Friday, February 21, 2014

TOP STORY >> Little Rock Central High School 57 years after desegregation

By Senior Airman Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Fifty-seven years ago, nine brave African American high-school students endured crowds yelling, spitting, picketing and threating their lives and the lives of their families day after day, all for the chance to be educated with the same equality as Caucasian students.  

Today, the same hallways of Little Rock Central High School, where those nine African-American students were bullied and walked to class with fear, are now crowded with students of numerous races walking to class laughing and chatting as friends.  

“If you come into Central High School today and look around, you’ll see all kinds of ethnicities here,” said Kim Dade, Little Rock Central High School drama one teacher. “What the Little Rock Nine did not only changed the history of this state, it changed the history of the United States.” 

Dade, who’s been in education for 29 years and at Central High for 14, said she has taught students from Italy, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Sweden and various other countries. She said she’s also had the opportunity to teach the niece of Thelma Mothershed, one of the Little Rock Nine.

Central High is one of the only present active high schools noted for such a historical fact: desegregating black and white schools.

Dade recalls special moments during her time at the school such as: appearances from some of the Little Rock Nine members like Elizabeth Eckford and the 50th anniversary of the Nine where former President Bill Clinton held the door open as all nine former students walked through for the ceremony.

“I am extremely honored and privileged to teach here at this school,” Dade said. “I start off every year by taking my students across the street to the exhibit. I do this to remind all my students that this didn’t come easy. I try my best to keep the feeling alive that somebody paid the price for this equal education that we all receive. Those people’s lives were changed forever. This school is not like any other. We are privileged to be Tigers. Don’t take it lightly.”

Dade and her students are preparing for their Black History Month program, “Celebrating Black History Month,” scheduled for Feb. 25. It includes a play, “The Reasons Why,” a Q&A section, spoken word poetry by students and more. For the ending, which Dade said she loves, all races come together for a finale performance. 

“Black history is everyone’s history,” she said. “That’s why I think the ending is great.”

Nancy Rousseau, 12-year principal of Central High, said she is very honored to be there and feels a tremendous amount of responsibility. 

“Little Rock Central High has become ‘many cultures, one world,’” she said. “We are a far cry from what happened in 1957. As the educational leader, I feel a great deal of pressure and responsibility to model and promote positive interaction between all our students.”

Rousseau said she feels very strongly about continuing to make sure Central High has a healthy and inclusive climate. 

“There are 27 different languages spoken by our students at this school. That alone points out how far we’ve come. We need to make more of an effort to embrace, learn about and respect our differences. Central High needs to lead the charge…because of our great history.”

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