In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” which led to the integration of public schools in the United States. In 1959, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine African American students were the first students to integrate Central High School.
On Thursday evening, at the LBJ Presidential Library, School of Public Affairs, in Austin, Texas, three members of the “Little Rock Nine,” Ernest Green, Carlotta Walls LaNier, and Terrence Roberts, recalled their experiences entering those halls of following that momentous decision.
The students had to be escorted to the door by 101st Airborne Division and once inside the doors, they still had to be escorted to be safe from retaliation from the white students. But even then it wasn’t as safe as it should have been.
With a sense of humor, wisdom and grace they told us the easy things to hear; the more horrific things they kept to themselves. Even though they were assigned lockers, they had to carry their books and papers with them to every class because the lockers would be broken into and its contents destroyed. They had to walk down the hallways with their backs toward the wall or they risked being hit or kicked in the back. And Ms. LaNier herself said that her nemesis made it a point to walk on the back of her heels until they bled.
They endured terrible things just to get an education.
American children of all backgrounds today have absolutely no idea how good they have it. Not only that but they’re squandering it. I’m painting a picture in very broad strokes but here, but all across the spectrum of humanity, no only do we have children who skip school just because but, and this is terrible, others are encouraged to skip by their parents who either want them to do other things or just because:
- My Dude works in the transit industry and he has witnessed firsthand African American high school kids who are trying to get to school arguing with their parents who want them to do something else.
- I’ve had conversations with someone who personally knows a white parent who wanted their early elementary aged child to stay home from school simply because they missed the child and wanted them around.
- I know white parents who take their kids out of school just to take a vacation.
- Recently a segment aired on a morning radio talk show about truancy. One area school district employee called in and said that in her school district, when they tracked down truant students, they found a good deal of them at home with a parent. The student was neither sick nor were they absent from school because of a lack of transportation as evidenced by nearby transit or a working vehicle in the driveway.
- And the worst: there is a predominantly African American high school in my area that has a chronically terrible record of attendance.
Pardon me, but what the h*** is wrong with this us?
Is this how we teach our young people of the value of education?
This laissez faire not going to school thing? I think that’s a slap in the face to the Little Rock Nine. It’s a slap in the face to Malala Yousafzai and every other girl in Pakistan or Nigeria or anywhere else who is doing everything they can to get an education. It’s a slap in the face to anyone anywhere who is striving to better themselves through education.
But that’s not all. Thursday night I was extremely saddened, distressed and dismayed that amid an audience of nearly 900, I could count on two hands how many African American people came out to listen to the men and women of their culture who, as teens, held their heads high and walked with courage and fortitude through previously unattainable halls so they could better themselves. So all African American students who came after them could better themselves through education.
I can’t help but wonder whether or not they think what the Little Rock Nine did really matters any more.
The Little Rock Nine are a lesson in courage and determination and we all can learn from them. I don’t claim to be an expert in all the reasons why our children do not attend school as much as they should and I admit that certainly at times there are extenuating circumstances. I also believe that our education policies are not the best and there’s always room for improvement. However, education is a growing and learning process and no matter where we are, there are always opportunities out there to take the next step and further ourselves.
But when I look around and see what I see and hear what I hear, I have to ask how much anyone thinks education really matters any more.
The Little Rock Nine® Foundation was created to promote the ideals of justice and equality of opportunity for all. Forged in the crucible of fierce opposition to the educational pursuits of nine young black children, the Foundation is dedicated to the proposition that racist ideology will not dictate educational policies and practices in the 21st Century.
Too many children still do not have access to adequate educational opportunities in the 21st Century. Because of their struggles for a quality education, the Little Rock Nine members, through their Little Rock Nine® Foundation, are committed to assuring that our youth, especially children of color, are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to become future leaders.
The mission of the Little Rock Nine® Foundation is to provide direct financial support and a mentorship program for students to help them reach their educational goals.
Further, it is our mission to encourage young people to take executive responsibility for their education, to step forward boldly and seize any available opportunity to expand awareness and understanding. The Foundation seeks to create a viable link between young learners and those who offer support for their efforts.