Today is the 61st anniversary of Rosa Parks sitting down in the front of the bus - the section reserved for white people. It was a daring and provocative move on her part. In a racist society, her simple act, when joined by others, made her the "mother of the modern day civil rights movement."
Parker Palmer speaks about her in his book, Let your Life speak. He says that the characteristic in common of people who lead movements is that they decide they can no longer live divided. They can no longer deny their humanity, or betray their truth. This is the crisis place where every "hero" on a journey has a threshold choice - will I live integrously (integrated) to who I am, or will I continue to go through the motions? Most people who have planted the seeds of change actually don't set out to launch a movement - they just live into and out of their true self.
Parker points out that legend has it that years later, a grad student came to her and asked her "Why did you sit down at the front of the bus that day?
Her answer: "I sat down because I was tired."
In her answer, she didn't launch into talking points on injustices against her people or cite recent events or statistics. She didn't intend to start a movement. She sat down because she was tired. As Palmer points out, "...it did not mean that her feet were tired. She meant that her soul was tired, her heart was tired, her whole being was tired of playing by racist rules, of denying her soul's claim to selfhood" (32-33). She was tired of giving in, of not being able to live out her authentic self.
She had no guarantee that her nonviolent act would "work." "She had reached a point where it was essential to embrace her true vocation - not as a person who would reshape society but as someone who would live out her full self in the world" (33).
We live in a world where this racial inequality still exists - among other blatant inequalities between human beings. I like Rosa Park's perspective:
"The only way prejudiced people can change is to decide for themselves that all human beings should be treated fairly. We can't force them to think this way."
It feels honest to say that the world will only begin to transform when we live into our authentic selfhood - we can't force others to do so. I pray that you can be inspired by this woman who helped change the world not by planning a movement, but by being an authentic human being and inviting others to treat her as such.
- In what areas of your life/living are you "tired" - in pretending to be someone you're not or in behaving in ways that aren't respectful of yourself or others.
- In what ways do you feel disrespected by others' prejudices? In what ways and toward whom do you disrespect others (e.g. think you're better than or worse than).
- What does Rosa Park's story inspire in you today?