Author and civil rights activist Ruby Bridges will inspire a new generation by releasing her latest children’s book, Dear Ruby, Hear Our Hearts. Known for her pivotal role in desegregating schools in the 1960s, Bridges now seeks to empower children to share their stories through this heartfelt and empowering narrative.

On Monday, Bridges appeared on the Today show to discuss the new book and why sharing her story has provided a safe space for children to do the same. 

“I have been traveling for 25 years, visiting schools, talking to kids and sharing my own stories with them,” Bridges said. “I started to get all of this fan mail, boxes and boxes of them; I had to take a storage unit to put them all in.” 

She continued, “A lot of the letters were asking about my own experience and what it was like at 6 years old. They put themselves in the shoes of this little girl that they saw in the Norman Rockwell painting; they wanted to know what that was like. Then, some of the letters took a turn when they started to sharing their stories with me, and that’s how this book came to be. I thought that they were so heart-wrenching that I wanted us as adults and parents to actually hear their hearts as well.”

Bridges also responds to the children featured in the 32-page book. When asked why that was important for her to do, the 69-year-old said she wanted kids to have the ability to be seen and heard.

“I wanted them to be heard and to know they were being heard,” Bridges remarked. “I remember speaking to a group of kids, and a little boy raised his hand and said, ‘How does it feel to be heard?’ and I thought that’s pretty powerful.”

In addition to racial inequality, the children’s letters have covered other topics affecting many of them today. Bridges offered advice while sharing how she pushed through her struggles as a child.

“I want them to remain hopeful,” Bridges said. “We talk about the fact that I saw what I saw during the Civil Rights Movement and experienced the crowd outside screaming and yelling and trying to figure that all out. But at the end of the day, we went through that, all of us, and we’re better for it.”

The Mississippi native will be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in March. Bridges told Today that she was shocked to learn she would receive the prestigious honor.

“We all, at the end of the day, want to feel like the work that we do has been meaningful, and we’ve made a difference, and I’m beginning to feel that way,” she said.