Rosa Parks. December 1st, 1955. James Blake. Browder vs. Gayle. Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “Stay put, young man …”
It would take a pretty large, generational twist-tie to bind all those together. Together they are, however, in my mind as I sit here in my concession trailer one day after the inauguration of the century … arguably. A swearing in of not only a new President, but a new way of thinking about how things are in America, makes one stop, sit, and wonder where we were and where we’re headed.
A close decade before I was born, Rosa Parks was asked to move from her seat. She refused. As we know, this led to the Montgomery bus boycott, then on to a landmark ruling 11 months later. Bus segregation was ruled unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and life changed for her after that. Her act of defiance became a symbol of the racial segregation movement and the likes of Martin Luther King and his contemporaries stood by her efforts. She worked tirelessly for the cause and, upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol.
In 2005, I started my business. One of many endeavors in my life. An experience that will never, ever, change the face of America like Rosa Park’s stand … while sitting. Here I sit, today, making a difference to some, I hope.
Growing up a white, middle income family male child, I didn’t get pushed around by racial inequality, poverty, or discrimination. Closest I can recall was a six-inch taller bully on the 6th grade playground – minutes later sitting across from me in the principal’s office. We shared a swift dose of discipline at the end of a wooden plank, by no fault of my own, explained away with the words, “I need to make sure I punish the right boy, so both of you are going to get spanked!”. For the record, I defended myself minutes earlier and make no excuses for the attempt. He was a bully and I rewarded him for his efforts.
At home? Different story. One can’t retaliate quite as easily and spanking at the behest of, “Stay put, young man!” had a different tone. Discipline was tough. I sat when told. As long as orders were obeyed … even if beyond my understanding … life seemed to be o.k. .
Seemed to be, anyway. I didn’t know what was going on with life in my dad’s adult world at the time. Only later – as I pathed my way through difficulty when mom died – did I even begin to understand. Yes, over three decades into adulthood, I started to “get it”. Too many push-throughs stack on one’s shoulders and when the stress of one more thing – like the disobedience of a child-imp tiptoeing up to the line – piles on, a dad can lose his cool. My intentions aside, he had his reasons for discipline. I couldn’t question them at the time. Now, I can … and the answers are easy to accept as long as there are deep mugs of warm chamomile tea available at my beckoning call.
That’s where I was, in a proverbial nutshell – without taking up too much of your time. Again, an uneventful beginning decade-point-five of life compared to Ms. Parks. My birth was 10 years removed from her beautiful 1955 sit, stay, and take a stand. Mom – and the universe – decided to pop me out the year after Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech … in the year of a Beatles arrival at JFK airport, LBJ presidency, and … the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools and public accommodations, and employment discrimination. A very large ink shadow of Rosa Park’s influence filled the pen of President Johnson on July 2nd when he signed it into law, I suspect. Months later, I was born.
Where we were back then, right? Where we are now, right? Where you are now compared to your early years? Where are we headed?
Certainly, if we compare ourselves to Rosa Parks, JFK, LBJ, or perhaps the Beatles, we’ll be disappointed. Can we change the world like they did? I doubt it. This isn’t to say we can’t try. Don’t give up on anything or anyone – especially yourself.
Yesterday, I noticed the picture of a young girl with the words, “There was a little girl in California who was bussed to school.”:
This is our Vice-President. You can argue about the process, but this is now. Kamala Harris is our black, female, 2nd in-charge behind the President of the United State of America. Tell me, 65 years later after Rosa Parks warmed that cold bus seat, this picture doesn’t send chills up your backbone. She stood on the steps of the Capitol and took the oath of office. I don’t agree with some of her policies – most assuredly don’t – but, I stand with the 200,000 flags firmly planted on the mall … supporting her and President Biden as an American.
She didn’t give up. Whatever the path was, she did it. Joe Biden, with faults galore, did it. They are really fault-filled humans, of course. They’re politicians to the core, admittedly. Oh, and Donald Trump was, too … I guess. He found a way to the presidency as well. Agree, disagree on policy – I understand.
We’ve a lot to do here in America. The Covid crisis isn’t going away. Economic recovery is months – if not a few years – away and the emotional strain on all of us has been draining. This is what has been on my mind as I sit here. Simply sitting here.
Rosa sat there. Her thoughts as a 40-year old woman being told to move? I want her resolve and determination to seep into all of our consciousnesses and help us to see this straightforward, uncomplicated act of sitting created a movement lasting well beyond her years. Change happened. She saw it coming through those glasses.
Activism is good and healthy .. in the right way. Storming the Capitol and/or burning down businesses isn’t the path forward and is why change happened January 20th, 2021. Election fraud, ballot discrepancy, 5 state voter mis-counting, … I don’t make any claims as to what was true or not because I don’t know what I don’t know. America was tired, worn out, and weary – tired of all the bickering and divisiveness over classless, leadership from both sides of the aisle. As usually happens from the swinging populous pendulum, we’re all-in Democratically led now. If it doesn’t work, in four years they’ll be voted out.
We have to trust ourselves. The system, well … continue to challenge it. But, do it responsibly. Park yourself on a bench and think things through before doing anything. Sometimes the simple act of sitting can change the world more than lighting a match under kindling soaked with fake tears.
Here I sit. Mildly uncomfortable. Inside this concession trailer is warm, however, compared to the 42-degree day outside. This metal chair under my posterior is getting aggravatingly annoying so I must conclude, hoping a customer saunters up to my window soon. One person trading money for my product and service at this point would make a difference.
I guess that’s the point of life. One person making a difference in the life of another. Just that some sit on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Inspired by Claudette Colvin who was arrested nine months prior for refusing to leave a bus under similar circumstances, Rosa Parks became one of many iconic images for change. Large, monumental change most of us will not facilitate by ourselves – one by one. We will make a difference in the lives of those we talk to about their kids, jobs, favorite sports teams, … and, of course, pets, food, & rainbows.
One at a time is wonderful. This is how we manage our way through the pile-ons. Like dad. Normal, day-at-a-time walkabouts we need to survive as Americans right now. We can do this. Rosa is right here with us, sitting by our side.