In 1957, Terrence James Roberts and eight other teenagers became the first black students to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“The nine of us were subjected to a year of sheer hell,” said Roberts at APA’s Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs’ breakfast Saturday, where he was awarded a presidential citation by APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD. “Whatever you might possibly consider that one human being could do to another, that happened to us — daily.”
Through resilience and faith, Roberts eventually graduated from Los Angeles High School and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a PhD in clinical psychology in 1976. In 1999, he and the other members of the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton. Roberts is now retired from the faculty of the Antioch University Los Angeles and is principal of the management consulting firm Terrence Roberts Consulting.
Although things have changed for black Americans in the United States since Roberts’ high school days – and have changed in large part due to his and others’ courage – they haven’t changed enough, he said.
“The law is now on my side, but still I am forced daily to contend daily with the ongoing violence of social and cultural exclusion, demeaning ideological belief systems, invidious institutional practices, implacable psychological barriers, ahistorical and pseudoscientific research designed to support claims of white supremacy and well-meaning others who suggest that I ‘overreact,’” he said.
Roberts challenged the audience to “do all [you] can do to change this pernicious status quo,” he said
“Instead of despair, I offer you the opportunity to learn as much as you can, develop a strategy and intervention, and move forward confidently with the assurance that whatever you do will, in concert with what others do, be sufficient to alter the course of history.”