Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals shares insight with WRA community on MLK Day

Snow blanketed the Reserve campus as the community remotely gathered to honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morning Meeting.

Student reflections, remarks from Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck and a closing message from Dr. James Greenwood all pointed to the same truth – that the best way to honor Dr. King is to take action to serve others and advocate for justice. In the words of Dr. King, "Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve."

The WRA community gathered once more in the afternoon, this time with the privilege to hear from a notable contributor to the Civil Rights Movement.

Renowned speaker and author Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals engaged in discussion with students and faculty, shedding light on her experiences as a high school student in the 1950s. Dr. Beals was one of the "Little Rock 9", a group of African-American students who integrated Central High School in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the face of mobs, physical attacks and threats, these brave young students defied great hardships with endurance and peaceful resistance. They were each specifically chosen to attend the school, receiving direct support from Dr. King and other Civil Rights activists. Dr. Beals opened her address by sharing her own personal memories of Dr. King.

"I am blessed with the privilege of having met Dr. King," noted Dr. Beals. "When he walked into a room, there was a silence in your heart. There was just something different – he commanded your attention."

She would go on to describe the ways in which Dr. King inspired her and many others to persevere through many trials, whether it was physical attacks or psychological pressure that they felt.

"He said 'Melba, you're not doing this for yourself. You're doing this for generations yet to be born,'" Beals said. "Dr. King showed us a way... He was a man of peace."

This storied chapter in Dr. Beals' youth had a profound impact on the trajectory of her life. A passionate lifelong learner, she would go on to attend San Francisco State University, pursue graduate studies at Columbia University, and eventually earn a doctorate degree in international multicultural studies.

Adding to a successful career in journalism and speaking engagements, she has authored four books, including a memoir of her Central High experiences titled "Warriors Don't Cry." This book is making its way into history and social studies curriculums across the country. Beals, along with the eight other students of the "Little Rock 9," received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

Throughout her talk and in the Q&A that followed, Dr. Beals' message was both inspiring and heartfelt. And, it is a message that applies to everyone.

"Was I scared? Absolutely," remarked Dr. Beals. "But fear cannot stand between you and accomplishing your goals. You have to have trust. You have to have faith."

Dr. Beals, like Dr. King and so many others, has displayed a lifelong commitment to fighting for equal rights and opportunities for all.

WRA would like to extend gratitude to the Class of '71 graduates who helped found The Class of 1971 Frederick Douglass Initiative. This effort, which partially helped fund today's speaker, will continue to support diversity, equity and inclusion at WRA.