Sitting on the red cushioned bench, the sound of all the people singing filled the room like a thick, warm blanket. At that moment there was nowhere else I would have wanted to be—I was in a perfect state of comfort. The keyboards and the drums accompanied the voices belting out lyrics like, “Lord, do it for me right now.”
I'm not usually a churchgoing type—I was brought up in the Baha'i faith and Baha'is don't go to church. They meet in people's houses. So, the only time I ever went to church was when my mother took us on Christmas Eve as a sort of “family event;” not because we were Christian. But there's something about being around a lot of other people who feel passionately about the same thing that is very powerful.
The memorial service for Rosa Parks, who died on Oct. 24, 2005, was held at the Baptist Church in Barelas. Parks was a black seamstress whose refusal to give her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 provoked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The ensuing struggle eventually led to a United States Supreme Court decision on Nov. 13, 1956, that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses illegal.
Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Martin Luther King, Jr., Commissioner Jo Ella Reddmon spoke, while women, men, children and even Attorney General Patricia Madrid listened from the church pews. Gov. Bill Richardson ordered flags to be flown at half mast, and declared Nov. 2 Rosa Parks Day in New Mexico.
Rev. Bicknell pointed out that Rosa Parks was not an uneducated seamstress who was merely tired from a hard day's work when she refused to give up her seat. Rather, she had been quite well-educated in nonviolent protest at the Mississippi Freedom School, and according to her autobiography, she simply had to know “for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen.”
Bishop David Cooper picked up on the “tired” theme by stressing that Parks was tired of giving in. The bishop went on to talk about everything he was tired of, and that the community is tired of. He's tired of “one party taking me for granted and one party taking me to the cleaners,” he's tired of “politicians who are so politically connected that they forget who gave them that political power.” He received vocal approval from the women and men in the audience, and he periodically encouraged people to “slap your neighbor and say, ’I'm tired.'” Then people would turn to each other and either give a high five or gently slap a shoulder and repeat after the Bishop, “Tired!”
He ended with words of wisdom and inspiration: “My words can only last as long as your memory, but your actions will last longer than life.” As an activist myself, this message made sense. So I thought I'd take it a step further and help a reader out. Here are three things you can do to continue the legacy of a civil rights icon and help your community.
First, the mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. Go to www.naacp.org to join as a member or to learn about current programs.
Second, find out about donating goods or services to hurricane victims by calling the New Mexico Hurricane Relief Hotline at 1-866-638-6819 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Third, vote! No one wants to hear your bellyaching if you're not a voter. You can register to vote by calling the Office of the Secretary of State at (800) 477-3632. You may also register to vote when applying for a new or renewed driver's license, when applying for certain types of public assistance or services, and at many public libraries, colleges and universities.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of things you can do, but it's a start. Now you can say you didn't just ignore one of the biggest events in recent history because you were busy filing the new Wilco song on your iPod or browsing for new friends on MySpace.com. In years to come, when you are asked if you remember the death of Rosa Parks, you will have a story to tell.