Today, New Rochelle paid tribute to the memory of Ruby Dee by renaming Library Green in her honor. It will now be “Ruby Dee Park at Library Green.”
It was a true pleasure to join members of Ruby’s family at the ceremony. I am also especially grateful for the wisdom and effort of the volunteer committee established to guide the City’s commemoration of Ruby’s life: Council Member (and Committee Chair) Jared Rice, Dr. Hasna Muhammad, Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver Jr., Alvin Clayton, Linda Tarrant-Reid, Michelle Sanchez-Boyce, and City Historian Barbara Davis.
The tribute to Ruby continues this weekend with a film festival at the New Rochelle Public Library. For more details about today’s ceremony and the film festival, please see this press release.
At today’s naming, I delivered the following remarks:
It goes without saying that Ruby Dee was much bigger than New Rochelle. She was a global icon, known, loved and admired in every corner of this world for her creative genius and moral strength.
And it may seem a little presumptuous for a small city of just 78,000 to lay any claim to a person of such stature. After all, most people who reach that level of celebrity would probably regard New Rochelle as only the place to set their head on a pillow.
But that was not Ruby. Nor was it Ossie before her.
She was not simply a resident of this community. She was a pillar of this community, a builder of this community – who worked to ensure that the same values she championed all across our country were expressed fully here in the place she called home.
And to a remarkable degree, she succeeded. Together with Ossie, she devoted herself to causes that ranged from the quality of our public schools, to the survival of our public library, to the inclusiveness of our local government, to our celebration of the arts . . . to the principle that every one of us is created equal.
To these things she applied herself not through name or gesture alone, but personally, directly, giving time and energy, as one who knew herself to be a full stakeholder in our city’s life.
Just as remarkable was her the modesty. Think what an amazing thing it is to be blessed with such truly super-human talents, and yet have the humility to maintain a sense of self with a human scale. To be just Ruby.
She could have sat back and sipped the wine. (Or, as was noted in her memorial service, she could have sipped the vodka.) Instead, she chose to labor in the vineyard. She chose to thrust her hands in the soil and call forth life.
So if others elsewhere can better testify to Ruby’s extraordinary creative talents. We in New Rochelle can perhaps testify best to something every bit as worthy, and that is Ruby’s character.
When we re-name this wonderful space, this heart of our city, it won’t be to honor an A-list celebrity with thousand-watt star power (although Ruby certainly was that); it will be to honor a neighbor and a friend, a mother and a grandmother, whose gentle strength, moral conviction, and force of personality have left an enduring mark on her New Rochelle and our New Rochelle.
May God bless the life’s work of Ruby Dee, and may each of us prove worthy of her example.