Updated: Mar 8
Rosa Parks is one of the few brave people whose actions moved the world towards equality. Read about her inspiring story and what it can teach you.
Sometimes the actions of a single person can have an incredible impact on the world we live in. We’ve seen many examples of this throughout history, and there are a few brave minds to thank for the evolution our society has gone through.
Rosa Parks is one of them. Not willing to live in segregation, she inspired many to rethink the norms that divided people and became the face of positive change.
And it all started by her taking a simple action – refusing to give up her seat on a bus.
So how did this seemingly trivial action result in a major change that impacted the whole world? Let’s take a closer look at Parks’ story.
Who is Rosa Parks?
Rosa Parks was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. From the moment she entered the world, she was at a disadvantage. Being a black woman in America at the time meant that she had to spend her life in separation from the majority of society.
And this is exactly what her early childhood looked like. Throughout her education, she attended segregated schools. For the most part, her schools lacked the benefits and supplies that her white peers had access to. Until the 6th grade, she attended a school that wasn’t even equipped with desks for the students. Worse yet, she had to walk as the buses were only for white children.
While she was growing up, Parks was constantly exposed to discrimination. But on September 1, 1955, she decided she’d had enough.
After a long day at work, she took a bus to get home. During the 50s, public transportation was still segregated. White people would sit in the front and people of colour in the back.
While Parks was riding home, the bus started filling up and some white passengers had to stand. The bus driver stood up and moved the sign separating the sections to the back, asking four people of colour to stand up. And everybody did except for Parks.
She chose to remain seated and repeatedly refused to stand up. The bus driver called the police who arrested Parks. It was at this moment that her action caused a massive ripple effect to run through society as a whole.
Four days later, it was the day of Parks’ trial and the beginning of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. With one voice, black people took the cab, carpooled, or walked instead of using public transportation. Out of loyalty to the cause, some people walked as many as 20 miles.
The boycott went on for 381 days, an out-and-out success overall, though it wasn’t without incidents. To stop the protests, the segregationists resorted to violence. They burned churches, blew up bombs in black homes, and attacked those of the opposite colour.
Through it all, the protesters persevered and came out the winners. In June 1956, a federal district court in Alabama declared racial segregation laws unconstitutional. This was an important milestone in equality that has continued to evolve to this day. It was just the beginning for Parks.
Since that moment, Parks went on to make many contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and received many awards and accolades for her work before her passing in 2005.
Parks left a big mark on our world. She proved that one person can bring a consequential positive change for millions. Let’s see what else her story can teach us.
1. Even the Smallest of Actions Can Show Great Courage
For the majority of people, especially in today’s world, refusing to stand up and surrender a bus seat isn’t an action worth talking about. But in Parks’ case, it marked the beginning of a new era for both her and millions of black people in America and the world.
Recalling the event, she said that it wasn’t physical tiredness that prompted her to remain seated but a deep tiredness that took over her out of a lifetime of mistreatment and injustice. It took an extraordinary amount of courage to confront her oppressors. Although she didn’t anticipate the effects of her actions on society right there and then, she knew that it was time for a change.
This shows that all of us can do something to make the world a better place. We’ve made a lot of progress since, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s often small actions like Parks’ that compound and initiate true change. Have the courage to struggle for what’s right and take a stand.
2. Perseverance Will Lead to Success
Parks didn’t single-handedly abolish racial segregation laws in America. Nor did it happen overnight. Rather, it was her ability to unite tens of thousands of people under one cause that made this happen.
Imagine having the power to invite the masses to boycott public transport for more than a year without interruptions. This is how loud her message was. It inspired people to work hard one step at a time towards equality.
As mentioned, the segregationists’ retaliation was severe. They may have bombed and destroyed the homes of E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. But they couldn’t stop the oppressed from fighting for their birthright of equality.
If the black people in Montgomery had backed away, none of the positive changes would’ve happened, or at least it would’ve been much delayed. This speaks volumes about the power of perseverance.
If you truly believe in something, fight for it vehemently. You’re going to face adversity but that’s alright. In the end, your struggles will pay off.
3. Doing What’s Right Doesn’t Always Mean Doing What You’re Told
To this day, there are many people who are content to live in the boxes as defined by the larger society. There are still too many norms dictating our lives and conduct. It’s people like Parks that break those norms and redefine today’s society for the better.
Doing things because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ isn’t going to take you very far. You must challenge convention if you want to make a positive change in the world that lasts.
This applies to everything from daily activities to business and politics. If we get stuck in the same old same old, we’ll remain in the same place our whole life.
This is why you should never blindly accept what others tell you. Instead, think about how it makes you feel. You’re not meant to live your life on other people’s terms or expectations. Keep that in mind and you’ll have a much easier time carrying out what feels right in your heart.
And if that means taking the road less travelled, so be it! It’s an opportunity to stand up for what you believe in and you’ll be proud of yourself even if it didn’t work out all that well. Chances are it’s going to work out more often than not.
4. Think Beyond Yourself
Parks had this to say about her defining moment:
‘Whatever my individual desires were to be free, I was not alone. There were many others who felt the same way.’
By refusing to leave her seat, she didn’t just stand up for what she believed in. She set out to change the world for everybody like her.
This was how her small action was able to lead to much bigger consequences. She represented everyone who felt discriminated and rejected. People took her courage as a source of motivation to fight for a better future.
No matter what you believe in, you’re not alone. Even if you might not be able to change everything on your own, your message will resonate with others like a call to arms that brings them to your side of the fight.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Whenever confronted by a big change, there’s one thing that never fails to stand in the way – fear. The uncertainty of what’s to come scares us and convinces us to stay in the comfort zone.
Luckily, Parks wasn’t too afraid to say ‘no’ to the bus driver.
There was a lot to be afraid of, from arrest and prison sentence to further societal isolation. But none of that held her back. Why?
We’ll allow her to explain:
‘I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.’
Whenever you’re afraid to do what you feel is right, summon your determination to conquer the fear. Put aside the thoughts about what could go wrong and do everything in your power to create the outcome you desire.
If you look at pretty much any major positive change in the world, there’s a constant theme:
The courage to stand up for what one believes in.
Whether it’s an everyday decision or a world-changing cause, you must fight for what you believe in. It’s the only way to break free from the norm and institute true, lasting change.
Have faith that those around you will come over and stay by your side. On that fateful day in the 50s, Parks moved a large number of people to make the world a better place for generations ahead.
There’s no limit to what you can do. As long as you remember this, nothing will stop you.
Are you and your organisation in need of motivation along the line of Rosa Parks and more? Contact me if you’d like to book me for such a speaking event.