Because RUBY LEE AND ME is on the Golden Sower list, I was invited to Omaha for a week of school visits. My presentation started with a picture of me. I then talked about how the world I was born into was much different than the one kids live in today. I showed black and white pictures from the Civil Right Era and shared my memories of swimming pools that only allowed white people and restaurants that cheated black people. The following slide bothered one African-American student:
He raised his hand and told me the slide made him feel bad. I tried to answer him in a sensitive, caring way, but I have a better answer for him now. Here’s what I should have said: I can’t possibly know what it’s like to live in your skin, but stick with me here, because we’re going to talk about how people whose skin was the color of yours were strong and brave. How they demanded change and finally got it.
At a different school, a young man asked if I believe in #BlackLivesMatter. On this question, I had no hesitation. There have been too many young men like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile. Our whole country should join Colin Kaepernick in taking a knee.
I told the kids I lived through school integration, but I was sharing it from the perspective of a white person. Then I read this book to them:
I chose this one because it’s by Ruby Bridges in her own words. I told kids it’s always good to check multiple sources to get a more complete story.
The most memorable part of my trip happened at Martin Luther King Elementary School. As I looked out at the audience, I was a clear minority. One of the educators sat with his head in his hands. I wondered if I had offended him in some way, but decided there was nothing to do but finish and speak with him afterwards. During the Q and A, the gentleman raised his hand. I thought, oh no, here it comes. Instead he asked if we could go back to the Little Rock Nine, and he said, “I was there.” He talked about working in the cotton fields and how hard it had been for him to get a good education. It was the most moved I have ever been during a school visit, and it just goes to show that you never really know what’s going on in another person’s mind. Talking about Civil Rights can sometimes be uncomfortable, but I think it’s essential to look at how far we have come, and to acknowledge how far we still have to go.
On my last day in Omaha, I presented at the Golden Sower Competition held at Girls Inc. I met a group of young men who were flying to Washington D.C. for the #MarchForOurLives. I was asked to comment on school shootings and the Parkland kids. I replied that kids can change the world. After all, we have a strong history of it with the 1963 Children’s Crusade.
My visit to Omaha challenged me to be a better citizen and a more outspoken ally. The kids who sent me four folders of thank you notes deserve nothing less!