By Alice Roche Cody
During a virtual visit with TAHIRA – a talented storyteller, musician, and poet who shared her heartfelt Freedom Stories – our Lower School students shimmied and waved their hands to inspiring spirituals, clearly enjoying this lively celebration of Black History Month.
Given pandemic precautions, TAHIRA warmly welcomed all students to join in and engage with her performance, whether watching at home or in class: "I invite you to sing, if you're in your home and in a safe space, or if you're socially distanced with masks, then sing in your heart." Her interactive songs included Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, This Little Light of Mine, and Ella's Song, a tribute written by Bernice Johnson Reagon about Ella Baker, a Civil Rights' Freedom Movement hero.
With her melodic voice, TAHIRA told the re-imagined story of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, an African American girl who was the first student to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on Nov. 14, 1960. "Go back in time, you can use your imagination to go anywhere," she said.
Her story began with an excited Ruby heading off to her new school holding her mom's hand. Only Ruby mistook the angry crowds gathered outside to protest desegregation for a Mardi Gras party: "What is everyone doing here? There are so many people! Ruby waved but they weren’t waving back. It's not a party! They're angry! They're screaming and shouting and saying mean things to her and her mom. This is really scary!"
After sharing Ruby's year-long struggle facing irate mobs and as the only student at school, TAHIRA shared that today, Ruby Bridges is an inspiring author and activist. "She's still standing up for what is right, even when it's hard," she said. "What do you imagine Ruby felt like? She had to stand up in the face of that hate for a long time." Through the Zoom chat, messages from our Lower School students poured in: "brave and nervous," "scared and proud," "scared but didn't want to give up."
True to her word, TAHIRA used her inspiring performance to take our students on a "journey of emotions." The skillful storyteller reminded them: "All emotions are OK. It's what makes us human." Then, with goodbye waves from Gill St. Bernard's, TAHIRA lovingly concluded an entertaining morning of lessons about prejudice and freedom. "Kiss your brains for me!" she called. "You're so brilliant! Be good to yourself today!"