- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Vivian Bailey, 97, rode elephants in Thailand and camels in Morocco long before she ever had the opportunity to go on a school class field trip. Ms. Bailey traveled to over 50 countries as an adult, but she never had a chance to visit historical sites with classmates while attending Tulsa, Oklahoma’s segregated schools.

Nearly 80 years after her graduation, she took her first school field trip to the nation’s capital along with students from Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland, where she helps raise funds for school trips and supplies.

“The favorite thing for me was seeing the children enjoy it. They were very excited about the fact they were going to see these historical places,” Ms. Bailey said. “Some of these children probably have not even been out of Howard County, and many of them probably have not been to the District.”

The White House took notice of Ms. Bailey’s commitment to community service and invited her there for a second field trip last week, when President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden surprised her in the Oval Office.

“It’s an awesome, wonderful honor to meet the president of the United States. I never dreamed of our having a [black] president, and to have a [black] president in my lifetime and to get to meet him — both things are just beyond my wildest dreams,” she said.

Mr. Obama is not the only president Ms. Bailey has met. She once spoke at an event with Bill Clinton and later joked about making him her adoptive grandson.

“I have a bunch of adopted children, but [Mr. Clinton] wrote me a nice personal note, and he said he would be proud to be my adopted grandson,” she said.

Even after receiving the surprise of a lifetime in the Oval Office, Ms. Bailey nonetheless had a request for first lady Michelle Obama, who was unable to join the president.

“I’m going to put in a request, a hope that maybe in the fall [Mrs. Obama] could visit our school.”

Ms. Bailey said that having the nation’s first black first lady speak to children at Running Brook Elementary would be “icing on the cake.”

“I would feel like it was again a recognition of what I have tried to do over the years,” she said. “And for the children, it would be an unforgettable experience.”

Ms. Bailey shared her perspective on changes in the nation’s social climate throughout her nearly 100 years, from having to use separate water fountains and buses in the segregated Oklahoma of her youth to meeting the nation’s first black president as a near-centenarian.

“Any progress is good, and we still have a ways to go, but so many things have improved. There’s no denying that,” she said. “Sometimes, if I’m doing a [survey] or something where they have [categories] of black and white, I just scratch that out and put ‘human.’ I know we are all members of the human race.”

• Emily Leslie can be reached at eleslie@washingtontimes.com.

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