Dr. Ruby Cain

A passion for learning and racial justice

Dr. Ruby Cain, photography by Neal Bruns

Dr. Ruby Cain’s favorite color is, not surprisingly, red. That fiery color is a good one for the passionate Cain, who divides her time between Fort Wayne and Muncie, where she is an assistant professor and director of It Is Well With My Soul, a racial equity and healing initiative, at Ball State University, and teaches at Indiana Tech here. She’s passionate about lifelong learning, racial justice and community mobilization. Find out what else she’s passionate about as we play 20 Questions.

1.  How did you become interested in teaching?
My interest started in second grade, when I was chosen to be a teacher’s helper. Being helpful, doing something that someone else values, that’s a really wonderful feeling. Being a teacher is the best job ever.

2. What is important to you personally about education?
You never stop learning. There’s always something to learn. When you stop learning, you stop growing. I just can’t imagine that anyone can learn everything there is to learn. I feel like a kid in a candy store with education.

3. How are your students today different from when you began teaching?
When I first started, I was teaching nontraditional students who had jobs and families. It’s different (now with) 18- to 21-year-old students. They are here because someone told them they had to go, and they’re not sure what they’re doing. They’re adjusting from high school to college; they have less oversight and a lot more freedom. They haven’t adopted the discipline to be successful. That can be a challenge. But with nontraditional students, I absolutely love them. They have a particular reason for being in school, and they are hungry for learning.

4. What are the keys to success?
Being fearless, being willing to try something different or new. Being able to critically think and problem-solve. Having the ability to work collaboratively with others. The ability to recognize and value others’ ideas. That’s what companies want.

5. How is the Northeast Indiana region doing in terms of inclusiveness?
Not too good.

6. How is Muncie different from Fort Wayne?
Muncie’s a very interesting community. It’s much smaller. If I had moved there  10 years ago, I wouldn’t like it.

7. What do you miss about Fort Wayne?
I do have a lot of friends (in Fort Wayne). I miss seeing my friends more often.

8.  You’ve studied racial equality and healing. What are your conclusions?
Even though this is a very philanthropic and caring community, it’s racially segregated. Many of the people making the decisions are not inviting a cross-section of the community. The schools are being re-segregated and until we understand that we need to educate everybody to have a viable community, we cause more problems than we solve. We’re all in this together.

9. Could racial discord as we saw in Ferguson, Mo., happen here?
I think it could. In Fort Wayne, a lot of the police officers come from all-white (backgrounds). Their perception of people of color comes from movies and the media. It’s ironic, since a larger percentage of whites are drug dealers than are African-Americans.

10. If you could wave a magic wand and solve a societal ill, what would you fix?
Educational disparities. Everyone should have equal access to quality education. Most developed countries offer (higher education) for free. If you have a highly educated community, you have a highly employable community.

11. Who are your heroes?
My mother, Ellen Gaskin. She was a very brave, independent woman. We moved up here (from Arkansas to Detroit) when my father, Ruben Gaskin, had a job (in the automotive industry) that (provided the family) more than enough. She was college educated and she took a job as a secretary for the Navy, and she was promoted to the head of purchasing. Back in that time, the wives stayed home. She didn’t have to work, but because she was willing to go against the grain, that was very significant for me.

12. What makes you see red?
Injustice. I don’t have a problem with a differing opinion, even if it’s misinformed, but I think particular people who have the power should be just and should not abuse that power. It really saddens me and pains me.

13. So what makes you happy?
My family, my friends, my daughter. Learning makes me happy. I (went) to Ethiopia, and that was a life-changing experience. I never thought I’d go to Africa. I felt more at home than I do here. Here I have to deal with micro-aggressions – I’m always on full alert. There, I didn’t have to put on a game face and be on guard. I was so at peace.

14. What do you miss from childhood?
Childhood when I was a kid was so much easier than now. You ate, you slept, you went to school and church, and you felt loved and cared for. My mom didn’t try to make me adhere to someone else’s standards.

15. If you could spend five minutes with President Obama, what would you talk about?
Michelle Obama.

16. What makes you proud?
I have so many things I’m proud of, especially the birth of my daughter, Lamaiya Lancaster.

17. What traits did you inherit from your parents?
Independence and fearlessness from my mom. Responsibility and service. Community service was always a big thing in my family.

18. If you could do one thing for the rest of your life, what would you do?
Travel. I’d travel the 48 states with my husband, Raymond Cain.

19.  What’s your favorite holiday?
My birthday. When I turned 60, we had a Motown in the 1960s-themed party. Everyone came dressed up in ’60s attire. I gave away gifts for Best Dressed.

20. What is your basic life philosophy?
I think everybody was predestined for greatness. We have the ability to work towards that. I don’t believe there are any accidents in life. For all the people you meet, there’s something for you to learn. As I’ve gotten older, I allow myself serendipitous moments. When I was 14, I had planned out my whole life: I’d graduate high school and college, teach for a while, get married and have 10 kids – five boys and five girls – and I’d have a house with a bowling alley. I am so glad I didn’t have 10 children!

First appeared in the January 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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