SPARKS, Nev. -- She played a pivotal role in our country's history - helping to desegregate schools in Arkansas. Melba Beals of the Little Rock Nine visits Reno for the weekend to talk about improving education in the Silver State. She sat down with KOLO 8 to talk about what she had to go through to get what many people take for granted every day.
At the ripe age of 15, Melba Patillo Beals knew the value of education, no matter what the stakes.
"My mother walked 10 miles to school to get her college education and you know what she said to me? She said 'they can repossess your car, take away your clothes, remove that hair weave, baby, but they cannot take away your education."
"The words, 'segregation and integration'-all that stuff comes down to one word: access," she said. "How it felt to be one of those students is indescribable."
Beals was one of eight other students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were the only people of color who attended Central High School in Arkansas.
"It was difficult to be us. What a miserable, miserable, miserable year. People were throwing acid in your eyes," she said. "When I walked up the stairs, the back of my heels hurt because people walked on my Achilles's tendon."
Now at age 72, she's using her past to pave a stronger future for those who need more help getting a proper education, like students in the Silver State.
"If you cannot speak, write spell or talk on your feet, you won't get a job."
According to the U.S. Department of Education in 2012, Nevada has the lowest high school graduation rate.
"This state should be insulted that it's on this list at all with all this resources here. Get up and get going," she said. "Divide and conquer. Get it together. Look at what's needed. We've really lost focus."
However, regaining focus can be tricky when faced with a few setbacks. Just recently, the Supreme Court made a ruling to uphold Michigan's ban Affirmative Action. This paves the way for other states to do the same. The decision also means universities and institutions cannot use race and gender as deciding factors in the admissions process.
"I didn't have that; Dr. Martin Luther King didn't have that. Get off your
behind and work hard," she said. "You don't need all that; all you need is excellent grades, focus on education...be energized by the Supreme Court's idiotic decision."
Beals is even using Cliven Bundy's controversial remarks against black people
as fuel. Bundy said in an interview earlier this week, he wonders if they were "better off as slaves" than "under government subsidy."
"I love him for that. say it again, Sam, because when he says that, he's only verbalizing what everyone thinks," she said. "Give me ammunition to help me recruit other students, give me ammunition to make students study."
Melba Beals will be speaking Sunday at 7 p.m. at AACT High School located at 380 Edison Way in Reno.
Tickets are $20, but the event is free for any Washoe County School District Students.