New on Cultivating—Healings Between the Fragments

“Gathering In” is the delicious theme of The Cultivating Project’s issue this Fall. My essay contribution to it, “Healing between the Fragments”, postures me in an odd reversal. It is my first piece written as one scattered versus gathered, yet again—this time from the USA to Germany, my home for the next
three years! (More on that next post! 🇺🇸🇯🇲🇩🇪)

Two other great reasons to pop over to this great free online publication: First, my dear husband Claude was asked by founder, Director of Cultivating, Lancia E. Smith, to contribute a piece this issue, sharing his perspectives on ‘Proximity’, as it relates to our current racial and cultural climate; and second, there is indeed included a delicious pumpkin bread recipe with accompanying story, Miss Lucy’s Pumpkin Bread Recipe, by fellow writer, Annie Nardone! This entire issue is well worth ‘gathering in’ to a comfy chair with a cup of tea, coffee or chocolate and settling down for soul-comfort on a cool Fall or breezy Caribbean evening.

The Content of Her Character (Two)

Copyright. Freedom March of Art. All Rights Reserved.

I was not long past posting last week’s blog about the reallife, and still living Civil Rights heroine, Ruby Bridges, when it dawned on me that I had left out the co-star in that drama. I am no engineer, but I do believe that if a bridge is going to be built, work needs to happen from both sides of the divide. Thank God, for that was the case with the story that unfolded in the 1960 Louisiana school that 6-year-old, Ruby, so boldly entered for a solid year escorted by federal marshals. There was someone working from the other side.

That other character was her equally bold first grade teacher, Barbara Henry. Mrs Henry had been just recently married  and transplanted to Louisiana, when she received a telephone call offering her a teaching job. Aware of the issues and current climate of her new home town, she inquired if this was one of the schools being desegregated. Upon being told yes, she was further asked if it would make a difference in her response. She replied that it didn’t. That response set Barbara apart from all the other teachers of the 500 students who all exited Frantz Elementary school the day Ruby and her mother entered.

Without question, Ruby Bridges stands a heroine today, because of the answer to prayers she offered up along with her humble parents who, with no formal education or sophisticated preparation, parented their young daughter through a full year of psychological assault, crossing bitter racial picket lines each school day. But the rest of the story, is attested to by Ruby herself. Asked one day by a visiting psychiatrist, whose heart was moved for her mental well-being, why she would pray for the angry mobs, she reported, “I knew that once I got past those angry people, I was going to have a great day.” She had that hope as an anchor to her innocent resolve because of the dedication of teacher, Barbara Henry,  to make sure that her lone student received all she could provide of a full first grade education, under such extreme circumstances. Mrs. Henry was not only Ruby’s teacher but also her only classmate, friend, and even play mate for all of her first grade year. Oh, and did I forget to mention? Barbara Henry is white.

A Jamaican folk song that has increased in significance to me over the years, refrains with the  query “…ah how yuh come over di broad dutty ( dirty) water ?” When the circumstances of life come at you like a Jamaican mountain river in full spate after a tropical storm you need a bridge, that is, if you plan to ‘come over’. When America stood on the flooded banks of  the river of racial segregation in 1960, there were brave souls on both sides, who wanted to be a part of the way over. Providentially prepared by her own real education in multi-ethnic classrooms and by her travels teaching for the Navy, Barbara Henry demonstrated the best of what used to be called ‘the noble profession’. She not only taught Ruby what first graders should learn of the three ‘r’s, she walked with her across those waters, building a bridge that many cavalierly traverse today. Ruby and Barbara, the libation of your courageous lives make that chapter of our American story holy ground.

See parts of Barbara’s story in the links below.

Towards a purposeful observance of Black History month.

Denise Stair-Armstrong 02/06/17


Teaching Ruby Bridges (Boston Globe article)

 The Content Of Her Character 

Viewing the YouTube post below of this poised middle-aged African-American woman calmly delivering a TED Talk  in front of a Norman Rockwell painting of herself, supplied me a Modern day heroine to hold up before my children and a commitment to add ‘meet Ruby Bridges in person’ to my bucket list. If the painting titled ‘The Problem We All Live With’ does not bring you to tears, then the photograph of the real event should and should also motivate us all to join her mission to make sure our children learn to judge real character by learning real history in the best environment in the times we all live in.

The sweet metaphor suggested by Ruby’s name is not lost on me- Though I can only guess at where she stands with regard to profession of faith, I do still take the liberty of believing that this woman, as a little girl, was held together by the Divine Grace of the Ruby-Red Cross of Our Christ. And though her parents’ marriage did not survive this dreadful stormy trial, this fiery gem of a lady is a trophy of God’s grace to our nation.

*Interestingly, a 2010 NPR interview of Ruby repeatedly referred to the painting as ‘The Times We All Live In’. Not sure why. Also, Barak Obama, had it displayed in the White House after meeting her, during his presidency. I wonder which title he associated it with and how that influenced his handling of racial matters during his administration. Food for thought for Bridge-builders.

Ruby Bridges 2010 NPR Interview

Towards a purposeful observance of Black History Month, Denise