On December 1, 1955, a seamstress named Rosa Louise McCauley Parks got on the bus at Cleveland Avenue in Montgomery, Ala., around 6:00 p.m. Mrs. Parks paid her fare and sat down in the front row of backseats in the “colored” section of the bus. As the bus filled with white passengers, the driver noticed there were some white men standing. The driver stopped the bus and demanded blacks move and allow them to sit down.
When asked to reflect on that “moment,” Mrs. Parks said “...I felt determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”
After an exchange with the bus driver which ended in her refusing to move, she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and violation of a local ordinance. She was tried and fined $14 – all within 4 days of her arrest.
A Decision to Act
The community was faced with a critical decision: ”will this be yet another moment or will this be a movement?“ Rosa Parks was not the only person arrested on a Montgomery, Ala. bus for refusing to move. Sarah Louise Keys and Claudette Colvin had been arrested earlier that year.
What made Rosa Parks so different from the others? Were the stars aligned? Was she someone special? Was this just this just yet another example of that ol’ straw breaking the camel's back?
It was probably all of those things and one simple decision…. “to act”.
Fast forward to 2012.
Just like so many people, my heart has been so heavy around the case of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old young man killed in Sanford, Fla. on February 26 by 28-year-old George Zimmerman while walking home from the store.
When I first heard about it, I thought, I just can’t take in and absorb yet another young black or brown boy killed.
So, what did I do? I tuned out. I didn’t watch the news, I didn’t look at the articles being posted to Facebook or Twitter. I just couldn’t take another “moment”.
I remember the night this story pulled me back in. It was March 16, 2012, when the Sanford Police released the 911 calls. It was the call from the neighbor where you hear the shots and you hear who is thought to be Trayvon screaming for help. My first thought was “that could be my son.”
I began to watch how city after city began to stand up and protest and speak out against a system that would allow George Zimmerman to walk free. I was inspired by how celebrities like Jay Z and NBA franchises like the Miami Heat took to social media showing their support through the Hoodie Campaign.
I participated in my own way through my church, dedicating our entire Good Friday service to Trayvon Martin. And it felt good for my 4-year-old and I to adorn our black hoodies standing in solidarity with the Martin family. All the while feeling like “Is it enough?” “Why now?” There had been so many other young black and brown people who found themselves in similar predicaments: Bo Morrison, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones and Rekia Boyd all stared down the barrel of an unjust gun and justice was never served for them. What will make Trayvon’s untimely death any different?
Parable of the River
I am reminded of The Parable of the River, where there was a small village on the edge of a river. It was said that the people that lived in the village were considered “good” people. One day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. He quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning.
The next day the same villager noticed two babies in the river. He called for help and both babies were rescued. The following day 4 babies were seen and caught. Then there were 8. And then still more.
The villagers organized themselves quickly setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who could resist the swift waters and rescue the babies. The squads were saving babies daily, but still not catching them all. Life went on in the village as they continued to do a good job catching the babies that they could.
One day someone raised the question, “where are the babies coming from? Let’s organize a team to go upstream to find out who’s throwing the babies in the stream in the first place.” Although it seemed logical to the villagers that if they found out who was throwing them in, then no one would drown, they still thought it seemed too risky. And so the numbers of babies found floating in the water increased daily. Those saved increased but those who drowned increased even more.
Is This a "Moment" or a "Movement"?
Now that Zimmerman has been arrested we are at a critical junction. Is this a moment, or a movement? The pressure put on the criminal justice system led to his arrest and arraignment. One baby saved…Check.
Will we organize and go upstream to undo the unjust laws like “Stand your Ground” and “The Castle Doctrine Law” in Wisconsin that are allowing the killers of brown and black young men go free? Will we miss yet another opportunity to act?