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This past summer, my daughter registered my seven year old granddaughter for the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program. The six week course was held in the elementary school building of our small town – a town where the population is 95.7% white and residents living below the poverty level is at 21.4%. [i]

I mention the demographics of our town because the CDF grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and its Freedom Schools are modeled after the Mississippi Freedom Schools which came to be during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964. And I, also, mention the demographics because I grew up in this small town, and it is my observation that an attitude of white privilege is the central approach by the majority of residents within the village.[ii] 

I was quite pleased that the CDF Freedom Schools program had been brought to our community and delighted that my granddaughter was participating. One day, she came home very excited about a lesson being taught at her Freedom School, calling out,  “Grandmama, we learned about Ruby Ridges today!”.

For a moment, I was confused and wondering what and why, exactly, were they teaching about the FBI stand-off at Ruby Ridge in 1992? Then it dawned on me...

“Do you mean Ruby Bridges?”, I asked.

She confirmed that she had meant Ruby Bridges, the little girl who made history in 1960, by being the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white public school in the South. [iii]

My granddaughter loved participating in all the activities at her Freedom School. And I loved how she would come home and rush to tell me all about them. She told me how all the scholars assembled each morning for “Harambee” time, before dispersing to their individual classes. She also informed me that a song they learned called “Something Inside So Strong”[iv] (with motions added) would be performed at the Finale celebration ceremony, along with a reenactment of Ruby being escorted by federal marshals, past an angry crowd, on her first day of school at William Franz Elementary in New Orleans, Louisiana.

TeachersSmSzThe day of 'The Finale' came and I went to the event with my daughter and son-in-law (and my granddaughter's younger siblings, of course). I was very impressed by the teachers’ genuine kindness towards - and active involvement with - this group of children. Not only had they fostered educational enrichment in their students; they imparted invaluable lessons about inner-strength, loving your neighbor, making a difference, and the importance of community engagement.

Most of all, I was impressed by the children. Not only did they learn academic lessons; they learned how to "all pull together" - Harambee - to make the world a better place.

[i] Percentages are from 2013 demographic data gleaned from  http://www.city-data.com/

[ii] “It's easy to understand why someone might bristle at the mention of white privilege; after all, most people don't like to think of themselves as being racist. It's important to remember that white privilege is not something that a person actively cultivates; rather, it's the product of a culture that is built on a white supremacist ideology. Yet, while white privilege is generally unconscious, it can be manipulated and exploited, which is why it is important that we know how to identify it and understand how it affects people of all races” from http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-white-privilege-definition-examples-statistics.html

[iii] I listened, while my granddaughter told me what she had learned about Ruby Bridges’ experiences as a student at William Frantz Elementary, in Louisiana. I shared with her things I knew, that she had not mentioned. She was intrigued by the fact that I winter in New Orleans where all this took place, and where Ms Bridges resides to this day.

[iv] Lyrics to “Something Inside So Strong”, by Labi Siffre, can be found at http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/labisiffre/somethinginsidesostrong.html

Bonnie Bertelson

Bonnie Bertelson

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