Sometimes I take for granted that my physical working space puts me in contact with amazing human beings. On any given day our campus hosts dignitaries and diplomats, academics and award winners, and a number of humans so smart that my brain can't actually accept what they have accomplished.
Today was no exception. A student committee within our office hosted their annual MLK Breakfast that honors the legacy of a man who fought to show that love is the only power strong enough to drive out hate. The guests for this event have been amazing civil rights activists like Harry Belafonte and Diane Nash and this year they hosted Ruby Bridges.
Don't recognize her name? You may recognize her by this famous Normal Rockwell painting...
Ruby Bridges. A six-year old girl that became the face of the American story of integration. A story about hope. A story about a different future. A story about progression. A story about the America that really is for "WE the people".
I have rarely been so moved to be in the presence of another human. To hear her story and to watch the reaction of 750 others as she told it was a gift. She explains it quite simply - she was six years old and "just going to school." She didn't know why these men had picked her up for her new school but once they rounded the corner and she saw all these people "acting crazy and waving their hands" it hit her... she was in a Mardi Gras parade because being from New Orleans it was a reasonable explanation to all the ruckus around her.
As she filled us in on that lonely year of school - a classroom of just her and her teacher - a school where she could hear children but didn't really see them - a school where she had to eat in her class instead of in the cafeteria with others - I just kept wondering how she did it. How did she, at 6, carry on?
Faith. Her answer was faith. Faith in him. Faith in humanity. Faith in the good of others. Her message was to keep moving forward. To love more than hate, even when it's hard. Even when it's unfair. Even when you don't want to do it - love. Each and every day. Spread the message that only light can drive out the dark.
She also made sure to talk about her parents' decision to allow her to be part of this movement. They wanted better for her - and I couldn't help but cry because I paused and had to really think about it. Would I...no, COULD I.... send my child past a mob of angry, hate-filled people to make a difference for others? Could I do that?
She spoke of her teacher, Mrs. Henry, and the profound impact she had on her life even though she taught her for only one year. She travelled from Boston just to teach her because no one at the school would agree to the task. They are still in contact today.
So many pieces of that puzzle came together to form her story.
As the literally dawning of a new day in American history approaches I really had to pause and give thanks for her message. Her presence on this campus was not a coincidence...no...that was a divine plan. Those people in that room needed to hear her words. I needed to hear them. I needed to be challenged to understand that one person does not get to write our story. We are all responsible to move forward. We are all responsible to love.
As parents - we teach our kids to face that hard knowing they have a soft place to land in our arms.
As educators - we support our students and meet them where they are. We listen and guide and advocate for them.
As children - we love.
To love is our duty. Each of us. Whether you are 6, 16, 60 .... whether you agree or not. Not just when it's easy but especially when it's hard. Not because it's the only thing to do simply because it's the right thing to do. Not because you want a better life for yourself but to demand a better life for others.
President Obama wrote us all a letter today. In it he says...
I've seen you, the American people, in all your decency, determination, good humor, and kindness. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I've seen our future unfolding.
All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into that work - the joyous work of citizenship. Not just when there's an election, not just when our own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.
America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word 'We.' 'We the people.' 'We shall overcome.'
We the people. You and me. Our children. The people that don't look like us. Or think like us. Our friends and neighbors. And people we've never met.
We shall love.
I'm ready. Are you?