The Problem We Still Live With
“Is this to be one of the desegregated schools?” a New Orleans teacher asked.
“Yes it is,” the superintendent replied. “Would that make any difference?”
We had no idea what a difference it would make.
In 1932 a child by the name of Barbara Henry was born. She would eventually get tutelage in her early years from the Girls Latin School of Boston—an experience she said taught her to “appreciate and enjoy our important commonalities amid our external differences of class, community and color.”
Subsequently, she would enjoy an informative college life that took her from the halls of Newton College of the Sacred Heart and into her master’s degree in history and government at Boston College. The vividness of her experience at Boston College led Ms. Henry to seek opportunities to see more of the topics of her studies, which brought her to teach the children of military personnel in Paris from 1958 to 1960.
Meanwhile, more than two decades later, another young girl was born by the name of Ruby Bridges. The granddaughter of sharecroppers, Ruby was raised by parents who would give her the mental tools she needed to be a child of inspiration. At the tender age of 6, Ruby’s life would alter the path of schoolchildren for decades to come.
The beginning of the school year of 1960 would mark an intersection of those two lives, a remarkable teacher and student relationship that should serve as a catalyst for relationships to come. The dedication of Ms. Henry in the face of adverse and unfavorable circumstances after a life that had taught her appreciation, compassion and respect for individuals from different backgrounds—coupled with the courage of a first-grader who only wants to go to school and learn.
The actions and work that these two ladies executed demonstrated that racism was a misguided fallacy, born within the minds of individuals who feared what a beautiful union could produce.
So as I live life in this new New Orleans, I wonder if the efforts of those two beautiful ladies were in vain. Have these events gone by the wayside, succumbing to those who take our history too lightly? Will we refuse to acknowledge the lessons taught by the past or refuse to respect the accomplishments brought upon by the courageous acts of the civil rights movement?
Next month will mark 55 years that Ruby Bridges and Mrs. Barbara Henry changed the face of education in New Orleans, yet in 2015 New Orleans schools are more segregated than ever before. I believe the culprit to be a sibling of racism that the world has often failed to address. This transgressor has hid in the shadows of its more obvious kin but it is high time that it is confronted and dealt with openly and eradicated completely.
CLASSISM is the condition that jeopardizes the monumental works of these iconic women. This is the reason we continue to cultivate selective admission schools who use curricula and admission tests to draw imaginary lines around the children who they would—and would not—allow in their schools. A large group of educators would be recruited to come in, dropped out of helicopters like airborne soldiers because they are told they need to save these underprivileged children.
Perhaps classism also is behind the sentiments of a large group of teachers who don’t want to be evaluated on their performance for fear of job security and being cast back into a lower class. Classism has been a plague of New Orleans for centuries over, and it seems it is being widely used as the weapon of today to resegregate this city. It has picked education as one of its victims.
There is an attempt to revisit the value of segregation, which means we haven’t learned anything.
Yet I refuse to let Ruby Bridges’ legacy and works die. She and Ms. Henry certainly made a difference. I stand for her accomplishments as an engaged parent. I further her works as an informed individual. I move forward in her spirit as a devoted New Orleanian who recognizes that the diverse makeup of this city is a gift.
Please stand with me.