WINNIPEG – Mareshia Rucker, the 19-year-old who last year organized her Georgia high school’s first racially integrated prom, will come to Winnipeg to see her dress in an exhibit at the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
“Oh my God,” Rucker said when she was told Tuesday that her GoFundMe campaign had raised enough money to pay for her trip. “I’m so emotional … OK, I have to calm down.”
Rucker made world news when she spearheaded a campaign to have the first racially integrated prom for the graduating class at her small-town Georgia high school in 2013.
Her story is so inspirational it landed her prom dress in the Inspiring Change exhibit at the $351-million museum in Winnipeg.
While some might assume the civil rights era when black people fought for equal treatment is over, racism is still a very real issue in Rochelle, Ga., Rucker said Tuesday morning.
“Racism still runs really deep,” she said, and while 150 to 200 students enjoyed the Wilcox County High School integrated prom, many others still chose to attend an invitation-only “white prom” that has long been a tradition in the community.
The idea for the integrated prom was born out of a conversation about prom in a class with only eight African-American students.
The girls were talking about prom and the dresses they planned to wear when Rucker pointed out they wouldn’t all be wearing them to the same party.
“I was like … ‘You-all know that we don’t have one prom. We have two,’ “ Rucker said on the phone from Georgia.
She then took the next step in the conversation.
“How about we just have prom together?”
While the people she was talking to agreed with the idea, most left it there. But that summer, Rucker and a friend started planning their integrated prom.
She was “blown away” with the success of the party, which made national and international headlines as people elsewhere expressed shock that a high school could still have separate proms.
“It was phenomenal. I was so happy.”
The story caught the eye of Matthew McRae, the researcher and curator for the Inspiring Change exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
He was looking for something to illustrate the civil rights struggle and his first thoughts were of slain U.S. civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., but the museum wanted a more current display.
“The civil rights struggle has perhaps entered a new era, but it’s still there,” McRae said.
Rucker’s story is perfect for an exhibit about inspiring change, he added.
“Her desire to make the world a better place is really strong,” said McRae, who travelled to Georgia to talk to Rucker, her friends and her family for an oral history.
“Not only could she envision that better world, but she could also decide to take action in it.”
Rucker will visit Winnipeg with her friends Quanesha Wallace and Stephanie Sinnot, who helped organize the prom, and her mother and grandmother, who also helped. Her mom deleted most negative comments from the integrated prom Facebook page before Rucker could see them, among other things, Rucker said.
The $3,600 raised on GoFundMe means they can attend the Nov. 24 private affair at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for people who are featured in the museum or who have donated items for display. Rucker hadn’t expected to raise extra money, but said she’ll likely donate any unused funds for future integrated proms at Wilcox.
It’s “surreal” to have her dress in a museum, said Rucker, who is excited about the visit.
She felt like she was dreaming when McRae approached her, she said.
“When it all came into fruition, I then was just completely humbled and very honoured.”