I had the opportunity to keynote a speech therapy conference in west Texas that focused on how to honor diversity in our schools. I shared a story about my roots that drives me to honor diversity every day.
Does anyone recognize either of these two women?
These women were an important part of each other’s life journeys. On the left is Gloria Ray Karlmark. Gloria was one of the 9 black students who attended Little Rock Central High School in 1957 following the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision that segregation was unconstitutional.
The Governor of Arkansas at the time, Orval Faubus, called in the Arkansas National Guard to block the students’ entry on September 4, 1957, the first day of school. President Eisenhower responded by sending in Federal troops to escort the nine students into school. Gloria Ray and her fellow classmates were escorted into Little Rock Central, which had to that point been an all-white school. Inside the doors, many people were not kind to Gloria and the other eight black students. Yet, she held her head high and showed up every day.
Dorothy Harpham Lenggenhager
One reason she kept showing up was because of Dorothy Harpham Lenggenhager. You see, Mrs. Lenggenhager was Gloria’s history teacher. And Mrs. Lenggenhager believed in Gloria. Mrs. Lenggenhager believed that everyone, regardless of the color of their skin or any other differences, has the right to an education. She gave the Little Rock Nine, as they are known, the support and encouragement they needed to succeed. And it was not without adversity. Many of Mrs. Lenggenhager’s fellow teachers were not supportive of integration. And many of them did not like Mrs. Lenggenhager’s support of the students. People threatened her and her family, threw rocks through her windows, and sent unkind notes to her. But Dorothy Lenggenhager stood up for what she believed in—an equal education for all.
Dorothy Lenggenhager was my grandmother, and my most prized family possession is a letter written to her by Gloria Ray saying she never would have made it through that process without the fierce support and constant encouragement of my grandmother. The road was not easy for Gloria Ray or Dorothy Lenggenhager. But they chose to move forward and stand up for what they believed in. I am proud of the accomplishments of both of these women and from them, I carry forth two messages.
The first is speak out for the things you believe in. If you don’t speak out, who will? If you don’t speak out, how will positive change occur? If you see injustice, address it. If you see people who need your support, give it to them.
The second message I carry forth from Gloria Ray Karlmark and Dorothy Lenggenhager is: Honor Diversity. We are better because of the diversity that exists around us. Research shows us that teams with diverse skills sets solve problems more efficiently and more effectively. This is also true for groups with social diversity. Research shows us that teams made up of individuals from socially diverse backgrounds (different cultures, genders, language backgrounds, sexual orientations) are consistently more innovative than teams that are more homogeneous.
We live in this melting pot where people from a wide range of cultures have come together to live side by side. Appreciate the differences. Cherish the experiences. Honor and respect the diversity that exists among us.