I felt I had been brought back in touch with my past for some greater cause.
Not long after, a reporter called the school. Psychiatrist Robert Coles had written a children’s book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, and people wanted to know what had happened to the little girl in the painting. No one expected to find me back at my old school.
Since that time I have made it my life’s work to use my story to further the cause of equality and social justice – to realizing the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and brought attention to the societal ills that continue to plague this nation. Nowhere was the problem more visible than in the Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood where the school was located.
Amidst the ruins, I glimpsed a vision of a brighter future. The blueprint that I have developed outlines a community development effort that centers on creating a model educational institution. Though the resilient people of the Upper Ninth Ward have worked tirelessly and made many great strides, after some five years, the situation remains bleak. The neighborhood remains poor, blighted and unsafe. The William Frantz building too is empty, boarded-up and fenced-in. My hope and life’s work will be to help rejuvenate this community while teaching generations not to hate, but to lead.
I hope you will join me and support the Ruby Bridges Foundation as we work to make this grand vision a reality.