Thank you Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 21, 1956, after a Supreme Court ruling banning segregation on city public transit vehicles took effect

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in” — Rosa Parks

Today (or perhaps tomorrow by the time I get this posted, but anyhow, Dec. 1st)  in 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to sit in the back of the bus and to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Myths about Rosa Parks and her courageous act have continued ever since.

If we learned about Rosa Parks at all many of us learned she was a tired seamstress who – acting on her own- after a particularly hard day at work simply was too tired to get up.

The reality is that Rosa Parks was an activist. She had worked for years with social justice groups before her action and at the time was the secretary for the local NAACP. Ms. Parks attended trainings in Gandhian resistance and racial desegregation at the Highlander school. She was part of a community that trained for and planned for a nonviolent attack on segregation.When Rosa parks was driven to the police station booked, fingerprinted and jailed she used her one phone call to contact E.D.Nixon, a prominent member of the local NAACP.

But what difference does it make?

The myth I learned suggests that activists come out of nowhere and act alone suddenly. It implies only dramatic stands. It implies that change occurs quickly. It teaches us that anyone who takes a committed public stand is someone larger than life -someone with more energy, courage, vision, knowledge and commitment than I (or any “ordinary” person) can have.  

This is disempowering – it  makes it even harder to get involved, it fails to give credit to those who acted behind the scenes and removes the real lessons of Rosa Parks.

That real change is often built on a series of often-invisible actions. That real change occurs becuase of the actions of many whose names and faces we will probably never know. That by starting with modest steps and not giving up we can create change. That we never know if our actions will move us forward in baby steps, or in giant leaps – but they move us forward.

Except when they fail, and sometimes they will.

But we continue, because sometimes they don’t.

That it takes a community acting together.  That we are not alone. And that the work of those doing support and behind the scenes work are the backbone of the revolution.

That training and preparation for actions are important.

That there is hope.

And so, in honor of Rosa Parks do something to confront racism. Take a small step or a large step – but step.

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