Social justice and civil rights advocate, author and consultant
A civil rights activist committed to fighting discrimination, Terrence J. Roberts helped break down racial barriers during the reintegration of public schools in the South and has continued to promote ideals of social justice throughout his career.
In the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court judgment in Brown v. Board of Education, public schools could no longer separate students by race and ethnicity. The first test of the new integrated model took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, at Central High School in 1959. Until then, the school had an all-white student body.
As one of the “Little Rock Nine,” the first black students who were enrolled that year and arrived to attend the first day of school, Roberts faced an onslaught of hateful jeers, taunts, and even rocks, one of which he keeps as a reminder. Despite the angry crowds, Roberts and his fellow students refused to back down, paving the way for integration in other schools.
This early experience undoubtedly influenced Roberts’ decision to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology, which he earned at California State University, Los Angeles in 1967, before graduating with a master’s degree in social welfare from UCLA, three years later. In 1976, he completed a doctorate in psychology at Southern Illinois University.
From 1975 to 1977 Roberts was a member of the faculty at Pacific Union College, a private liberal arts college in Napa Valley, California, where he also has served on the board. He then served as director of mental health at St. Helena Hospital and Health Center until 1985, at which time Roberts became assistant dean at his alma mater, the UCLA Department of Social Welfare. In addition to his administrative duties, including overseeing admissions to the master’s program, he taught courses on group conflict, social change, and cross-cultural awareness. From 1993 to 2008, Roberts chaired the psychology department at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
Throughout his career, Roberts has continued to advise organizations on issues of social justice and civil rights through his firm, Terrence J. Roberts Consulting, including serving as the official desegregation consultant for Little Rock School District in the late 1990s. He has offered his insight on national television shows, such as Good Morning America and the Today Show.
In 1999, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest honor for civilian contributions to society. Other major awards include the Spingarn Medal, given annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to recognize outstanding contributions to human rights; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Award for Social Justice; and the Robert S. Abbot Memorial Award.
Roberts serves on several boards, including Western Justice Center Foundation, Economic Resources Corporation, Little Rock Nine Foundation, and Facing History and Ourselves. His published work includes “Social Welfare in Black America” in the Journal of Afro-American Issues and “Understanding Choice: Gateway to Sound Mental Health,” in the Journal of Mental Health Administration.