2024 University MLK Commemoration featuring Ruby Bridges


Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: The Ongoing Fight for Educational Justice

MLK Jr Keynote Speaker Ruby Bridges

Wednesday, January 24, 2024 | 5:30pm to 7:00pm (Doors open at 5:15 p.m.)

This event is free and open to the public, and it will also be livestreamed. Registration is required for both types of attendance.

The Yale University and Greater New Haven communities are invited to attend this year’s MLK Commemoration that honors the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are pleased to announce that this year’s commemoration will feature Ruby Bridges, who will be in conversation with Dr. William Johnson (Director of Educational Strategy, William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund) and Stephanie Owusu YC ’24 (Education Studies). This event will also feature performances by Shades of Yale and Harmony in Action.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges is a Civil Rights icon, activist, author, and speaker who, at the age of six, was the first Black student to integrate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. She was born in Mississippi in 1954, the same year the United States Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision ordering the integration of public schools. Her family later moved to New Orleans, where on November 14, 1960, Bridges began attending William Frantz Elementary School, single-handedly initiating the desegregation of public education. Her walk to the front door of the school was immortalized in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With,” in Robert Coles’ book The Story of Ruby Bridges, and in the Disney movie “Ruby Bridges.”
She established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to provide leadership training programs that inspire youth and community leaders to embrace and value the richness of diversity. Bridges is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NAACP Martin Luther King Award, the Presidential Citizens Medal, and honorary doctorate degrees from Connecticut College; College of New Rochelle; Teachers College, Columbia University; and Tulane University. Bridges is also the author of Through My Eyes; This Is Your Time; I Am Ruby Bridges; and Dear Ruby, Hear Our Hearts, which was released on January 2, 2024.

William (Billy) Johnson, Ed.D.

Dr. William (Billy) Johnson is the Director of Educational Strategy at the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund in Connecticut. He brings his lived experience and education systems perspective to the Memorial Fund’s grantmaking strategies, working closely with community stakeholders and strategic partners.
Born and raised in New Haven Connecticut’s Hill neighborhood, Dr. Johnson’s passion for teaching and education comes from his own experiences as a student in New Haven Public Schools, where he discovered after arriving at college that he did not receive an equitable education. Dr. Johnson is proud to be a second-generation college attendee and holds three college degrees including his Ed.D. Over a twenty-three year career, he has worked as a special education teacher, middle school math teacher, first-grade reading teacher, assistant principal, principal, executive leadership coach, and assistant superintendent of schools.

Dr. Johnson’s passion and life’s work have been educating, supporting, and coaching others to become leaders and make an impact in their communities. He is still very connected to his community in New Haven and many educators across the state of CT. 

Stephanie Owusu YC ’24 (Psychology, Education Studies)

A picture of Stephanie Owusu

Stephanie is a senior majoring in Psychology with an Education Studies certificate at Yale University and proudly hails from Hamilton, NJ. While initially drawn to neuroscience, her trajectory shifted after a transformative role as a Teaching Assistant in a school for children with autism and while studying abroad in Ghana, where she worked in a special education classroom. Beyond being the child of Ghanaian immigrant parents, these experiences ignited Stephanie’s passion for understanding and supporting marginalized populations, specifically in the realms of autism, education, child psychology, and social-emotional learning.

As a Research Assistant in the Education Collaboratory, Stephanie contributes to the design, implementation, and evaluation of Social-Emotional Learning programs for schools and communities across the country. Her studies and work are preparing her for a career in creating educational opportunities that achieve a balance of academic rigor, practical relevance, and the lived realities of diverse students, schools, and communities.

A dynamic force for positive change, Stephanie is committed to understanding, advocating for, and uplifting marginalized communities inside the classroom as well as through her academic pursuits and extracurricular engagements, including her roles at the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale, the Good Life Center, and the Yale Gospel Choir