WALLINGFORD — Amie Alfano’s fourth grade class stood in front of Mary G. Fritz School Monday morning, ready to walk three laps around the building in honor of Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day.
“I think by doing this today, (we) walk for a cause that is incredibly selfless and to just have (students) acknowledge (the role of) diversity, equity and inclusion, and we talk about all of those things in my classroom,” Alfano said to her students and their parents as they prepared for the walk. “... It’s not just a black or white or color issue, it’s really including and (being) accepting of different cultures, different backgrounds and just being a kind human.”
Bridges was six years old when on Nov. 14, 1960 she attended her first day at William Frantz elementary school in New Orleans — the first Black child to attend an all-white primary school in the state of Louisiana. The event occurred six years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed school segregation nationwide, in the face of Southern states’ stubborn refusal to integrate.
Bridges and her mother walked to the elementary school escorted by deputy US marshals as a mob of white residents shouted racist slurs at her and waved hateful signs in her direction. She was one of six Black children to pass a test to gain access to formerly all-white schools, but she would attend the school on her own, after two of the children dropped out and three went, on the same day, to a different school, according to historical accounts.
“She walked past crowds screaming vicious slurs at her,” according to the National Women’s History Museum. “Undeterred, she later said she only became frightened when she saw a woman holding a black baby doll in a coffin.”
Monday was Alfano’s first time having her class participate in Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day, an initiative that was started by AAA school safety patrollers at Martin Elementary School in San Francisco in 2018 as a way to honor Bridges.
“I have been a member of the diversity, equity and inclusion committee in Wallingford for a couple years and I got an email from the Ruby Bridges Foundation and I figured it would be a great opportunity to have the kids be accountable, to feel like they are a part of something larger,” Alfano said.
Alfano said her class was the only one at her school participating in Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day as the rest of the school observed World Kindness Day on Monday. Next year, Alfano is hoping to get the entire school to participate.
“This happened Friday,” Alfano said. “At the drop of a hat, I was like, ‘let me do this.’ I threw it together very quickly, but I would love to next year involve the whole school.”
Alfano’s entire class and parents who came to support and walk with their children wore purple, the color the foundation chose to celebrate Bridges.
Melissa Anziano, mother of Kora Anziano, stopped by the school to walk with her daughter.
“It’s important for (the students) to care about everybody,” Anziano said.
Bridges, now 68, recently wrote a mini-memoir in children's book form, from her six-year-old self's perspective titled “I Am Ruby Bridges: How one six-year-old girl’s march to school changed the world.”
Before the students started their three laps, Alfano had them discuss the importance of the walk and read and sign a pledge about acceptance. “We’re going to say it but we’re going to live by what we’re saying,” she said. All the students signed the pledge.
“I talked to the kids about while you’re walking, to really think about why it is you’re walking and anytime you sign a pledge, no matter what it is, that you put your action into words and you really try to live by those things that you’re signing,” Alfano said. “Also, obviously, don’t sign anything you don’t believe in.”
The pledge started with a quote by Bridges: “Who we are lies in our heart, not in our appearance.”
Then, the class and the parents said in unison: “I pledge to be respectful of others and stand up against racism and bullying.”
Before and after the walk, students shared their thoughts on the meaning of the walk. Felix Allen, 9, discussed the idea that nobody is perfect, which makes diversity important.
“To be perfect makes you not perfect,” Allen said.
Alfano said that her class will be reading a text about Bridges for their next language arts unit, which means her class got a jump start on learning through the walk.
“This cause is just simple,” Alfano said. “… To have a human nature and kindness.”