Rosa Parks and Self Determination

We’ve all been taught the story of Rosa Parks, about a sweet and hard working lady from Montgomery, Alabama that was coming home from work one night. She had been on her feet all day and she was weary. So even though, she lived in the segregated South and knew that at all times she must accommodate the comfort of white people, one day she just couldn’t do it anymore. So when Parks was asked to give up her seat in the front of the bus, so a white person could sit down, well she couldn’t; Lord, not that day. It was then, in that moment, that her refusal to move to the back of the bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped set into motion the Civil Rights Movement.

As the story goes, Parks had no idea that her weary defiance would change the country. If that is the story you know of Rosa Parks, my dear friend, you don’t know ISH!

Today, December 1st, 2016 marks the 61st anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus, her arrest, and purposeful and intentional act of defiance. This is why we have connected Mrs. Parks with the Kwanzaa principle of Self- Determination.

imgres-2.jpg Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist. You hear?

Her parents were Garveyites. You don’t know what that means? Oh well. You have a lot of unlearning and learning to do. Her husband was an activist for the Scottsboro Boys. She was an integral member of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP for over a decade before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and considered Malcolm X, “her personal hero”.

Based on a cursory reading of Mrs. Parks’ own letters and journals, which are housed at the Library of Congress, she was one of those kids. You know, the one who always had to stand up for what was right! She was filled with righteous indignation and an innate sense of justice. Parks was determined to attack white supremacy and bigotry. She actively organized to get Blacks registered to vote and pass the unfair, illegitimate and purposely impossible poll tests. She rigorously fought against sexual violence towards women, organized support for wrongly accused black men and was a long time proponent of desegregation of our nations schools and public spaces.


Parks was a self-determined, purposeful, unapologetically Black grown woman who intentionally sparked a movement. Parks is the epitome of Gangsta!


In Professor Jeanne Theoharis book, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” Parks described the difficulty of being a rebel, the ways black children were “conditioned early to learn their places,” and the toll it took on her personally: “There is just so much hurt, disappointment and oppression one can take…. The line between reason and madness grows thinner.”

I read that and couldn’t help but think of our kids sitting in classrooms in 2016 who are being asked to kill that righteous rebellion within themselves, that deep knowing and understanding that something ain’t right, isn’t fair.

Parks was a frustrated woman, frustrated with the system of white supremacy but also with black complaceny and acceptance. As Professor Theoharis writes in her piece; How history got the Rosa Parks story wrong“In the decade before the boycott, “the masses seemed not to put forth too much effort to struggle against the status quo,” noting how those who challenged the racial order like she did were labeled “radicals, sore heads, agitators, trouble makers.”


So, let me ask you a question.  If Rosa Parks was such a “G”, an activist, a self- determined dismantler of white supremacy… if this is who Parks really is, why have our history books and our schools and our teachers made her out to be a docile, weary  lady who was too tired to move to the back of the bus?

Do you think that is a mistake? Or was it done on purpose?

I’ll wait…

imgres-5.jpgPositive Racial Identity Development through Education (PRIDE) REQUIRES us to do EXACTLY what Audre Lorde said, to define ourselves FOR ourselves. This is why Kujichagulia, Kwanzaa’s 1st principle is Self Determination and this is why we chose Mrs. Rosa Parks and the TRUE telling of her story to be the representation of Self Determination for 2016.

Parks was unapologetically black, unapologetically womanist, unapologetically about Black economics, independence and progress. She was by trade a seamstress but by purpose an activist and a SELF described Freedom Fighter.

One of her lasting legacies help us put into context Parks’ ideology and strong belief about the impact that white violence has on young Black people:“The attempt to solve our racial problems nonviolently was discredited in the eyes of many by the hard core segregationists who met peaceful demonstrations with countless acts of violence and bloodshed. Time is running out for a peaceful solution. It may even be too late to save our society from total destruction.” It was true then and it is true now.

Want to learn more about Parks here are 5 myths to help jump start your mind.

Rosa as a model for others.jpg

This may be a pre-mature start to celebrating Kwanzaa but we believe the Nguzo Saba is for every day. So as we seek to embody the spirit of self-determination, we can look back at our heroine, Rosa Parks and be encouraged and inspired to live our truth and fight for our freedom.

Peace and love

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