A lesson, reflection, and presentation for Ramadan 2021 by Stacey James McAdoo
The first time I saw Spirit Trickey, the daughter of Minnie Jean Brown Trickey (who is one of the nine Black children who desegregated Little Rock Central High school in 1957 and who are today referred to collectively as the Little Rock Nine), I thought to myself, “That’s what love looks like out loud.”
It amazed me that a woman (MinniJean) who experienced such a traumatic and awful time by hateful white children, parents, community leaders, educators, legislators, and even those who she thought were brought to Little Rock to protect her could find it in her heart to not hate all white people.
At the time of my first encounter with Spirit, my brother, my only sibling, had recently died in a car accident. And I was having a hard time understanding how life was still going on all around me. I was angry and hurt. Seeing people laugh, hold hands and spend time together or watching siblings’ playful banter was painful. And when friends and loved ones complained about something one of their siblings said or did or acted as though they couldn’t stand to be around them, I’d get angry about that too.
“I’m sorry I didn’t do enough,” were the words Minnie Jean Brown Trickey said to me (well, technically it was “me, me” – it was everyone on the Zoom, but I swear I felt like she was talking to me exclusively) during the Sisterhood & Social Justice event sponsored by the Celebrate! Maya Project and Antioch College’s Coretta Scott King Center. “Violence and segregation are the United States highest values,” she had previously stated. “And social justice is a lifetime sentence. I was a little girl then. And I’m tired now,” she continued.
MinniJean Brown Trickey was the only one of the Little Rock Nine we didn’t complete that 1957 school year. She was expelled because she allowed her hurt and anger to get the best of her. After being tired of continuously enduring the pain and emotional turmoil that she and the other either faced day in and day out – the walking on the back of their shoes, the hitting with combination locks, the name-calling, having to avoid stepping on glass in the locker room, not being allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities or clubs, being lonely and isolated, going the whole school day without having a conversation with a classmate, having the teachers turn a blind eye or even join in with the ridiculing, being spit on, dealing with death threats, harassing phone calls, rocks and homemade bombs being thrown through their homes…she had finally had enough. So, when she was tripped in the cafeteria by a male student, she “accidentally, on purpose,” dropped her chili and was suspended because some of it splashed on the little boy. Shortly after returning to school, she was expelled for good when she called a girl who had verbally and physically assaulted her “white trash.”
I taught Communications and was the AVID college & career readiness coach at Little Rock Central High School for 18 years. I was keenly aware of the role that MinniJean Brown Trickey and the other Little Rock Nine played in me now having the opportunity to teach at Central. Had it not been for them, I would be relegated to teaching at the under-resourced “Black” school where Sue Cowen Williams (who now has a library named after her) had to fight for the rights of Blacks, and who was later terminated for having the audacity to expect equal pay as the white teachers.
It still baffles me that during that time, the governor of Arkansas was so adamant that Blacks would not attend school with white children that the year after the Little Rock Nine entered Center, he closed all of the public high schools in Little Rock to prevent further efforts at integration. This was a peculiar year in Little Rock because white teachers still went to work and just sat in empty classrooms. And any Black teacher who was a part of the NAACP was immediately fired and not allowed to teach again. That year, the school district did something similar to what I did with AR PBS this past summer when COVID shut the schools – they used the television to attempt to do school lessons. This didn’t last long, but for a couple of weeks, fifteen white children were taught on television with the hope that other white children would be able to watch and learn. Soon afterward, private schools started opening their doors to accommodate displaced white students. The same did not happen for Blacks, and most of them ended up entering the workforce or moving with relatives and friends in other cities/states so that they could attend school.
Finally, in 1959, again very similar to what we experienced this COVID-19 school year, the community decided that children had to go to school because parents had to go to work and needed individuals to watch their children. Schools opened back up with very limited desegregation. Twelve years later (in 1971), the federal courts MADE the schools integrate and encouraged busing.
So back to Spirit Trickey. It’s 2002, and she’s explaining all of this to my very diverse class of ninth graders who are in awe of what they are hearing and learning. They cannot imagine the horror stories they hear about the school they love – where the motto is “many cultures, one world” and the walls within the school hold close to 2,500 students who speak 23 different languages at home. “How did your mother handle all of this,” one student asks. Spirit explained to them that they were trained under Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Principals of Nonviolence (who he says were inspired by Jesus Christ and Mohandas K. Gandhi.) Those Principles are:
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
- Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
- Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The Nonviolence resister seeks to defeat evil, not people.
- Nonviolence holds that suffering for a cause can educate and transform people and societies. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering for a cause is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
- Nonviolence choose love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well of the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish, and creative.
- Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.
When MinniJean Brown apologized to us the last week, the apology for not fully embracing these tenants when she was 15 years old and specifically for retaliating instead of accepting the suffering like she had been taught to do. And speaking of suffering and the principles of nonviolence, meeting Spirit made me want to choose love instead of hate. Her presence reinforced/reminded me that if I wanted everything to be well within my spirit, that I had to be courageous enough to let go of the anger and pain of no longer having a brother and that I had to open my eyes and my heart to appreciate what we had – the love that we shared – instead of focusing on what I lost.
May the lessons I learned from the meeting of Spirit and the adoration I hold for MinniJean’s ability not to harbor anger and resentment for the harm done to her bless you on this 23rd day of Ramadan. Here’s hoping the rest of your Ramadan brings you closer to God and your families.
Stacey James McAdoo, our “forever” 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, is the sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. For seventeen years she served as an Oral Communications instructor and the AVID College & Career Readiness Coordinator at the historic Little Rock Central High School. She currently teaches Educators Rising (a class for high school upperclassmen who aspire to become teachers), works with the LRSD Novice Mentor Program and is an adjunct instructor in UCA’s Teaching and Learning Department where she continues to be the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap. She is also the creator and host of the education podcast “A Mile in My Shoes: The Walk and Talk Podcast.”