Minnijean Brown Trickey and Dr. Terrence Roberts, two of the first nine Black students that enrolled at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, came to Oakland to talk about their experiences with education following integration of schools.
The group of students, known as the Little Rock Nine enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957, three years after the decision of Brown v. Board of Education was declared. Little Rock was one of the first cities to put the decision into force as Little Rock’s school board and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) enrolled nine students to integrate the high school.
Continuing with the Barbara Lee & Elihu Harris Lecture Series’ theme of “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” at the Oakland Marriott City Center on Apr. 11, Trickey and Roberts discussed their experiences at Little Rock Central High School. They also reflected on their recent experiences involving race and identity.
Both speakers focused on how each experience was not just a revolutionary move in desegregation and nonviolence; it was also an attempt at an ordinary experience in pursuit of education.
“If we want to think about the complexities that emerge as the Little Rock Desegregation Crisis, you have to understand that on the day that we put our names on a list, we were planning to go to school,” Trickey said.
Roberts continued the conversation of race and identity, recalling his experiences as a professor at University of California, Los Angeles. Roberts stressed the importance of community in fighting racism today.
“None of us can do it alone,” Roberts said. “In this country, we offer a heavy dose of individualism, of doing it yourself. … This is a joint enterprise.”
Trickey and Roberts also participated in a Q&A panel with the audience; the panel members discussed different topics, from their experiences at Little Rock Central High to their current politics in Little Rock.
One audience member asked about Trickey’s experience as a Black woman trying to pursue an education in a segregated, hostile environment.
“The experience was hard,” said Trickey. “There is no formula, there were no calculations, there were no patterns. … It’s harder than rocket science. Once you know that it’s harder than rocket science, you go in and see what they’re going to do to you today. You go in for an education, no matter what.”
Students from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland also spoke at the lecture. Student Jacob Yalung promoted peace and forgiveness between people.
“Anger is the enemy of family and community, and pride is a monster that swallows us up,” Yalung said. “Whenever you are hurt mentally, physically [and] emotionally, always work to forgive, because forgiveness allows a chance for bonding and connection between you and that other person.”
Thirteen-year-old student Angela Drake voiced her perspective on today’s movement in justice and community. Drake reflected on problematic issues in the community, such as the school-to-prison pipeline and the mass incarceration of people of color.
“We fight so hard for something that seems like it’s being torn back down,” Drake said. “Now’s the time for togetherness, hope [and] unity. One person cannot do the work of a thousand. Every hand is needed in building a wall of hope.”