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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

How the Courage of a 6-Year-Old Girl Helped Change the World

The ODU campus community, as well as the larger Hampton Roads community, has a rare opportunity Monday night - a chance to see and hear one of the icons from our country's civil rights movement, Ruby Bridges. Her keynote address at 7 p.m. in the Webb Center North Cafeteria is the kickoff to our annual Black History Month celebration.

Whether or not her name still resonates after all these years, many people are familiar with her story. Ruby Bridges faced incredible racism and discrimination as the first African American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. Others may know of her through her depiction by Norman Rockwell in his famous 1964 painting "The Problem We All Live With." It shows the 6-year-old Bridges on Nov. 14, 1960, as she was escorted by deputy marshals on her way to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

The courage Bridges displayed that day, and throughout the many days and years that followed as she pursued her education under often difficult circumstances, was incredible, and would be one of many actions to follow that helped set our nation on the path toward realizing the dream Dr. King spoke of so passionately and eloquently. The steps Ruby Bridges took that day more than 50 years ago are also reminiscent in these words from the late civil rights leader: "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

As an adult, inspired by her desire to help children achieve their hopes and dreams, Bridges established the Ruby Bridges Foundation. The foundation began by taking small steps to achieve a grand vision - to provide children with an equal opportunity to succeed. Appropriately, the work began at Frantz, where the foundation started an after-school program featuring multicultural arts classes. Later, a program called Ruby's Bridges was developed to promote cultural understanding through community service.

I hope you will be on hand Monday night to hear the story of this noted social justice advocate and human rights icon. It will truly be a living lesson in American history.

Bridges' address is the first of many events celebrating Black History Month at ODU, under the theme "Black Women in American History and Culture: Visionaries and Pioneers." (Full Schedule of Events) The university will present a variety of programs designed to inform, educate, inspire and unify the campus and greater community.

At ODU, we value and take pride in the multicultural community we offer to students, faculty, staff and the community at large. Celebrating Black History Month is one of the many ways we can all learn more about this vibrant community of which we are a part.

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