Lessons from Little Rock
All the seats at the hamburger joint were reserved for white patrons, so 13 year old Terrence Roberts ordered food to go. While waiting, he impulsively sat down at the counter and then realized a hush had fallen over the place. Suddenly everyone seemed to be looking at him threateningly. He canceled his order and left. As he walked home, Roberts remembers wondering “what it would take for (him) to be treated like a real human being.”
Two years later, in 1957, he volunteered to be one of the ‘Little Rock Nine’ who desegregated Central High School, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
After the group made several attempts to attend Central High in the fall of 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered federal troops to the school. A soldier was assigned to protect each African American student, but Roberts recalls he suffered physical and verbal abuse on a daily basis throughout the school year.
Today, Dr. Roberts is a civil rights activist, diversity consultant, and frequent keynote speaker. A compelling study of institutional racism, his memoir Lessons from Little Rock (2009) details his childhood in the segregated South and is a testament to the personal resolve that he and each member of the Little Rock Nine used to survive their first days at Central High. He also the author of Simple, Not Easy: Reflections on Community, Social Responsibility, and Tolerance (2010).
Today is very different from 1957, but the echoes of Little Rock still inform our decisions today. Public schools are being re-segregated and private, uniracial schools are cluttering the horizon. This lecture serves to open and continue the conversation about race, one of the most salient and confusing topics of our culture. As we move deeper into this new century, with an African-American President and a landscape shifting in other unexpected ways, we must learn ways to accept and embrace difference, rid ourselves of the disabling prejudices that keep us at arm’s length from each other, and work toward establishing a just and truly democratic society.
Dr. Roberts and his fellow students received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1958, and the Congressional Gold Medal, the United States’ highest civilian honor, in 1999. Dr. Roberts is a frequent speaker on civil rights and diversity and is a regular speaker a the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Dr. Roberts is CEO of Terrence J. Roberts & Associates, a management consultant firm devoted to fair and equitable practices. A graduate of California State University at Los Angeles (BA) and UCLA (MSW), Dr. Roberts obtained his Ph.D. In psychology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. He has appeared on The Newshour, Tavis Smiley and the BBC, among others.
Learn more about Dr. Roberts on his website: www.terrenceroberts.com
“Thank you for the outstanding lecture you presented to our staff at Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic. The information you provided was truly beneficial in so many ways. Many staff made comments how the insight you gave into self-motivation, determination and communication was paramount to their individual growth as a Therapist and Intervention Specialist. Your excitement in your belief is infectious and created a new mind set for so many. I must tell you that the survey we handed out to all staff was remarkable; you scored all 5′s (which is the highest score). In my tenure here, I have never received surveys with such consistent high marks. As a business professional in the community, I am pleased to inform you that, you left a meaningful impression on the mental health professionals in Kern County and we thank you.”
Human Resources Manager
Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic
“Dr. Roberts’ lecture showed me that though we have come a long way in terms of equality and tolerance, we still have a long way to go. Through his talk, I saw that there were many parallels between the Civil Rights era and now. His lecture showed me that there is still a lot to fight for, and that anyone can be a hero – it just starts by doing something about something you feel is wrong.”
Carolina Union Activities Board
UNC Chapel Hill
“Dr. Roberts both entertained and challenged our audience as he recounted personal experiences from his past and then wove that thread into the contemporary tapestry of America today. His presence truly galvanized the house; audience members both young and old hung on his every word, and the long line of those wishing to speak with him after the lecture was a testimony to the impact he made. While it was ostensibly an opportunity to have a book signed, many waited simply to shake his hand or thank him, and I saw tears in more than a few eyes. And from the perspective of one who is tasked with booking and handling talent, I can say that Dr. Roberts was a delight to work with. Gracious with the time he gave our audiences, modest in personal requests or needs, and an absolute delight to interact with and present.”
Director, Special Events Office
UC Santa Cruz
“Dr. Roberts was the most genuine and humble speaker that we have had. His personality, which he wraps into the Little Rock story/journey made us feel like we were in Little Rock! Thank you for your courage and tenacity.”
