Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Relearning Rosa

Today is Give STL Day here in St. Louis--a day that is specifically set aside for giving to nonprofit organizations. I've participated in this the last few years. At this time of year--still paying for fulltime childcare for two, plus end of year activities, plus dance recital stuff, plus a new puppy and puppy obedience school, etc., etc., I wish that I had more money lying around that hasn't already been spent! But the last couple of years, I have set aside $100 for Give Day that I divide up among some of my favorite organizations. This year I'm donating to Share--the organization that offered us grief support after we lost Eliza and who publishes the monthly magazine Sharing for which I've been writing (see April's post here and May's post here). I'll donate to Needy Paws pet rescue, because that's the organization that rescued Clementine. I'll donate to Forward Through Ferguson because I strongly believe in the work they are doing for racial equity in St. Louis, and to Arch City Defenders because in my alternative life, I would have gone to law school and hopefully ended up doing this kind of work--"holistic legal advocacy."

But this year, the biggest chunk will go to We Stories--not because it's necessarily doing the "best" work (how could you ever begin to rank these?) or the "most important," but because it has touched my family's life so closely and so personally. It has been transformative in the books we read, the conversations we have, and the things I think about on a daily basis. It has changed the way I teach diverse classrooms, the way I talk about race and talk about myself and white culture (mostly because it's helped me TO TALK about these things). It has made me think really intently about private vs. public schools, about neighborhood segregation, about what parks we go to and all the ways that "convenience" puts my family in a bubble of whiteness and sameness that I'd like to resist. It has stretched my own reading, too--I started with Waking Up White, then I read Just Mercy, then The New Jim Crow, recently I finished When They Call You a Terrorist, and I just picked up So You Want to Talk About Race at the library.

I was asked to share a story about why I think We Stories is so important--and here's the one I posted. I'm embarrassed that it took me until adulthood to learn this version of the story, and I'm grateful for a community that pushes me to recognize what I don't know--and to do something about it.

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Relearning Rosa

I was recently asked to think about the last piece of Black history that I learned and what surprised me about it. The story of Rosa Parks immediately came to mind. I remember learning about Rosa Parks in elementary school. You know the story: she was coming home from work on the bus, she was told to move to the back, but her feet were tired from being at work all day, so she wouldn’t move. And she got arrested! But she brought the Civil Rights movement to Montgomery!

It was only recently that I learned Rosa Parks wasn’t just a tired old lady who didn’t feel like moving to the back of the bus—although that description may be accurate. She was an activist. She wasn’t just one individual deciding on a random day to take a stand. She was part of a community resistance—of people taking a stand against Jim Crow law. I learned that a few months before the bus incident, she actually took off to work to attend a workshop on school desegregation. She went to meetings about leading and organizing social movements. She helped to form a youth chapter of the Montgomery NAACP, even though she felt that social justice in that city would be very difficult, and she wasn’t very hopeful about a mass resistance.

But a few months later, she sat down on that bus and became a symbol of standing up for injustice. And I don’t think it was just because she was tired and fed up.

I think it was because in the previous months, she had become connected to a community of activists. It feels hard to speak up when it’s your voice against the shout of the status quo. But if you feel connected to a community of like-minded people, there’s comfort and strength in those numbers. It’s easier to attend a meeting or a protest, to share an article online, or to put a sign in your yard if you know someone else who is doing the same.

I don’t know why the first story I learned makes Rosa Parks one individual against the world. Is she supposed to sound more heroic in that narrative?

For me, learning she was a community activist and a change-maker made me view her story differently. It made me think about her choice as deliberate rather than spontaneous. Her decision on that bus wasn’t about bunions or backache. It was a strong and energetic desire to see a different Montgomery. And she was able to make that decision because she had become part of a community of activists who shared and supported her vision for a better future.

We can’t all be Rosa Parks. But I think we (people who have benefited from the status quo, at the expense of others) owe it to her to bring her vision for social justice into better focus. It’s clear that her work is not yet done, and more of us (white people) are feeling called to do our part, but aren’t sure how to begin. I certainly didn’t know where to start.

We Stories gave me a place to start and a community of support. It began as a way to diversify my kids’ bookshelves and to get comfortable talking with them about race, differences, and injustice. It has become a community that believes in doing our part for racial equity, and in supporting those actively working for a better St. Louis. #thatswhywestories #GiveSTLDay #fueledbyfamilies

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My friend K (you know her in the comments as thirdstoryies) also shared her reasons for giving to We Stories and you can read it here.

2 comments:

  1. You are a gift to this community. I love all the things that you support as well, and especially the things that you write.

    If I can add a little plug here to all your blog friends - you can also help to support the work that Brooke and family have committed to doing with a gift today to We Stories. We're closing in on winning a big end-of-day prize for largest number of unique donors. A gift as small as $10 would add another donor to our tally, and a big boost towards our goal.

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  2. I had learned this about a rosa Parks a few years ago when I was still in the Army and the Officers in my unit went to Montgomery and didn’t a really great tour. It was an adult field trip, basically, but I remember being surprised because I always assumed Rosa Parks just was taking a stand THAT particular day when in reality, she was doing that as a larger part of the work she was already doing.

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