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Kiwanis awards American civil rights heroes Humanitarian Award

Steven Hadt | Aug 28, 2017

They were civil rights pioneers and didn't know it. Ruby Bridges and Barbara Henry were both honored by Kiwanis at the Paris convention. Ruby Bridges (left) accepts a Humanitarian Award from 2016-17 Kiwanis International President Jane Erickson. The award is inscribed "Courage to Inspire."

Ruby Bridges didn't set out to become a civil rights pioneer. She was just a 6-year-old girl going to school. A six-year-old who happens to be African American.

Barbara Henry didn't think twice when the superintendent told her she would be teaching first grade at a court-ordered desegregated school in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Henry believes all kids—regardless of their race, gender and economic status—deserve a quality education.

They were civil rights pioneers and didn't know it. Ruby Bridges and Barbara Henry were both honored by Kiwanis at the Paris convention. The pair formed a bond in 1960 that has lasted for decades. Bridges was the only student in Henry's class after all the white parents transferred their kids away from William Frantz Elementary School. Henry taught Bridges the entire year as if the classroom was full.

For their courage to stand up to systemic racism that prevented children from receiving equal education in New Orleans, Kiwanis International awarded both women a Humanitarian Award. Bridges’ award is inscribed with "Courage to Inspire." Henry’s is inscribed "Courage to Care." The presentation of the glass obelisks happened at the 2017 Kiwanis International convention in Paris, France.

"It was a scene—a moment that shocked the world and shamed our nation," Henry said via video acceptance. "(This award) represents a victory, a major civil rights victory of 1960 in New Orleans." 

"We have to always, always choose the right thing," Bridges told the convention audience. "And doing that, you will set an example for the next generation—our kids."

"Your dedication to children and education is inspiring," said 2016–17 Kiwanis International President Jane Erickson. "Thank you for teaching us to do the right thing."

Bridges and Henry continue to tell their story in venues around the world. Henry said children particularly are magnetized by the beauty and grace displayed by the teacher and student in that Louisiana classroom 57 years ago.

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