The Power of Children: Making a Difference

Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White became the faces of some of the most influential experiences of the 20th century, giving voice to the tragic challenges of the Holocaust, American racial segregation, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929. In 1933, as the Nazis rose to power, she and her family sought safety in the Netherlands. Following the Nazi invasion, the Frank family decided to go into hiding in 1942. They hid, with four others, in rooms above Anne’s father’s office for 25 months, until they were betrayed to the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. She dreamed of being a writer, and kept a diary throughout her time in hiding. After she heard of a need for personal accounts of the war, she began to rework her diary in hopes that it would someday become part of an archive chronicling wartime experiences. The betrayal of the hiding place and Anne’s tragic death of typhus in 1945 cut short her dreams, but when her father decided to share her diary with the world, it put a face to the millions of victims of the Holocaust. The publication of her diary in 1947 made Anne a symbol not only of the tragtedy of the Holocaust, but also of the power words can have even in the face of horror.

Ruby Bridges was born in 1954, the same year that Brown v. Board of Education reached the Supreme Court. It wasn’t until Ruby was six years old that New Orleans Judge J. Skelly Wright ruled that the city must comply with the order to integrate its schools. Having upheld segregation for so long, many people in New Orleans were aggressively hostile when the time came for integration. Ruby was one of four girls chosen to integrate the system, but the only one to attend William Frantz Public School. Each day, four U.S. Marshals accompanied Ruby to school to protect her from the crowds protesting outside. her courage and poise in the face of violence and hate inspired Norman Rockwell to depict her walk into school in his 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With. Today, years after making her mark on the Civil Rights movement, Ruby continues her fight against racism and hate through The Ruby Bridges Foundation.

Ryan White was born in 1971 and diagnosed with hemophilia when he was just a few days old. Ryan lived a normal childhood partly due to Factor VIII, a blood product that helps hemophiliacs’ blood to clot. But in 1984, he caught pneumonia and consequently found out that he had contracted AIDS from tainted Factor VIII. After his diagnosis, Ryan wanted to continue living a normal life and looked forward to returning to school, but school officials said he couldn’t return. Ryan decided to fight back, and found a voice as an advocate for AIDS research and education. his battle to attend school and to challenge the fear and prejudice of his community earned him nationwide recognition. His sense of dignity and willingness to confront misconceptions made him a symbol of hope and earned him the admiration and support of many celebrities, public figures, and people around the world. His determination and personal struggle made a lasting impact that still resonates. After his death in 1990, the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act was passed. Today, as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, it continues to provide care and treatment for people with HIV/AIDS.

The Power of Children: Making a Difference will run in Heritage Hall from January 28, 2017, to March 5, 2017.