Brooklyn Brauner, Contributing Photographer

Twenty-five students aged four to 12 attended a read-aloud of Ruby Bridges’ newest children’s book titled “Dear Ruby, Hear Our Hearts,” a compilation of letters that she had received from young students about modern societal issues, including bullying, sexism and gun violence.

Last week’s read-aloud event was part of the “Ruby Bridges Storytime” campaign, a city-wide series of readings for young students and families at four of the New Haven Public Library branches as well as the Boys & Girls Club of Greater New Haven. The event launched at Stetson Library on Jan. 16, where Branch Manager Diane Brown and Children’s Librarian Phillip Modeen hosted former Mayor Toni Harp ARC ’78 to read to second graders from Lincoln Bassett Community School.

“The 2024 University MLK Commemoration committee spent a good amount of time locating different venues to host the read-alouds,” Fallon Thomas, board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater New Haven and Community Liaison for the Yale-New Haven Hiring Initiative at Yale University, said. “We decided that the Boys and Girls Club had the perfect audience because the topic of the book is very relevant to the supplemental education we provide here.”

Ruby Bridges is a civil rights icon, activist, author and speaker and was the first African American student to integrate into an all-white elementary school in Louisiana in 1960. 

Fallon believed that introducing the topics of racism and resilience to the BGCGNH students would highlight both how far school systems have come in terms of desegregation, but also the work that is yet to be done throughout New Haven.

She explained that this and similar events are important to “improve the alignment of the community,” bringing New Haven residents together in the face of equity issues, especially in education.

Other employees at the BGCGNH agreed with Fallon’s sentiments, commenting on the messages they hoped their students would take away from the event.

“I want to remind these students that they can make a difference at a young age,” Sadie Walters, membership director of the BGCGNH, said. “Ruby Bridges was learning Shakespeare when she was just six years old, and some of the kids in this room today were only six. I think it’s good for them to see that they don’t have to wait to get older to show kindness and make an impact wherever they can.”

Similarly, Alyssa Carr, area director of the BGCGNH, said she hoped the children would gain an understanding of who Ruby Bridges is and how they can make a change similar to her legacy. 

While speaking about the demographics of the BGCGNH specifically, Carr mentioned the added significance of a Ruby Bridges’ book because the “club that is in the middle of the inner city and serves a majority of African American youth, so the students need to see the history and the culture that preceded them.”

The “Ruby Bridges Storytime” events throughout New Haven were the collaborative efforts led by Risë Nelson, Yale University Library’s DEIA Director and Shana Jackson, co-chair of the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Antiracism Committee. 

“Before COVID, dozens of events across campus and the city celebrated Rev. Dr. King’s life and legacy and brought New Haven together in the most beautiful way to consider and work towards King’s vision of the ‘Beloved Community,’” Nelson said. “With COVID restrictions having considerably eased up, I wanted to try to revive some of that amazing pre-MLK Commemoration lead-up energy and reconnect folks by collaborating with local partners on educational, youth-centered programming that aligned with the theme of this year’s Commemoration featuring Ruby Bridges.”

The “Ruby Bridges Storytime” campaign will conclude on Wednesday, Jan. 24 with Ruby Bridges’ discussion entitled “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: The Ongoing Fight for Educational Justice at Woolsey Hall.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater New Haven is located at 253 Columbus Ave..

Brooklyn Brauner serves as a staff reporter for the City desk, covering Nonprofits and Social Services throughout New Haven, in addition to serving as the Thursday Newsletter Editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she is currently a sophomore in Grace Hopper College studying Political Science.