BY: CAMELIA REID
If I was given the chance to have a 30-minute conversation with any person in history it would be Ruby Nell Bridges. She was an African American civil rights activist and the first African American child to end a policy of racial segregation in William Frantz Elementary School. Ruby receives my utmost admiration because as a child her story was the easiest to comprehend and build an emotional connection with when learning about civil rights movements. I truly appreciate the way our lives were intertwined with similarities during our childhood years.
At around age 11, I attended an elementary school that was primarily white. There weren’t many other ethnic groups apart from Caucasians so I felt as though I couldn’t relate to the other students. All four of the other African American kids in my grade seemed to fit in just fine. I, on the other hand, appeared to be the rejected fifth element. Growing up a very timid and withdrawn individual, I refrained from including myself in any activities unless I was asked or invited. I was filled with fear and concern about what everyone else thought of me, so at the time I made the decision to stay to myself.
Unlike myself at the time, Ruby Bridges carried a strong personality and didn’t care what anyone thought of her. Despite being discriminated, bullied, and judged, she always kept a level head. At just six years old she took on hurtful comments and physical abuse all due to being smart enough to attend an all-white school. Being a young child Ruby was capable to face the cruelty of life and racism. Teachers refused to educate her and the parents of the white children wouldn’t allow their child to be taught in the same classroom as Ruby. She was alone, yet didn’t show any signs of needing a friend.
If I were to compare a photo of six-year-old me to that of Ruby Bridges I’d say we have similar physical traits which creates our first vague connection. My biggest connection with Ruby’s story is how she went to an all-white school in hopes of a better education. We even shared the experience of being an outcast due to our different appearances from the other students. Back when I was in elementary school, students were selected to attend schools based on their academic performance and that’s how I ended up in Woodland Elementary School. Though Ruby’s experience was way more crucial than mine, I feel as though we walked the same path as young African American children seeking education, acceptance, and friends.
I would rather converse with the young Ruby Bridges rather than Ruby in her adulthood. I would ask her about the things that went through her mind, both as an adult and as a child. I would ask her about her feelings towards those individuals who hurt her and how she feels about them now. I’d ask her what she would want to tell her future self and what she would warn her children about. I can ask her for tips on how to cope with issues in society that cause children to feel left out or less important based on our backgrounds and social status.
I began to think that both mine and Ruby ‘s experiences were a blessing and a curse. At just six years old Ruby was highly educated and at the top of her class. Ruby was so popular that she got escorted to school every day by U.S Marshals. Paparazzi followed Little Miss Bridges with their cameras flashing, into school and right back out again at the end of the day to capture every moment of the life of someone they cared so little about. Barriers were even set up to keep her “fans” and “haters” from attacking her. When it all comes down to it Ruby and I both overcame the awkward phase in our lives where we tried to fit into societal norms. I hope to one day become a natural icon just like Ruby Nell Bridges even in life’s simplest form.