"You have the power to make the world a better place," Martin Elementary School fifth grade teacher Deborah Carlino told an auditorium full of students during the school's celebration of Ruby Bridges Day on November 14, 2023.
Also on hand to help kick off the third annual statewide observance of Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day in California were educational emcees Music Notes, who performed “Walk to School Like Ruby Did” before a crowd of parents, students, teachers, and public officials at South San Francisco city hall.
Ruby Bridges Day was previously a modest event unique to SSFUSD.
Now no less than 42 schools in San Mateo County and 650,000 participants across 1,650 schools in 46 states observe Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day.
It all started with a question from Martin Elementary fifth grader Madeline Popielak, who was learning about Ruby Bridges during Black History Month in the 2017-18 school year.
“I asked Mrs. Carlino do we have a day to celebrate Ruby Bridges,” said Maddie, who is now a junior at South San Francisco High School.
When Maddie and her classmates discovered there was none, they set out to gather signatures to petition the SSFUSD school board to establish Ruby Bridges Day.
The next year, the students took their petition to the City of South San Francisco and the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE).
Afterwards, public schools throughout the county, a few in California, and some in states like Colorado began observing Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day on November 14, the date that Bridges first entered William Frantz Elementary School in the company of U.S. marshals.
In 2021 California State Senator Josh Becker shepherded a resolution through the state legislature to designate November 14 as Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day throughout California.
Then on November 14, 2022, Ruby Bridges showed up unannounced at Martin Elementary during the school’s annual celebration and observance of Ruby Bridges Day.
“Look what you started,” Bridges said, addressing the Martin Elementary student body. “See the power of one person.”