In the autumn of 1957 in Little Rock, Ark., 15-year-old Minnijean Brown Trickey took her first step “to climb the mountain” by signing up to attend what was a white-only school, alongside eight other African American students known as the Little Rock Nine.
“I signed up to attend Central High School, and I was one of nine that were selected,” she said. “We were chosen for having good grades. Signing up was my first step.”
In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Week, Central Michigan University hosted Trickey as the keynote speaker Tuesday in Plachta Auditorium.
“Dr. King was my favorite kind of leader because he listened to what people had to say and did what he was asked to,” she said. “I want everyone to know quotes from Dr. King other than ‘I have a dream.’”
Trickey presented her story while sharing her experiences from the civil rights era.
“I am here to commemorate Dr. King and his work, and because I am a Little Rock Nine. Me and Dr. King are from the same era,” she said. “The era when there were only two television shows, and when magic markers were first being invented.”
While most audience members were familiar with the Little Rock Nine, many did not have any prior knowledge of Trickey’s personal story. Kent City freshman Cody Chipman was one student who did not know who Trickey was before the presentation.
“I was most interested in learning more about her and how she overcame adversity,” he said. “Minnijean told us the harassment she dealt with and how nonviolence can be more powerful. I really do think that is true.”
Trickey described the principles of nonviolence, in which she drew emphasis on not getting mad at others, but rather getting even.
“By even, I mean get educated and have a statues on the capital grant, you know?” she said.
Katie Dewitt, CMU Program Board communications chair Grand Rapids junior, said she hopes audience members will be able to realize how much change one can create.
“I hope that CMU community members are able to realize that a small group of students can change a community, culture and history,” Dewitt said. “I know it’s cliché to say that one person can change the world, but it’s true. Minnijean has proven how as a student she helped change her community.”
As Trickey walked into a school of nearly 2,000 white students, alongside eight black students, she withstood harassment and practiced her deserved notion to educate herself.
“My request is for you all to find out about the civil rights movement so you know what you are all capable of,” she said. “You need to know when things are wrong, when laws are wrong, and when society is wrong, so you can then make a change. Good luck.”