Little Rock Nine member and Cal State LA alumnus Terrence Roberts talks about resiliency amid adversity

March 6, 2018

By Carly Buechler | Cal State LA News Service

Distinguished California State University, Los Angeles alumnus and civil rights pioneer Terrence Roberts stressed the importance of doing what’s right in the face of adversity during an address delivered for the Mind Matters Speaker Series.

Roberts spoke about his experiences as a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who in 1957 helped integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. His talk, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” focused on maintaining resiliency and cultivating community during difficult times.

Roberts was just 15-years-old when he and the other students faced angry mobs outside the high school. The students endured racism and hatred throughout the school year. Looking back on that difficult time, Roberts said, he and the others had no choice but to integrate the school.

“The fierce urgency of now means you have to go anyway,” he told students, faculty and staff who packed the Los Angeles Room in the University-Student Union for the March 6 talk. “You do what you have to do.”

The Mind Matters initiative was created by President William A. Covino and First Lady Debbie Covino to help Cal State LA students achieve academic success while dealing with the pressures of university life, family responsibilities and jobs. The Mind Matters Speakers Series has featured notable Angelenos such as Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, the Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, author of The New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, and UCLA Labor Center project director Victor Narro. 

President Covino introduced Roberts, pointing out that young people have been a force for change and social justice from the civil rights era to the present. “That’s why this kind of Mind Matters presentation is so important,” Covino said.

The desegregation of Central High School was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement and helped set the stage for the battle for equity, justice and opportunity during the 1960s.

Roberts moved to Los Angeles and graduated from Cal State LA in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. He went on to earn his master’s degree in social welfare from UCLA and his Ph.D. in psychology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.  

In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Roberts and the other members of the Little Rock Nine with a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their contributions.

Roberts is currently serving as the chief executive officer of Terrence Roberts Consulting, a management consultant firm devoted to fair and equitable practices in business and industry. He has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the university’s College of Natural and Social Sciences.

In closing, Roberts reminded the audience that the struggle for equity and justice is as relevant now as it was in 1957.

“I am not quite ready to celebrate the progress because the fierce urgency of now compels me forward,” he said. “We’ve got work to do.”

President Covino and First Lady listens to Mind Matters lecture.

Photos: Above, Cal State LA alumnus and civil rights pioneer Terrence Roberts at the Mind Matters Speaker Series. Bottom, President William A. Covino and First Lady Debbie Covino launched the Mind Matters initiative to help students achieve academic excellence. (Credit: Ty Washington/Cal State LA)

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