Thursday, Nov. 14, marked the 59th year since 6-year-old African American student Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals to attend her first day at an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. Her walk to school that day ushered in a milestone of the civil rights movement.
To celebrate and remember that walk, local organizations supporting children and their safety teamed up to coordinate a Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day celebration in Belle Haven, led by Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor and Menlo Park's Parents for Safe Routes founder Jennifer Wolosin.
The 7:30 a.m. event started at Karl E. Clark Park at 313 Market Place, where family turnout far surpassed organizers' expectations with somewhere between 60 and 100 people in attendance.
Taylor, Menlo Park's City Council representative for District 1, which includes the Belle Haven neighborhood, shared remarks with attendees and offered a short history lesson on Bridges' impact. In a text message to The Almanac, she explained that as an adult, Bridges has continued advocacy work with children because they have "clean hearts" and haven't yet learned racism, as Bridges states.
From there, participants split into two groups to walk to Belle Haven Elementary and Beechwood School.
A number of community organizations supported the event, which was co-sponsored by Safe Kids Santa Clara/San Mateo, San Mateo County Safe Routes to School, Stanford Children's Health, Parents for Safe Routes, the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County and the San Mateo County Office of Education.
According to Taylor, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital worked with Cafe Zoe to provide students fruit, pastries and juice; the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula provided chairs; San Mateo County Safe Routes to School gave students reflective slap bracelets to be more visible as pedestrians; the city provided the sound system; and the Menlo Park Police Department provided safe passage for the students from the park to the two schools.
"It was an amazing, magical morning," said Wolosin. "We had no idea how many people were going to show up."
The concept for the event started in South San Francisco last year and spread through the county, she said.
The event was intended to "remember how important inclusion and integration are, how far we've come, and maybe how far we still have to go to truly be an integrated community," she added. "It just felt very authentic and happy."
The walk to Beechwood School also enabled students to experience the new sidewalks the city of Menlo Park recently installed on Terminal Avenue, Wolosin said. As an advocate for safe routes to school, she said, it made her reflect on who cities build infrastructure for. To have the event focused on looking out for young kids, especially in communities that have historically been under-resourced, she said "marries together a lot of great causes."