Thursday, April 23, 2015

Turning Painful History into a Teachable Moment

(This is cross-posted at the "Who Needs Normalcy?" blog as well, available here.)

My six year old daughter came home with a book about Ruby Bridges today.

At first I was taken aback. How on Earth do you make any sense of segregation and hatred to a child who knows nothing of that life...without making them self-conscious, fearful, hurt, cynical, or bitter? It wasn't a conversation that I was exactly looking forward to having ever, though I knew it would one day be necessary. It certainly wasn't a topic I planned to explore at length with her at age six.  But life happened.

So she read the book (as did I). And I talked with her about Jim Crow, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of other topics. And of course, Ruby Bridges. It was heavy stuff. She listened intently. She asked questions. She became sad at times (as did I). But it was beneficial.

She asked if she could contact Ruby Bridges to let her know how she had impacted her. "If she's still alive." I told her I was pretty certain that Ruby Bridges was still alive as she was probably only in her early sixties. Through the wonder of the internet, I found Ms. Bridges' official website in a matter of seconds. She typed a message in the "Notes" of her iPad, and then she copied and pasted the text, emailing her through the website's contact form. With her permission, I am sharing the email (omitting a few identifying details). I hope it will be an meaningful to you to read the message as it is to me.

Photo credit: Jeff Alward/Oxford University Press


"Dear Ms. Ruby,

I like the story about you. My name is _______ and I am six and a half years old. I got a nonfiction book about you from my school. I was trying to find a book to read and I saw a book with a lot of white people holding signs up high. Their faces looked angry. And I saw a black girl at the bottom. I wanted to see what the book was about.

The girl was you. Six year old Ruby. If I were there I would want to be in your class. Not because we are both black people but because you are very brave. I was very sad that people were mean to you and to your family and to lots of black people. Your dad lost his job because he got fired when he wanted you to go to a good school. Your grandma and grandpa became homeless. I think you did a good thing helping bring black people into a whites only school and changing it to a school for everybody. 

I go to a school called ______ School for the Gifted and we have lots of people who are different at my school. We have people who look different and people who think in different ways. I like that. If everybody is the same, it is boring. 

Thank you for helping make things way better than it used to be a long time ago in 1960 when black people had to have old books and go to blacks only schools with old buildings with broken desks and bugs everywhere. If it was like that now I would be sad because I would miss seeing my friends very much if. I had to go to a blacks only school. You helped me a lot. 

I want you to know that I am brave too. I am Autistic and some people don't like it but I am happy. I like who I am.


Love,


_____________"