Commentary: Remembering Rosa
By Derrell Connor Special To Channel 3000
On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of the bus to a white passenger. Although she was physically removed and arrested, her act of defiance sparked not only the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, it served as the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. The quiet bravery of Parks also inspired a young preacher named Martin Luther King to become the movement?s most visible voice and leader. He, along with many other brave men and women, sacrificed and even risked their lives for equality for all.
I sometimes wonder if we as African Americans really appreciate the impact of Rosa Parks? actions and what they meant. In 2004, Bill Cosby gave a speech at an NAACP awards ceremony in which he chastised younger African Americans, in particular the poor, for not ?holding up their end of the bargain.? Cosby was criticized by a number of African American commentators and civil rights activists, who felt that he was engaging in class warfare and airing out the Black community?s dirty laundry. Others felt Cosby was out of touch with most African Americans today because he?s been wealthy and famous for most of his adult life. I personally didn?t agree with everything Cosby, but as someone who was born right at the end of the Civil Rights Movement, I understand exactly where he was coming from.
You see, Cosby grew up in that generation, the Rosa Parks generation. He saw the sacrifices she and so many others made to ensure that he and future generations of African Americans could enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else, and build a better life for themselves. And when he looks around today and sees young African Americans not taking advantage of opportunities that exist because of those sacrifices, not taking personal responsibility for their actions, not educating themselves or not handling themselves in a proper manner, it?s upsetting. He?s not the only one of that generation that feels this way, he?s just one of the few who has voiced it loudly and bluntly.
When I look at some of the issues that plague the Black community: crime and incarceration rates for young males, the percentage of teenage mothers and homes without a father, the education gap and graduation rates, it can sometimes be easy to reach the conclusion that we?ve forgotten why Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus. But then I also think about the great strides made by African Americans in this country?in business, education, health, politics, journalism, technology, wealth, sports and entertainment to name a few. And it makes me feel better because even though there are issues that have to be addressed, so many are taking advantage of the opportunities that exist for them, and helping make their lives and communities better. That?s what the movement was about. Rosa Parks is the symbol. And as we continue to move forward, we can?t forget what she and so many others did to pave the way for us today. It?s our responsibility to make sure that our children and their children have those opportunities as well.
I wrote this column as my way of saying thank you to Rosa Parks for helping start a movement 55 years ago this week that has made this country better for everyone.