EL SOBRANTE (KPIX 5) — On Wednesday, Betty Reid Soskin, the East Bay author, social justice activist and oldest living National Park Ranger, celebrated her 100th birthday with a special gift – a school named for her, and a bridge to the next generation.

Juan Crespi Middle School in El Sobrante was named for a Franciscan missionary, not exactly inspiring stuff for young students. But Betty Reid Soskin? She’s like a rock star to them.

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“She’s like my other mom!” said student Anaya Zenad. “She’s like a leader to me. Like, I look up to her, I want to BE her.”

When the school looked for a new name, they wanted it to be someone with a local connection, someone who inspires and whose name stands for social justice and equity.

“There was only one name that fit every single criterion,” said Principal Guthrie Fleischman. “And it was really not a long debate, to be honest with you.”

So on Wednesday – on her own centennial – the school was officially re-dedicated as “Betty Reid Soskin Middle School.”

“We honor you for the life you’ve lived, the positive example you’ve set, and the role model you have been for so many,” said West Contra Costa United School District Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hurst at the ceremony.

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Soskin has been an eyewitness to American history. She grew up under the bigotry of Jim Crow, witnessed the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and lived to see and be embraced by America’s first African American President, Barack Obama. As a Park Ranger, she passed her life experience on to others, just as she is now doing at the school.

“My life has been putting one foot in front of the other, constantly,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t think that I ever realized what effect I might be having. And this last year has really pointed out for me that, even though we believe that our contributions are small, they’re all important.”

Betty understands that her time is growing short but she faces that with the same grace and courage with which she lived her life. And as someone who has always looked optimistically to the future, she sees the school as her way of carrying on to tomorrow.

“It means that I’m cast into the next generation and that is something,” she said. “I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate what that means to someone who’s going.”

Just like all of us, one day she will be gone. But thanks to the school, she will not be forgotten.

 

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