Little Rock Changed My Life
Jean Young, SLCC Student
I had the opportunity to attend the Impact Conference in Little Rock Arkansas. There were over 500 students from 106 colleges and universities. The workshops and speakers were fabulous as they communicated their personal stories about civic engagement. It was amazing to learn about so many students doing incredible work in their communities.
Our group from the UCAN Serve coalition, sponsored by Colorado Campus Compact, went to visit Central High School. This is a gigantic building that housed only white students until the National Government ordered desegregation back in 1957. The black and white students had been separated for over fifty years. The white students had better books, resources, and more opportunities to succeed.
This was a critical time in the history of this city. The residents were upset to think that both black and white students would be taught in the same school. A select group of students from the black high school were selected. They were straight A students with perfect attendance. A crowd gathered at the high school anticipating the arrival of the black students. As one girl got off the bus she was met with jeers, racial slurs, spitting and having rocks and garbage thrown at her. When she got to the school she was not allowed in. She went back through the crowd and as she got back on the bus she was drenched in spit.
The “Little Rock Nine” endured discrimination and harassment. Terrence Roberts was one of the students and he said: “Pretty much we were beaten up on a daily basis. We were harassed psychologically and intimidated, called names, insulted at every turn. The (white) students tried to do everything they could do to drive us out. If the black students retaliated, they would be suspended. The Little Rock Nine took a vow of non-violence. Roberts said: “You can choose to respond with anger or hatred—or not.”
Ernest Green described his choice this way. “The more I thought about it, I felt that if you didn’t step forward, nothing was going to change… The nine of us had family support and a belief that education was a great spring board to broader opportunities.”
This experience of being at this school and learning about the courage of these teenagers is inspiring. They chose to be a part of this because they valued education. They wanted the same opportunities that the white students had. They prepared a foundation for those who would follow. Generations of attitudes had to be changed. That society painfully adjusted to the steps that moved them forward.
Learning outside of the classroom is a powerful tool. The impact of this event has changed my life. I will continue to appreciate the benefits of education and those who sacrificed to make our community a better and more equitable place to live.