friday, FEB. 26

Celebrating Ruby Bridges, Wynton Marsalis and Harriet Tubman

Ruby Bridges
Written by Emily Truitt, Attorney

At the sweet and tender age of 6, Ruby Bridges became possibly the youngest civil rights leader we have ever seen. In 1960, this precious girl was the first African American student to integrate schools in New Orleans. A sweet, light-hearted kindergartener had the burden of walking past white crowds, screaming racist and threatening words. They hated her for no other reason than the color of her skin. She was escorted by four federal marshals every single day of the 1960-1961 school year. She did this for your child, and for mine.

No person should endure what Ruby Bridges saw, let alone a 6-year-old child. Sixty years later we are still fighting for Ruby’s rights and it is incumbent upon all of us to take up her cause. Neither she, nor any one person, should have the weight of America’s sins on their backs. I am humbled, inspired and shaken by her story, and the living legacy Ruby Bridges is today.

Wynton Marsalis
Written by Alex McDonald, Attorney

Wynton Marsalis was born in New Orleans to a famously musical family. Marsalis began his career in the late '70s playing trumpet as a side-man and then leading his own bands. By the early '90s, Marsalis was probably the most famous jazz musician in the world and the figure head of “The Young Lions," an artistic movement of mostly black musicians who broke with the trend toward electronic fusion and played straight-ahead jazz (usually in a dark suit and tie). Not content with what would have already been a full career, Marsalis became a mentor to an entire generation of younger musicians and, for the rest of us, an outspoken proponent of music appreciation and history. Anyone that spent time in band class will have watched his Peabody Award-winning video series, Marsalis on Music. His awards and contributions are too numerous to list, but Jazz at Lincoln Center, which he directs, is a globally significant institution, his discography is enormous and he has been awarded countless honors in music and civics.

More noteworthy than any single musical performance is his spirited confidence and
ambition. He famously “feuded” with Miles Davis, another great legend, about the direction of jazz, with Marsalis claiming that Davis and others were turning jazz-to-pop and robbing its origin in black culture.

Marsalis has never shied away from his informed beliefs, and he has put them into action in countless tangible contributions for decades.

Harriet Tubman
Written by Martine Cumbermack, Partner

I choose to celebrate one of the most courageous, tenacious and fearless women in
history, Harriet Tubman. Many know of her story — born “Araminta Ross” on a plantation in rural Maryland, she endured unspeakable brutality as an enslaved child and young woman. When she saw her own sisters sold, and was under threat of being sold herself, she decided to escape. Taking on her mother’s first name and her husband’s last name, Harriet Tubman escaped and traveled 90 miles on the Underground Railroad to a free state, Pennsylvania.

Once free, it would have been understandable for Harriet to be content with her freedom and find her way to a life free of bondage and brutality. After all, she was still young at 25 and still had her entire life ahead of her. But alas, she did not. She was determined to fight back and free as many people as she could, risking her own life repeatedly. It is in this role as a conductor for the Underground Railroad that she is best known, and her legacy is awe-inspiring. She liberated hundreds on more than a dozen dangerous missions to slave-holding states in the decade prior to the Civil War, and she assisted many others with her knowledge of safe spaces and escape routes. As she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger." During a 10-year span, she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.

This alone is remarkable. However, Harriet did not stop there. She was active in the abolitionist movement and served the Union Army as a key adviser in various capacities during the Civil War. She helped to coordinate a military assault during the Civil War that freed more than 700 people from slavery. After the war, she fought for women’s suffrage, raised money to build schools for newly freed people (known as Freedmen’s Schools) during the Reconstruction Era and donated her home for the care of the ill and elderly. She lived a life committed to freedom and dignity for all people.

What her life and legacy mean to me is a reminder that no matter your lot, station, the challenges you face, the hand you are dealt — you can choose to overcome them or help someone else. You can choose to help others or transform your life in lieu of wallowing in self-pity. It would have been so easy and even justified for Harriet to live out her life in peace, heal from her wounds and trauma as best as she could and not help another living soul once she freed herself. Freeing herself despite the odds was itself a remarkable feat. But thankfully, she did not stop there. She had the fire in her to reach back to help save others. To put herself back in harm’s way for the sake of others. She chose discomfort and danger over the (relative) comfort and safety of what her new life could have been. It is this spirit of resilience, not giving up, not losing hope, not being defined by what others have ascribed to you that inspires me when I feel I’ve had enough. It is her understanding that she must also help those left behind that I admire most. Though I wish the world had more Harriet Tubmans, I believe if each of us could emulate her spirit and courage even to a small degree, we can make a difference in someone else’s life, in our community, in our work space and even in this world.

I encourage you to read her biography or read Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton, for more information about her life and legacy.

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