Cornelia Connelly School students recently had the honor and privilege to Skype with author and civil rights hero, Melba Patillo Beals. The event was part of the school’s All-School Reads program which unites the school community by having all students, faculty, and staff read a book that has literary merit and delivers a strong social message. This year’s book choice was “March Forward, Girl.” The author, Melba Patillo Beals, grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, during a time of segregation – where life for African Americans was far from just, and she and her family lived in a state of constant fear.
When integration of previously all-white public schools was initiated, Melba was one of the heroic “Little Rock Nine,” who were students chosen to be among the first to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. The Little Rock Nine were met with such opposition from the white community that they needed a military escort for their safety. Years later, Melba and the rest of the Little Rock Nine, were award the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian honor our country awards.
Melba talked to Connelly students and faculty via Skype in a special assembly where she spoke of her life experiences, and engaged the students by answering their questions, spoke of her faith, and encouraged everyone to have respect and love for everyone. Several students came forward to ask Melba questions, including one who asked: “Would you change anything in your childhood?” Without hesitating, Melba replied, “I wouldn’t change it. There’s always purpose to what’s happened to you. I lived through it so I could share it with you.” She added that she drew strength and encouragement from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words that she was doing this “for generations yet unborn.”
Connelly students, faculty, and staff were grateful for the opportunity to speak with Melba Patillo Beals. The Skype session sparked many though-provoking conversations among the Connelly community that could be heard throughout the day on campus.