The year is 1957. Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” is the number one song of the year, causing girls to swoon and men to be envious (because everyone was straight in the 50s). A gallon of gas was 24 cents and the world was first introduced to the joy of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat.” The segregation of schools based on race was deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.
While the 50s sounded like an idyllic place to live, 1957 was home to its fair share of challenges. A tidal wave, the result of Hurricane Audrey, crashed into the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The United States was just starting to face an economic crisis that crippled the nation with high levels of unemployment. Federal Troops were sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce new anti-segregation laws because nine African-American students were being blocked from entering their newly desegregated school. This time period, like every one before it and every one after it, was easier if you were white.
When those nine students, later referred to as the “Little Rock Nine,” attempted to enter their new high school for the very first time, they were met with an unbelievable amount of resistance. Picket signs, protestors and death threats welcomed them before they had even made it through the door. Once they did, the treatment they received from their white classmates was more of the same. Bullying, teasing and physical abuse from students, coupled with blatant discrimination and avoidance by faculty, made a perfect storm for the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of students whose only goal was to get a better education.
When listening to Minnijean speak at her keynote address for Concordia’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, I was overwhelmed with the sense of history and wisdom she breathed with each word she spoke. The amount of adversity she needed to overcome was and continues to be astounding. She serves as a testament to the power of individual will and the ways in which bravery and courage take the most humble human forms.
Most importantly, however, she offers it all back to us. In a personal lunch with Minnijean, she emphasized over and over that she gains her energy and her passion from interacting with students like us. She was only a student of 16 when she changed the course of history as we know it. For each and every Cobber reading this, here is your call to action. Do not allow yourself to be denied the ability to be great. We have the same capacity, drive, passion and insight that Minnijean did and still does.
Thanks to people like Minnijean, we now have the historical context by which to shape the course of the world. We are now faced with the task of taking the amazing opportunity we’ve been given and doing something great with it. Do not squander your potential. Concordia has facilitated your emergence into greatness; now we all get to do something with it. Look around you… Every person you see is history in the making.
My name is Colin Sullivan and I am currently a senior at Concordia College majoring in Psychology, Sociology, and Spanish. Along with my classes, I am the co-President of the Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) and also participate in Student Government Association (SGA), Cobber Forensics (Speech and Debate), and Choir.
My passions reside within issues of social justice and critically analyzing the ways in which Concordia and society on the whole supports diversity initiatives. I long for an environment within which one’s minority status does not pre-determine their likelihood for success.
Some other random facts about me: I am a Pisces with an inability to digest gluten. I have a debilitating fear of clowns and public restrooms and refuse to ride bicycles. I am 100% Irish, a recovering scarf addict, and my speaking voice is as loud as the average yell.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @csulliva09 if you want to chat. I’d love to answer any questions you may have 🙂