2016-02-10

U.S. Marshals escorted Bridges to and from school in 1960.As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain (17 U.S.C. § 101 and 105).
Black History Month is a time where we look at the rise of the African American community, the accomplishments and struggles. Sometimes, young heroes get overlooked when talking about history. Here at City Year, we believe in the power of all young people and do our best every day to inspire the next generation of leaders.

The students that we work with all have the potential to be great! They have the potential to be leaders, doctors, lawyers, artists, singers, actors, athletes, anything they aspire to be. One of them might be the next Barack Obama or Serena Williams. For me, this means that every day I step into the classroom as a City Year Corps Member is an honor. We have the ability to give students the tools they need to be successful adults and citizens. We have the ability to help them make decisions on their own to make a bright future for themselves. They have the potential to have success, happiness, and impact on our world.

Many times, they just need that one person to tell them they have it in them.

I am sure you have heard of Ruby Bridges– the first African American to be enrolled in the all-white New Orleans school system. She was only six years old and starting the first grade when she faced protests and threats over her attendance.  Imagine a SIX year-old faced with that much opposition and hate. Most parents even refused to have their children attend with her.  Ruby had a few adults that not only saw her ability to achieve, but they also saw the impact she could have on their community, the nation, and history as a whole.

Ruby’s teacher, Mrs. Henry taught Ruby despite the scrutiny she received for teaching an African American girl. As an adult, Ruby talks about how much Mrs. Henry helped her and gave her motivation to be great despite the crowds of people who didn’t believe in her. Her impact extended from just Ruby’s studies to how she dealt with being ostracized at a school where no one looked like her. 

Although schools are no longer segregated by skin color, there are still really harsh setbacks and disadvantages that our students face every day. With many of our Philadelphia students coming from economically disadvantaged homes and over half African American, the neighborhoods we serve in have divides.

This gets to the heart of what we try to accomplish at City Year.  Sometimes we are our students’ Mrs. Henry. There are lots of people and obstacles telling them they cannot achieve and it is our job to encourage and inspire children for greatness no matter what neighborhood they are from and who or what is telling them they can’t. It is our job to believe in them. Our students’ future should be determined by them, not what society expects from them. As we can see from history, sometimes society gets it wrong. 

Written by Zakiyah Ingram, City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps member serving at William D. Kelley STEM Academy
To read more by Zakiyah, click here.

 

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