In 1954, the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Brown vs. The Board of Education mandated the desegregation of all schools, enabling Ruby Bridges, an African American child, to attend William Frantz Elementary School, previously an all-white institution in Louisiana. At the tender age of six, Ruby became a symbol of bravery, laying the groundwork for Civil Rights advancements in the American South. The implementation of busing for desegregation commenced in Nashville in the autumn of 1971 and endured for over 25 years. Despite persistent opposition, the Nashville school system was court-ordered to begin to integrate schools through busing throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Among the unsung local heroes of this era were Andrea Gibson, Thomas Mclin, and Tanya Debroe, who, in the 1970s, became the first students to integrate their school through busing, journeying across the city to attend Paragon Mills Elementary.

Reflecting on his role in history, Gibson, now an adult, remarked, "I’m just excited–I’m reliving part of my childhood with this walk! If you don’t embrace your history or your past, you’re doomed to repeat it. I think it’s great that we can show kids that a lot of people went through a lot of things and were called a lot of names in order for you to be able to go to school and not have to endure or hear that now.”

Fast forward to February 29th, 2024, Paragon Mills Elementary partnered with our organization to organize a Walk to School Day during Black History Month, honoring the legacy of Ruby Bridges, celebrating local heroes, and shedding light on the absence of sidewalks along Tampa Road, a route commonly used by families commuting to the school. Paragon Mills sits adjacent to Harding Place, a road notorious for crashes, including the recent tragic death of Carly Shea.  She was killed while walking her bike in the crosswalk because a driver failed to yield to her . The need for safer infrastructure is urgent.

“We are advocating for safer walking routes to school,” said Executive Principal Andy Lyons. “We are a community school, and a large majority of our students are walkers. However, the lack of sidewalks on many of our roads poses a significant safety risk to our students and families. Every child deserves the right to arrive at school safely, and that includes having proper infrastructure like sidewalks. Together, we can make a difference and create a safer environment for our students to walk to school. Let’s walk hand in hand towards a brighter, safer future for all.”


The walk commenced at Mill Creek Baptist Church at 7 a.m., progressing along Harding Place, up Tampa Road, and finally Paragon Mills Road. Mayor Freddie O’Connell, NDOT Director Diana Alarcon, and Senator John Ray Clemmons, who championed HB2175 establishing a student pedestrian protection grant program, joined the procession. This program aims to provide grants to local governments for sidewalk infrastructure projects around public schools in Tennessee.

The Nashville Department of Transportation and Multimodal Infrastructure swiftly provided traffic control, ensuring a single lane closure for the safety of participating students during the 1-mile walk. As students joined along the route, neighbors gathered on porches, greeted by the sounds of Frederick Weatherby's trumpet rendition of "When the Saints Come Marching In."

Upon reaching Paragon Mills Elementary, attendees were greeted by T-Rac, the Tennessee Titans' mascot, and Mayor O'Connell reiterated his commitment to prioritizing safe school routes, and achieving zero pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

Dr. Della Bacote, the Social Emotional Learning instructor at Paragon Mills, reflected, “This event provided our children with a memorable opportunity to be civically engaged, bringing history to life walking to school as Ruby Bridges did years ago. This day will be etched in their minds as their willingness to participate brings more awareness to the inequities that exist in many Nashville neighborhoods. They deserve a quality education as well as adequate sidewalks to get to and from Paragon Mills Elementary School,” Bacote said.







Pictured Left to Right: Mayor Freddie O’Connell, T-Rac, Tanya Debroe, Andre Gibson and Bobbilyn Negron