Grown-up Ruby Bridges speaks for the children

The Associated PressU.S. Deputy Marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, in November 1960.

It’s hard to imagine little Ruby Bridges fully understanding her role in the country’s vitriolic debate over equality and civil rights when she was escorted into William Frantz Elementary School back in 1960.

Bridges was only 6 years old when she was surrounded by armed marshals as she walked into the elementary school in New Orleans.

Her steps as the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the south established a path for others to follow for years to come.

Today, the adult Ms. Bridges is still using her experiences as a youngster to educate the world about the impact of racism and prejudice not only on individuals, but on our country as a whole.

Given the current political overtones in America, her message — and her visit this week to Niagara University — could not come at a better time.

There’s never a wrong moment to reflect on the value of demonstrating bravery in the face of violence or hate.

Bridges’ story of having to patiently endure less-than-equal treatment as a student once she started to attend classes speaks to the power of often-overlooked, yet invaluable traits like patience, perseverance and persistence.

While she may have only been a child, there’s no denying her role in helping to change the status quo in the adult world of the mid 1960s and beyond.

In an interview last week with reporter Michele Deluca, Bridges touched on the toll that her early life experiences took on her personally.

“It has not been an easy journey, I will tell you that, but I do know how important it is,” she said. “I feel good about how kids put themselves in this little girl’s shoes and see her as a hero.”

It’s not always the case that Niagara County residents are afforded the opportunity to hear firsthand from an individual who played such an instrumental role in the nation’s history. As one of the major institutions of higher education in Western New York, Niagara University is to be commended for doing what it could to organize an evening with Ms. Bridges as part of a forum that will no doubt prove interesting and enlightening.

Ruby Bridges the child will live on forever as an iconic and enduring image of the civil rights movement as captured in the Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Problem We All Live With,” which depicted the little girl in her Sunday best, walking among the uniformed men assigned to protect her as she entered William Frantz Elementary School.

Ruby Bridges the adult has continued to speak out about the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation for differences. Through the Ruby Bridges Foundation, headquartered in New Orleans, she has worked since 1999 to bring parents back into schools and encourage them to take more active roles in the education of their children.

She hopes to cure what she describes as the “adult disease” known as racism by educating children, many of whom are the same age she was back in 1960.

“Most of my life is driven by that little girl,” Bridges said last week. “It’s almost like she keeps saying, ‘if you just explain it to them the way that I’m telling you, they’ll get it.’”

As we are reminded as a nation on a regular basis, there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure racial equality in America.

More than 50 years after her historic walk into that elementary school in New Orleans, Ruby Bridges is still serving as a reminder of the power one person has to change the world.

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