Nine: a little number with a big impact
May 11, 2015
Picture this – you arrive to school on your very first day, only to be denied the opportunity of an education by your state’s very own government officials. Once you are finally granted entry, you find that your fellow peers, those who you are supposed to share your academic career with, do not want you there. In fact, they will do everything in their power to ensure that you do not gain the academic experience you rightly deserve. The reasoning behind all of this? Your skin is black, their skin is white.
For Terrence Roberts, this scenario was his reality.
Dr. Roberts graced Palmetto’s auditorium with recollections of his experiences on the morning of May 6, 2015. Select classes, including Mr. Dainer-Best’s Advanced Placement United States History course, were granted the opportunity of listening to Dr. Robert’s reflections on his childhood.
Born on December 3, 1941, Terrence Roberts grew up in an adolescent environment that constantly found itself laced with racism, judgement and hate towards the African American population. Referencing back to America’s history of slavery, Dr. Roberts reminded students that discrimination has marred our past for a vast amount of time, and how it has reshaped the future to come.
“Between 1619 and 1954, it was legal to discriminate,” Dr. Roberts said. “I want you to feel the weight of 335 years. I want you to focus your attention on that number. It is the case that we were able to discriminate by law for 335 years. What is the most likely outcome of having done that? If you discriminate against a group of people for 335 years, without stopping, it becomes conditioned and normative. It becomes expected. It becomes the way of life. The laws eventually changed, but nothing else changed with it.”
When the Little Rock School Board began to integrate its schools during 1957, representatives from the board visited the all-black institutions in search of students to attend the previously all-white facilities. Approximately 150 people initially volunteered, but after further discussion and deliberation with their families, only nine remained – including Dr. Roberts. The nine students would eventually be labeled as “The Little Rock Nine”, with their story appearing in the pages of history textbooks all across the nation.
Upon their first attempt to enter the doors of Little Rock Central High School, the nine students found themselves being turned away by the state guard, summoned by Arkansas’s governor himself. By their third try, the students gained access to the school due to the aid of the army on their side. However, despite the fact that one barrier of injustice had been overcome, the teenagers soon discovered that many more lay ahead of them.
“For that whole year, we were the target of people who didn’t appreciate our being, and they took advantage of the fact that we did not have any way to defend ourselves,” Dr. Roberts said.
Senior year proved difficult for the students of Central High, as Arkansas’s governor closed all of the district’s public schools in an effort to defy the desegregation laws. While this bump in the road may have hindered others from moving forward, Dr. Roberts seized the opportunity and traveled to California with his family to continue his education at Los Angeles High School. Once his high school career was behind him, he worked towards gaining a bachelor’s sociology degree at California State University. Soon after, he obtained a practice in the field of clinical psychology and now works as the CEO of Terrence J. Roberts and Associates, a management consultant firm.
Alongside his career, Dr. Roberts takes the time to visit various schools across the nation in an effort to enlighten young people on the life-changing moments that history offered him. In a back-and-forth dialogue between student and speaker, listeners learn about the hardships and lessons that followed the groundbreaking role in society that Dr. Roberts held, and continues to hold today.
“Race is mythological. There is no – I repeat, no – scientific support for the notion of race. There is no biological support either,” Dr. Roberts said. “Ancestry accounts for the difference of individuals. In the universe, there is one finite gene pool. Out of that gene pool, every human being who has ever lived, who is now alive, and who will ever live, holds a unique combination of genetic components that constitutes for that person. Race never enters into the equation. Race was created as a hierarchy from ‘whiteness’ to ‘blackness’ and sold to the public, and we bought it without a whimper.”
After participating in discourse regarding violence, racial justice and definition, family life and personal achievements, Dr. Roberts closes his discussion with a final statement that resonated in the minds of those present, leaving them pondering over the answer long after the third period bell rang out.
“As you leave here, just in terms of your future well being, I want you to think about this,” Dr. Roberts said. “When was the last time that you did something for the first time?”