Grace Stanley
Category: 2021 High School Winner

Grace Stanley

If I were to select one inspirational Black American, it would be civil rights icon Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine due to her courage. She was the first member of the Little Rock Nine to arrive at Little Rock Central High September 4, 1957 to desegregate the formerly all-white school. She displayed a level of bravery at 15 that few adults ever achieve as she faced an incensed mob of segregationists and armed Arkansas National Guard soldiers alone.

An image taken during Ms. Eckford’s attack went viral before such a thing existed. Viewers saw the face of racism on the student screaming behind Ms. Eckford, and they did not like what they saw. President Eisenhower eventually sent in the 101st Airborne to protect the Little Rock Nine, but they were attacked physically, verbally, and emotionally for the entire school year. They remained because they knew future generations were relying on them to help implement the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Despite insurmountable odds, they persisted. Thanks to “firsts” across the country like Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine, the scourge of desegregation ended, diversifying American schools.

I was blessed to meet Ms. Eckford when my family made a military move to Little Rock, Arkansas. She became friends with my mother, which afforded me the unique opportunity to be mentored by her my whole life. Although I want to become an Obstetrician/Gynecologist, I also love to act and tell stories. I enjoy sharing the experiences of unsung African American women who positively influenced America. For example, I created a documentary about women who influenced desegregation featuring Ms. Eckford that can be viewed at I was selected as Youth Ambassador of the Year by the 2020 Orlando Film Festival due to my documentaries, leadership, and community service.

For years, my mother asked Ms. Eckford why she did not have a book. Sadly, she internalized so much of the hatred she experienced at Central High that she did not believe anyone would be interested in what she had to say. She did not see the importance of her incredible story. After my mom retired from the Army, we coauthored The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High with Ms. Eckford. The book shares her experiences desegregating Central High in 1957 to teach civil rights history and combat racism, discrimination and bullying. The greatest blessing about writing The Worst First Day with Ms. Eckford is speaking to schools and organizations with her. It is so wonderful to see her receive her roses of appreciation from audience members while she lives. Hopefully, Covid will end soon so we can resume our presentations.

I was accepted to attend my dream school, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). I will major in Biology/Pre-Med and be the first in my family to become an Obstetrician/Gynecologist. I am prepared to work extremely hard to achieve my goal and make my family and Ms. Eckford proud! Like her, in life I plan to #WalkPastHate.