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First child to desegregate New Orleans schools talks to Miamis youth

caines | 12/20/2012, 4:30 a.m.

Imagine that youre a six-year-old Black girl and its your first day at a new school. Your mother has fixed your hair into two perfect braids, you have on your prettiest dress and youve got a special book under your arm to illustrate how well you can read. But instead of skipping to school with your best friend, youre being accompanied by federal officers whose job is to keep you safe from white racists who dont want you learning with their children. They want to hold on to the notion of separate but equal. Thats what Ruby Bridges, born in Mississippi in 1954, experienced when she became the first Black child to integrate the New Orleans public schools. Her act of bravery and determination was captured forever by the legendary Norman Rockwell in his painting, The Problem We All Live With a version of it now hangs in the White House where, incidentally, our countrys first Black president serves. Some things have indeed changed. My mission for as long as I can remember and the basis of my foundation is to promote diversity and to bring children together from all races, she said. I was judged based on the color of my skin and the kids in school teased me mercilessly. Thats one of the reasons that Im an advocate to end bullying. That kind of behavior really comes from adults its taught to children and they in turn pass it along to their own kids. Soon it becomes a really huge problem.

Paving the way for the next generation

Bridges was in Miami Shores last Saturday to speak to an excited group of kids from the Boys and Girls Club and to give away copies of two books about her one that she wrote herself. Aubria Marshall, 19, a Northwestern High graduate, is now in her second year at FIU. Shes been part of the Club since the second grade and was recently chosen as their Youth of the Year. I speak out against bullying like Ms. Bridges and think its great to be able to spend time with a role model that knows how to relate to young people, she said. Hearing her story reminds us that today we can do whatever we want. She didnt let her age keep her from going after her dreams we shouldnt either. The event was sponsored by Precision Barber Club a new business owned by Ray Pollock and USA Fast Tax & Investments, both located in Miami Shores. I agreed to meet at Precision Barber Club because our kids need to understand the importance of having and maintaining a positive self-image, Bridges said. It not only builds self-esteem but being well-groomed matters, especially when its time for them to enter the workforce. The mother of four sons says she is passionate about her work and still has a lot of work to do. As for her place in history, she says, Sometimes children find it difficult to understand the way the world was when I was their age and why my parents and I were willing to risk so much just so that I could receive a better education. I think its hard for them to wrap their hands around the sacrifices so many of us made during the civil rights movement because the history is not being taught in our schools the way it actually happened. But you know the truth will set you free. The world back then had some good and some bad but a lot of it was just plain ugly. We were unwilling to let it stay that way. Whether it was Dr. King then or President Obama today, the goal has been the same: to level the playing field for everyone. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonlines.com