'Little Rock 9' member speaks to San Ramon schools about discrimination

SAN RAMON, Calif. (KGO) -- Hateful graffiti on the campuses of several East Bay schools prompted a lesson in civil rights Thursday from a civil rights pioneer.

RELATED: Racist graffiti found at Monte Vista High in Danville

Like a lot of kids, Terrence Roberts used to never want to go to school -- not because of a test or because he was tired.

He faced discrimination every day. Roberts was one of the "Little Rock 9," the very first black students to attend an all-white school in Arkansas following the Brown V. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

"The main theme was opposition to our presence, so every day we knew we had to push our way in," said Roberts. "And we had to force our way into situations we were constantly being shoved out of."

Roberts is no an activist and spoke to students and staff from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. He focused on his experience during the civil rights movement and how to fight for equality today.

"There will be many battles to fight," Roberts told the students. "Choose the hill you will die on."

"He stayed strong no matter what he was confronted with," said senior Katarina Stroud, who was especially inspired by his story.

In the fall, racist graffiti was found at both Monte Vista and Cal high schools.

The graffiti motivated Stroud to start Monte Vista's first black student union. "Whether it be racial or gay slurs that some students, unfortunately, hear on our campus, I think it's important his message shows them that they're more than that," she said.

Superintendent Rick Schmitt invited Roberts to the school as a response to the graffiti. He hopes students use the power of peer influence to make a change. "I thought his message of tolerance, living racial discrimination and intolerance and bias and learning how to fight the right way, I thought would be a powerful message for the kids," he said.

Schmitt says even though the district is one of the best in the country, there's still work to do.

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