Most of us have heard the story several times: A tired black seamstress enters a Montgomery bus in 1955 and walks past the first few, mostly empty rows of seats for “Whites Only.” It is against the law for blacks, like her, to sit in this section so she moves to the middle of the bus where blacks can sit. She takes a seat and the bus driver moves on. However, if a white passenger was left standing, a black passenger would be required to get up.
Then a slew of white passengers enter the bus and there is nowhere to sit. The bus driver barks at Parks to move. She is tired, it has been a long day of work, and even though she is a member of her local chapter of the NAACP and fights the laws, she has never broken them, until today. Her defiant act has her jailed, but by sitting, she stood up and started a magnificent movement.
I have heard this story a million times. I remember singing “Sister Rosa Parks” by the Neville Brother, thanking her for her efforts. I have read books, I have written papers. I know the story. And in the midst of Mrs. Rosa Parks “home going” I am afraid that I know the story too well. My whole generation has heard it so many times that we are bored of it and have become complacent. Instead of realizing its impact, we are looking for something more exciting on TV.
Mrs. Parks was scared for us too. Before she passed, Rosa Lee Parks once said that the elders in the black community "have tried to shield young people from what we have suffered. And in so doing, we seem to have a more complacent attitude.”
I hear Mrs. Park’s sentiment and I wonder what my generation can do collectively to pitch into the fight to improve our condition. Mrs. Rosa Parks had a solution: "We must double and redouble our efforts to try to say to our youth, to try to give them an inspiration, an incentive, and the will to study our heritage and to know what it means to be black in America today."
Maybe we don’t have a realistic grasp on what it means to be black in America today. My generation undoubtedly has a new attitude. With the recent Millions More Movement hitting Washington, DC, I have heard friends scoff that marches and tactics of older blacks are ineffective in a contemporary society.
In the college setting that I’m immersed in, many of us are ok. We are not the “bus generation.” Many of us drive our cars around campus without a second thought. We can pretty much eat, drink, and stand where we want. On the outside, it seems like everything is fine, when in reality, the black community is still hurting on the inside. I wonder: does my generation take our newer found bit of “legal equality” for granted? Are we complacent?
It is so easy to feel like there is nothing left for us to do, while riding on the coattails of the efforts and struggles of our elders. In fact, many of us are not convinced that there is something to do. In a recent class discussion, many of my peers asked, “What exactly is the agenda of the black community these days? Who are our leaders?” Sometimes it’s not clear and we’d rather be enjoying the benefits that our ancestors worked for by relaxing.
I don’t know what it’s going to take for my generation to stop being “comfortable” with the meager things that our community has achieved over the centuries and to continue to fight for more. Nevertheless, I am reminded by Mrs. Rosa Lee Park’s final words at a celebration in her honor in 1998.
She said, "I am leaving this legacy to all of you … to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die – the dream of freedom and peace."
Perhaps we need to find a modern vision, courage, and inspiration for a start.
In the words of that Neville Brothers song, “Thank you Sister Rosa Parks. Thank you Miss Rosa you are the spark. You started our freedom movement-.”
I hope that my generation will take your spark and use it to ignite the torch that we will carry until the freedom movement is truly finished.