Rosa Parks

Today is the birthday of Rosa Parks.

On the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks’ polite refusal to give up her bus seat sparked a protest movement that changed the United States of America.

Rosa’s journey that Thursday began like many others. She finished work, boarded a bus home, and sat just behind the seating reserved for Caucasian passengers. After a few stops, the bus began to fill up. When the driver saw a white man standing, he told Rosa, and three other African Americans, to give up their seats.

Rosa refused.

The police arrived and told Mrs Parks that if she didn’t move, she would be arrested. Rosa defied cultural, legal and social pressure by responding, ‘You may do that.’

Inspired by Rosa’s arrest, the Montgomery bus boycott began and lasted more than a year. This simple act of non-violent protest attracted national attention and set into motion a change in the law of the land.

Sharing her memories of that famous day to the Academy of Achievement’s 1995 gathering in Virginia, USA, Rosa Parks said, ‘As I look back on those days, it’s just like a dream and the only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest, and to let it be known that wherever we go, all of us should be free and equal and should have all opportunities that others should have.’

Rosa was influenced by her mother, a school teacher, who passionately believed in the equal value of all people. She was also close to her grandparents, who were born before slavery was abolished in the US. So when faced with her own decision to comply with what was legal but deeply morally wrong, or to defy authority and stand up (or in this case, stay seated) for what was just and right, the answer seemed inevitable.

Rosa, with the history and passions of generations behind her, chose justice for herself, and for all African Americans.

What is the legacy of my family? Lord, please show me what compassion, respect and justice I can take forward from generations past, as well as what injustices or prejudices I can break away from.

What people groups are oppressed in my nation today? Who does not experience the same freedom, respect or opportunities as others? Lord, I ask You to fight for them. Show me how to pray and act to improve their lives.

The author Parker J. Palmer wrote: ‘You and I may not have Rosa Park’s particular battle to fight… But if the Rosa Parks story is to help us discern our own vocations, we must see her as the ordinary person she is. That will be difficult to do because we have made her into super-woman – and we have done it to protect ourselves. If we can keep Rosa Parks in a museum as an untouchable icon of truth, we will remain untouchable as well: we can put her up on a pedestal and praise her, world without end, never finding ourselves challenged by her life.’

These are challenging words. Many issues of injustice seem too big for me to tackle. What difference can little old me make to human trafficking, the exploitation of factory workers in developing countries, or the fatal effects of climate change in some nations? Some injustices are so overwhelming that I do nothing, because I can’t do everything.

When Rosa Parks made the brave decision to stay seated, I doubt she knew the domino effect it would have. She made the choice in front of her – she made the stand she could. God used that decision to bring the civil rights movement to the attention of her nation.

Lord, I confess that I sometimes allow the enormity of injustice to paralyse me. Today, Holy Spirit, show me the choices that have the power to make a difference – no matter how seemingly small. Guide me as I read, shop, pray, work and more. Show me the battle You want me to fight to see Your kingdom come and Your will be done for all people.

Carla Harding, Lectio 365.

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