The picture of Vice President Elect Kamala Harris walking alongside the shadow of 6 year old Ruby Bridges has been giving me life the past few days.
I have taught three classes this week and shown the picture in 2 of them. In one of the classes (a freshman seminar focused on social change), no one new the shadow of Ruby and in the other class (a junior policy class of social work majors) only a few people did.
I talked for a bit about the women in the picture, and made the connections for them that I had hoped they would make for themselves, about the journey toward civil rights, justice and the lived out illustration of Dr. King’s quote that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.
This realization that the students didn’t know Ruby Bridges like I thought they would made me think of a saying I heard a long time ago, that there are two gifts we should give our children. One is roots, to remind them where they are from, and the other is wings, to show them what they can become.
I don’t think of my students as children, but this principle still applies to what I wish for them. I want them to have knowledge (roots) of history, particularly the parts of history that too often get glossed over. I want them to have a vision (wings) for the gifts (work, commitment, character, seeking justice, etc) that they bring to the world.
Due to covid, my regular semester of classes actually ends this week…though there has been nothing regular about this semester! But I have decided for these two classes (freshman seminar focused on social justice, and my junior policy class where we have examined many policy issues through the lens of equity), I am going to re-visit this picture on the last day and add on a bit of the “roots and wings” discussion. I am going to invite students to do some journaling for a few minutes to think about their own roots and wings. Who has inspired them in their social justice work? What qualities do they want to grow in themselves that will help them in their journey of seeking justice? What have they learned this semester that they didn’t know before? How do they see themselves building on this knowledge? What else do they want to learn? How can they be in solidarity with others?
As I approach the end of a semester and the beginning of another: another semester, another year, a big birthday coming…I will be asking myself these questions as well.
(For more information on the artwork and the creator of the image above, check out https://www.cnet.com/news/heres-the-story-behind-that-viral-image-of-kamala-harris-and-ruby-bridges/)
(For more info on the roots and wings quote: apparently an unnamed wise woman said this: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/08/12/roots-wings/)