Little Rock, quick talk

Sofia Alfano, Staff Writer

February 2, 2018

Dr. Terrence Roberts, a member of the historic Little Rock Nine, gave a powerful speech about race and his experiences at Central High School at Redlands First United Methodist Church on November 8th.

    Dr. Terrence Roberts’ lecture on November 8th 2017 at the Redlands First United Methodist Church aimed to shed light on the topics of racism and discrimination. He went onto talk about his beginning encounters with racism.

    “There is no such thing as race” said Roberts, who said there was no concept of race before the 16th Century. Roberts recalls his mother teaching him that race was a fallacy, which caused him to deal with people based on character rather than their race.

    Roberts has brought attention to a 335-year timeline of racism beginning in 1619 when the first arrival  of Africans to Jamestown, Virginia, for slave labor until the landmark Brown v. Topeka (Kansas) Board of Education case in 1954 when the Supreme Court decided that state laws separating blacks and whites were unconstitutional. The Brown v. Board of Education case dealt specifically with school segregation.

    Roberts recalled the bullying and stigma surrounding Little Rock Central High School when he entered 11th grade in 1957. There was an order for the National Guard to come out to protect African-American students trying to register.

    After the Brown decision, representatives from the Little Rock school board came to Roberts Middle School and announced that Little Rock Central High School was to be desegregated. The school board asked for volunteers, and 150 African American students wanted to go. Most of their parents were fearful and vetoed the idea. There were only 10 students allowed to attend, and one student was removed after a parent was threatened with being fired by his white employer.

    Roberts says there is a four step process of coming from the inside out. The first step is high level self-awareness. This means knowing how to define race and what it means in the world.

    “What are you willing to do to change that? Are you willing to face the facts?” Roberts questions. Step two is commitment. There is a spectrum of commitment. The low commitment end of the spectrum is filled with people who will ‘do what they can’. On the other end of the spectrum encompasses people who will ‘do whatever it takes’. Step three is to look at the available options. “Your biggest possession is your storehouse of ignorance,” Roberts says, “My storehouse of ignorance is vast, but the saving grace is I know it.” “Add to your storehouse of knowledge so that your store house of ignorance diminishes.” The fourth step is to take action. “You have to be willing to do the hard work of moving to where you are to where you want to be,” Roberts says.

    To deal with the bullying he endured, Roberts recalls rating the insults hurled at him. “It put me in charge,” Roberts said.

    During the questions portion of the lecture, Roberts delved into his experiences at Central High School. “Not every teacher wanted to kill us. It was so cool,” he said.

    Roberts also talked about the emotional firestorm caused when a young white student named Robin Woods shared her algebra book with him. He said that it caused so much tension that she was pressured to leave school.

    “Did you see a difference between the white religious community and the white non-religious community?” an audience member asked.

    “There was no discernable difference,” he answered. “In fact, I knew for a fact that there were some people in the mob that had been in church the day before.”

    On the topic of racism, fear, and hatred, Roberts said that, “those are things we step into at birth…the growth process. I learned about fear while I was at Central. I was looking at fear the wrong way. I was charging other people with the responsibility of my fear. When I realized that my fear was my chosen response, I began to own it. This is my fear. I’ve got to deal with it.”

    The power of habit causes people to do things without thinking. He told the story of a husband whose wife would cook a pot roast. The husband thought this was wasteful, and questioned his wife about it.

    “That’s the way we always cooked pot roast in my family,” the wife answered.

    The husband than asked his wife’s mother why she cut off the ends of the pot roast. His wife’s mother gave the same answer as his wife.

    Since his wife’s grandmother was still alive, the husband asked the elderly lady why she cut off the ends of the pot roast. The grandmother answered that the pan wasn’t big enough for the entire pot roast, so she had to cut the ends off.

    This logic applies to racism.

    “The one thing I would teach high school students would be to think critically,” Dr. Roberts said.

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