Director, Office of Multicultural and Minority Affairs
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
“At Norco College, Dr. Terrence Roberts brought in the largest audience ever to the campus, over 500 in attendance. The audience drew from faculty, staff, administration, local high schools and the community. His talk gave insight to a significant event and time in history and everyone who attended continues to give thanks and gratitude for the experience. Dr. Terrence is a legend and carries a message that can only be fully experienced in person. Norco was grateful for his visit and his inspiring words. He touched the lives of everyone but especially our students, many of whom studied the events of Little Rock prior to Dr. Roberts’ visit. The students not only read history but were given the chance to experience it.”
Associate Dean of Student Success
RCCD Norco College
“There are moments as an educator that you look at your students and think, ‘This experience has touched them.’ It is a moment that is filled with hope. Dr. Roberts was the reason this moment occurred at Nightingale School. He brought history to life, and more importantly, he inspired courage and strength. It was a personal honor to meet him, but it was even more of an honor to witness my students changing for the better before my eyes.”
Nightingale School, Chicago, Il
“This event was a huge success, we had over 160 people attend. There was a mix of faculty, staff, students, and Lasell Village residents (our assisted living retirement housing on campus). Dr. Roberts’s speech was very memorable and he seemed to really connect with each person in the room by shaking their hands and using the floor instead of the stage. He took a generous amount of time answering the audience’s questions as well as taking time afterwards to take pictures and sign autographs. I think that every person in the room was taken by his story that has made him into the person he is today. The members of CAB (Campus Activities Board) who were able to have dinner with Dr. Roberts got to know another side of him that was quite funny. I must also not forget to mention his singing skills which he used during his speech about his days in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Roberts was a pleasure to work with and one of our best speakers to date on campus. Also, working with Beth at Samara Lectures is always great and we have never had any issues!”
Jennifer L. Granger
Assistant Director of Student Activities
“Dr.Terrence Roberts has been a featured speaker in Chicago since Facing History’s Choices in Little Rock initiative began in the Chicago Public schools four years ago. He has spoken at teacher workshops, to individual and multiple school groups as well as at our 2007 fund-raising dinner. In each of these settings, Dr. Roberts has shown a remarkable ability to engage and inspire audiences by sharing his experiences as a member of the Little Rock Nine and the lessons he drew from that turbulent time. Teachers and students alike consistently cite attending his presentation and hearing his message of resilience, possibility and taking charge of their lives as a transformative experience. We already have requests from several schools to have him speak next year!”
Dunreith Kelly Lowenstein
Associate Program Director
Facing History and Ourselves
“Sitting in a yellow school bus as we returned from a speaking engagement with Dr. Terrence Roberts, I listened carefully to my eighth grade students’ conversations. Unlike the return travel of other learning opportunities and field trips, our budding activists were passionately debating the impact of simple, heroic gestures. ‘What is activism? Has society changed? Who decides, and why?’ They were riveted while listening to Dr. Terrence Roberts and ultimately empowered to challenge whether any progress has been made regarding equity of learning for students of color. I am grateful that my students personally witnessed living history and one of its historians. I look forward to introducing my next group of students to this amazing and inspirational speaker.”
Luis R. Soria
Principal, Ellen Mitchell Elementary School
“Dr. Terrence Roberts has been a distinguished member of the adjunct faculty at the Museum of Tolerance for many years. His compelling presentation and engaging style never fail to enthrall, enlighten and inspire the prodigiously diverse audiences, including thousands of youth as well as front line professionals, he has addressed at the Museum. Always interesting and thought provoking, Dr. Roberts teaches us something new, important and relevant about history, life and humanity each time we are privileged to hear him.”
Director, Museum of Tolerance
“Dr. Roberts came to our school and melted into the culture as if he had been at part of our faculty for years. The students clung to his every word as if it was food for survival, which, in fact, it is. His message of courage, standing up for your beliefs and strength are needed for not just the youth of today, but for any one who faces adversity of any kind. He sang with the kids, greeted parents and community members and shared with the faculty. We can’t wait for his return!”
Cheryl D. Watkins
Principal, John J. Pershing West Middle School