OGDEN — In a time when people are experiencing increased isolation, especially those trying to safely work toward social justice changes, Ruby Bridges Hall will speak to a Weber State University audience Thursday about her experience as the first African American child to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
"Personally, I hope that people can find hope in knowing that sometimes you don’t have to be alone, even if it seems like you are alone in just reaching out," said Tia Nero, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program coordinator at Weber State. "Putting faith in others can take you a long way."
As a 6-year-old, Bridges' parents answered the NAACP's call for students to participate in the desegregation of the New Orleans school system in 1960. Bridges was one of six African American students in the city who passed a test allowing them to attend all-white William Frantz Elementary.
Two of the children opted to remain at their old school and three others — commonly known as the McDonogh Three — were transferred to McDonogh 19 Elementary School, leaving Bridges the lone African American child at the school. She subsequently faced crowds of angry protesters and endured threats, leading agents from the U.S. Marshals Service to escort her to and from school every day.
All teachers at William Frantz Elementary refused to accept Bridges into their classroom, except one — Barbara Henry. The two formed a special bond, helping Bridges get through the school year.
"We wanted to bring Ruby Bridges because we felt that because of her experience with fighting for social justice and equity and her journey as a civil rights activist, she knows the meaning of standing up for what you believe in," Nero said.
Bridges, who graduated from an integrated high school and now has grandchildren, continues to work to combat racism, especially in schools. In 1999, she formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation to help educate others about "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences," according to the organization's website.
“Ruby Bridges reminds us that the history of educational segregation is as topical today as it was when she integrated the Louisiana schools in 1960,” said Weber State Assistant Vice President for Diversity Adrienne Andrews, who will host the event, in a press release. “As living history, she exemplifies one person's ability to transform the nation through consistent action."
Most recently, Bridges published the book "This is Your Time," which is a New York Times bestseller. The 64-page book serves as a letter to readers and call to action as the country works to combat racism in the wake of summer protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“Recent events right here in our own community remind us that we all need the bravery that 6-year-old Ruby showed us 61 years ago and beyond,” said communication associate professor Nicola Corbin in a press release. Corbin will interview Bridges.
She continued, “As we celebrate the contributions of Black people to the building of these United States this month, I hope participants realize that it requires all of us all year round, in all of our humanity, to make meaningful change that moves us forward. If a 6-year-old and her family can do it, we can too.”
The online event, which is part of the university's celebration of Black History Month, is free and open to the public. It will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday over Zoom. Community members can register to participate and submit questions for Bridges on the school's website.
"We’re super excited and we hope that everyone will be able to participate and take away the things that we have been able to take away when we watch interviews with Ms. Bridges," Nero said.