by Daniel Grigore
Dr. Terrence Roberts, a member of the Little Rock Nine and former professor at PUC, visited his alma mater to speak for Colloquy on Thursday, Feb. 2, and lecture in Paulin Hall on Saturday, Feb. 4. Having spoken at PUC two times prior, Dr. Roberts stated his appreciation at being asked to return for a third time during his Colloquy talk entitled, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” His homilies included the role he played in the ever-relevant Civil Rights Movement, a topic that is especially pertinent during Black History Month.
In his Colloquy address, Dr. Roberts urged students to realize they are, in fact, the “CEO of their own education.” This mindset was instilled early on by his first-grade teacher and it shaped his view on education. This mindset would prove exceptionally applicable when, on Sept. 4, 1957, Dr. Roberts was one of the first African American students allowed to attend Little Rock Central High School.
Dr. Roberts recounted that they, “…walked out. Not whole, but we walked out.” Rather than succumb to the major uproar surrounding their schooling, the Little Rock Nine persevered.
Unfortunately, his memories, “mind pictures” he called them, of the past seem to replay themselves today. “There is no measurable difference,” Dr. Roberts stated. “Why is it…how is it that we still wind up with this montage?” It is difficult to discern then from now, and it “[d]oesn’t make sense.”
When Dr. Roberts was just a little boy, he tried to talk about this issue of race in America amongst his own family and friends. He soon realized no one was interested in carrying on this conversation. There was a “[t]acit understanding that we would keep the truth at bay,” he said. To bluntly discuss the truth makes people uncomfortable. Dr. Roberts discovered the reality behind Emily Dickenson’s lines, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” in his early years. If truth is revealed all at once, it may be blinding.
In the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education decision, Roberts was given the right to attend a non-segregated school. He notes, “It did not lead to much change, but at least a foothold was established.” However, the racism of yesteryear did not disappear “overnight.” In fact, there is still a healthy dose of it in our country today. “From the first slaves until now, you get pretty good at doing something if you practice for [around] 335 years. You actually start to believe the things you practice.”
The governor of Arkansas exemplified this mindset of practiced pugnacity and closed the state schools in 1958. If he couldn’t get “colored folk” out of white schools, then no one could go to school. Dr. Roberts, again realizing he was in charge of his own education, moved to LA with his family in December of 1958. He continued his schooling in California, eventually ending up at PUC.
With his closing remarks, Dr. Roberts advised the student body that only by creating a deep connection with oneself and with God can change ever come. He continued his thoughts on connection in a lunch held in his honor after Colloquy. Students asked questions and he answered them in eloquently and with good humor.
His most memorable comments are listed: “Racism cannot be found in individuals. It is found around them.”
“If you live a life that allows you to bypass racism, you don’t bypass racism at all.”
“We have not yet spoken loudly and clearly about racism.” “You can never convince anyone of anything. But you can choose to change your own disposition and see what changes that brings.”
“[Attempt to] live a life so of our own that is so devoid of racism that we become a beacon of light to those who need it.”
“You can be different in the universe…treating everyone as your peer…” “You have to challenge what you believe in, your [own] pillars. What do you need to change? Read voraciously [especially] about how to live in a hostile environment.”
“It is hard to focus on your relationship while you’re punching them in the mouth.”
Dr. Roberts ended on the need for students to choose an internal locus of control, where decisions and choices are not made by others. “My choice has nothing to do with you,” he said. This is how you remained informed about yourself and your own relationship with God. No one can degrade you without your permission, so do not give it to them!
The PUC students thank Dr. Roberts for his visit and wishes him luck and prayers on his way.