February 2014

Dr. Robert “Bob” Bridges


Dr. Robert Bridges has dedicated his life to closing the achievement gap that leaves many African-American children at a disadvantage. As an educator and philanthropist, Bridges’ impact has been felt statewide.

The oldest of five children reared on a farm near Shelby, Bridges, now 79, embraced his father’s passionate belief that education is the key to opportunity and success. Inspired by his father, Bridges earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. Augustine’s College, a master’s from N.C. State University and a doctorate in education from Duke University.

Beginning his career as a sixth-grade teacher after graduating from St. Augustine’s in 1961, he became principal of the former Crosby-Garfield Elementary School in Raleigh in 1968. When the Raleigh and Wake County school systems merged in 1976, Bridges saw an opportunity for minority students.

“I hoped we could improve the quality of education by bringing both sides together,” Bridges said.

In 1985, an all-white school board named him superintendent of Wake County Public Schools, the first African-American to hold the position.

Bridges strove to close the achievement gap between affluent and low-income children, chairing a state commission and creating the non-profit  “A Helping Hands” program, which is still active in the community, placing African-American men in the lives of at-risk children.

“The black male is the most uneducated, most underdeveloped child in the public school system,” Bridges said. “My model focused on what the least-supported child in the public schools misses the most: a sturdy, male role model.”

After retiring in 1989, Bridges founded a consulting firm to raise cross-cultural awareness and help teachers better reach minority students.

Like his father, Bridges passed on the heart of a teacher. His son served as a superintendent in several districts and his daughter is an administrator with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.