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Gifts to America: Reflections of The Little Rock Nine

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Credit: Kenna Syphax, Elmer J. Whiting, III, © Gertrude Samuels. 

On Tuesday, September 26th, Pepperdine Students representing the D.C. Internship Program were given the honor of attending and reporting on the Reflections of the Little Rock Nine at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Graced by lattice ironwork, the ornate museum showcased African-American pioneers through the perspectives of history, art, and community. As part of the museum's one year anniversary celebration, Reflections of the Little Rock Nine pays homage to the heroic students that led the battle for integration across the nation.


As the original agents of change, the Little Rock Nine presented a new perspective on modern racism, prejudices, and leadership in today's political climate. Education is arguably one of the most valuable catalysts for progress, and yet it remains as an extremely controversial subject. Just 60 years ago, education was not a right granted to citizens of all ethnicities. The infamous case of Plessy vs. Ferguson became the cataclysmic groundwork for racial segregation in public schools. While this systematic method of limiting progress in African-American communities symbolized our nation's violence and ignorance, it also characterized the strength, tenacity, and leadership of 9 brilliant high school students after the pivotal case of Brown vs. Board of Education transformed educational opportunity. If history called our name, would we have the same courage and tenacity in the face of fear?

Conversations of physical and emotional abuse brought light to the significance of persistence and willpower, especially in the pursuit of educational freedom. Simple yet powerful recollections such as walking through a cafeteria and responding to the physical torment of racism offered a thought-provoking glimpse into 1957. As students become more and more accustomed to the traditional approach of textbook memorization, we tend to overlook the humanistic and vulnerable qualities of leadership. When listening to the evening conversation, one would notice that the most powerful anecdotes started off with a simple question regarding the school environment or family ties amongst church communities.


"Enduring the small yet impactful challenges builds character and a multi-faceted leader."


One of the most memorable takeaways from the panel is the notion of servant leadership- the unsung heroes of this journey. History books alone cannot evoke the agony and sacrifices made by the families of the Little Rock Nine. From unemployment to displacement, the losses brought upon the parents and local communities were horrific and appalling. Melba Patillo Beals concluded the incredible conversation with an anecdote on family and what it means to be a servant leader. For without the support of their strong-willed families, integration would not have been a reality. As pioneers of justice, modern education, and freedom, the Little Rock Nine will always be remembered as the leaders of American history.

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