Deborah Carlino, a fifth-grade teacher at Martin Elementary School in South San Francisco, arrived Saturday night at the Sacramento State Student Union with 18 current and former students in tow.
They were there to meet their hero. Maybe.
"We hope we get to meet her," Carlino said.
"Her" is Civil Rights icon Ruby Bridges. As a 5-year-old in 1960, Bridges, escorted by federal agents, bravely integrated New Orleans public schools.
Inspired by Bridges' story, Carlino's students, for the past three years, have led the movement for a "Ruby Bridges Walk To School Day" that has spread from their school to their district and now to their entire city. Their two remaining goals: Go national, and let Ruby know all about it. That is what they have come to Sacramento to do.
"Ruby resonates with these children because these children also have challenges. They have struggles," Carlino said.
But while Carlino and her students were set on meeting Bridges during the Sacramento Region Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, where Bridges was to give the keynote address, Bridges had no idea they were coming nor that they had been advocating on her behalf for years.
So, the Martin Elementary students huddled in the lobby to go over their plan. They handed out pins they had made with Bridges' picture on them to every person entering the event.
"We want everyone in there to wear the Ruby pin and her to see this," Carlino said.
The group then settled into three tables they had purchased for the night with the help of donors. During a lull in the program, the group approached Bridges' table and each student presented her with a flower.
As it turned out, Bridges had already been told about the fifth graders' story. She asked them up on the stage where she spoke to them and took a group photo.
"I’m in awe of all these hats and badges with my name on them," Bridges said as the students surrounded her.