Envisioning the Future With Lessons From the Past
As the USF community continues to navigate the current moment, Founder’s Week presented a conversation with Little Rock Nine member Melba Beals EdD ’10. Dr. Beals’ reflected on her 78 years of life experience as a Black woman in the U.S. and her outlook on the country’s future.
Inspired by USF’s core Jesuit values, Founder’s Week welcomed a range of guest speakers whose life experience and knowledge demonstrate what it means to Change the World from Here. Beals’ virtual event, Healing the Wounds of Oppression, transported the community to a vision of the U.S. in the 1940s through her eyes.
At the age of 15, Beals was one of nine black students who were the first to integrate into Central High School, a formerly all-white institution in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. In spite of the dangers and fears that surrounded them, they continued to persist in the fight for racial equality.
Since then, Beals has generated success as a renowned journalist, professor, and writer. USF is especially proud to recognize Beals as a member of the School of Education’s alumni community.
As Beals engaged in conversation with the School of Education Dean, Dr. Shabnam Koirala-Azad, she shared her thoughts on the present state of racial injustice in the U.S.
“The Trump administration gives me the feeling of being back in Little Rock in the 1940s. I am edgier, more frightened, more powerless because I feel like this is an administration who gives permission for people to castigate and destroy blacks, people of color, and people who don’t think as they think,” Beals stated.
Dr. Koirala-Azad added that moments like these were what motivated her to immerse herself in the field of education.
“[We are able] to create spaces where we can be together to sit with the reality of the struggle, to sit with the reality of trauma, and begin a position where we can start to imagine different possibilities,” she stated.
Beals remembered when she was given this very opportunity to enact change as a student trying to stand up against the hate and bigotry at Central High School. She notes a particular conversation she had with Martin Luther King Jr.
He told her, “Melba, you can’t leave now, because you are not doing this for yourself. You are doing this for generations yet unborn.”
Those words have stuck with Beals ever since. She shared that the reason she has gotten through life so far is because of the firm self-belief she has stood by in the face of adversity.
“There is a reason for everything. There is a reason this president is in office. There is a reason these things are happening to us. All of it is lesson time. Understand that you are loved, understand that you have a future, understand that you are important. No matter who you are,” Beals stated.
In spite of all the trauma and devastation that has tried to consume the world, she encouraged everyone to hold onto the will and drive to move forward.
“I would encourage people to not be limited by anything, because if we allow people to limit us — No, no. You are meant to be the greatest of who you are, and you are someone very special. You’ve got to know for yourself who you are and what you can be,” she states.
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