LESSONS RUBY BRIDGES TAUGHT ME

My Summer began in May, when my Alma Mater, Rhode Island College, honored our graduating class of 1969 on commencement day. What a thrill to march with the celebrating survivors to the applause of thousands at the Dunkin Center! An even greater thrill was the fact that Ruby Bridges was the featured speaker. Ruby was at the very heart of the Civil rights movement. In 1969, she was the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white school in Louisiana. Perhaps you’ve seen newspaper pictures of her brave little feet, escorted by U.S. Marshalls, marching up the stairs to an unknown school that didn’t welcome her. The moment was memorialized in a painting by Norman Rockwell, who aptly titled it, “The Problem We All Live With”. At the luncheon honoring our class, I was blessed to spend some one-on-one time with Ruby, and to share with her my own Civil Rights story. I had taught students about Ruby Bridges in Hampton, Virginia, during those troubled times. She was the subject of many lesson plans and chapters in Social Studies books. My students, and I, were the result of the sacrifice she made.

By now, you may be wondering why I’m sharing my story. I’m telling it to you so that I may share some of the lessons Ruby Bridges taught me, because I believe all of us can learn from this lady. First, she taught me to stand up for what is right, even if it’s painful, even if nobody else stands with me, First Corinthians 15:8 exhorts us to “…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”.

Ruby also taught me the importance of learning from the past while letting go of its pain. In her speech, she never mentioned the fact that there were dire consequences in the steps she took. It was, of course, her parents who made that agonizing decision, and the price they paid was astronomical. Ruby’s daddy lost his job. The grocery store where her parents had shopped for years refused to do business with them. Her grandparents were sharecroppers and eventually they were forced to leave the land on which they had labored for many years. Perhaps the saddest footnote to Ruby’s story is that her parents’ marriage was broken, and eventually they separated. Ruby Bridges knows that those early days are a part of her past.  She has learned from them. She will never forget them; but as a Believer, she knows that “…old things have passed away…all things have become new”. (First Corinthians 5:17) She bears no bitterness. That, to me, is the mark of a true Believer. 

My final takeaway from meeting Ruby is the one that impressed me the most. She exudes love. You can see the Lord she loves in her huge smile and warm hugs. I cannot tell you how many of us she hugged and how willing she was to pose for pictures with us. Never did she try to make a hasty exit. In fact, she was the last to leave our luncheon.

From where I sit, we have a lot to learn from Ruby Bridges about living out God’s word regardless of anything that is going on in our world. If you don’t know Ruby’s story, I encourage you to read about it.

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