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Ruby Bridges, US Marshals, and the Rewards of Uncomfortable Courage

Ruby Bridges photo, courtesy of Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Today marks the the 61st anniversary of Ruby Bridges entering William Frantz Elementary School as its first African American student.

As a former Personal Security Advisor (technical and fancy term for “bodyguard”) to a senior Pentagon official, this picture always hits me in the gut whenever I see it.

The courage little Ruby had to summon to fight for her right to just exist.

The courage those US Marshals had to summon to go against the values of many of their kin-folk.

The love one has to have for human life in order to commit to the job of literally taking a bullet so someone else may live.

When I was selected to be a Personal Security Advisor (fancy term for “bodyguard”), the truth is I didn’t want the job. I didn’t mind doing it, but my real passion rested in protecting vulnerable populations — women and children — and holding bullies accountable.

As I was sharing a piece of my mind with God, He brought this verse to my mind:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” Isaiah 6:8 NIV

That job became an often daily exercise in obedience. After coming back from a year in the desert working as the Commander responsible for protecting all our troops in country from terrorist attacks and spies, I was already exhausted. Honestly, I should’ve been thrilled. The job was seen by many in my career field as a key benchmark that you had the chops to be a senior leader and were being groomed. While I greatly appreciated my leadership’s faith in my abilities, the truth was I was too tired and burned out to care. I didn’t understand why God put me in that job, but I understood that all He wanted to know in that season was if I was willing to be obedient.

Everywhere we went, I saw this Isaiah 6:8.

Location: Air Force Special Operations School, Hurlburt Field, FL.

There’s even a massive painting hanging between the first and second floors of the executive entrance at the Pentagon that I would escort my boss past sometimes upwards of 8-10 times a day.

Location: River Entrance stairwell, The Pentagon

It’s a depiction of a family praying at the altar of the Air Force Academy chapel. Isaiah 6:8 inscribed beneath. The exhaustion and blur meant I didn’t even notice it until I was 6 months into my assignment. The day I noticed it was when I realized that God always provides and also that I think He can have a snarky sense of humor too.

It wasn’t until 6 months after I left that job and active duty that I was called into my boss’s office. I had taken a job at the world’s largest anti-slavery organization overseeing their Latin American child sex abuse and trafficking investigations, operations, and host nation law enforcement training. My boss was asking me to fly to Kenya to conduct personal security operations to support our Kenya office which investigated and brought to justice corrupt police. Not even a year prior, several of our staff members and a client who had an active corruption investigation open were murdered by a group of Kenyan police – a case known internationally as the Mavoko trials. I was one of a select few staff who had bodyguarding experience and the only female, and I was being asked to go protect our staff going to and from the courthouse.

In that moment, I understood with sharp clarity why I had been sent to the Pentagon. I needed to acquire and hone my bodyguarding skillset so that I could protect the investigators, lawyers, and aftercare staff – essentially real-life missionaries but not in name – doing the work to challenge evil. To be the shield between them and the bullies seeking to silence and kill them. Here am I…send me!

Cue God sliding over a fat slice of humble pie.

"If Charlie had not done his job, had not answered the call and wasn't there for me, if the teacher was a different person, I would have had a different life," she [Ruby] said. "I would have seen them in a different light."

The job Burks [Ruby’s bodyguard] completed decades ago sticks with him. In his Logansport home, two iconic Associated Press photos hang on a wall. They show a little girl — Bridges — being escorted inside the elementary school's doors by him and other marshals, and later being safely escorted away. "Every time I walk down the hall and see the pictures, it reminds me of those days," Burks said. "I'm so glad I was able to do what I did."

And so is Bridges.

"Thank you, Charlie," she said, "for doing what's right at a time when it might have not been the easiest thing to do."

Excerpt from “Civil Rights Icon Ruby Bridges, Protector Reunite” by Annalisa Rodriguez for USA Today, 6 Sep 13

Thank you, Ruby, for your courage to demand a better life for millions.

Thank you, US Marshals, for your willingness to protect beautiful little Ruby – especially when it wasn’t popular.

Thank you, Kenyan staffers, for your courage in looking evil in the eye and telling it that it will no longer continue unchecked.

And thank you, Alani from 2014, for having the mustard seed of courage to say, “Send me.” I am so proud of you for leaning into the discomfort.

If you are struggling today with the task God has put in front of you, trust that there is nothing lost in God’s kingdom. You may not understand ‘why’ today, but you will at the right time. Trust that there is a much bigger picture being painted and that these seeds of courage we sow will result in massive ripple effects down the road. What big, beautiful, terrifying dream is God calling you to, and what small step can you take in that direction?


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