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A Teacher's Influence

February 4 is the birthday of Rosa Parks, a woman who started a movement for freedom and justice by one simple act of bravery. On a fateful day in December 1955 she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, a violation of the city's racial segregation laws. Her arrest ignited a massive bus boycott across the city of Montgomery, Alabama, organized by a young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rosa Parks was a true hero, a brave woman who risked her life for black empowerment. Hers was a historic act of civil disobedience. She dared to do what she knew was right and suffered the consequences. As a child, she had been very outspoken and courageous, which made her very alone at times. People labeled her a ‘trouble maker’ or a ‘rebel.’” This treatment continued after her daring actions, leading to ostracization by fellow workers, death threats, loss of her and her husband's jobs, and hardships of all kinds.

But Rosa Park's courageous action field the civil rights movement and subsequent legislation that changed the lives of Black Americans and moved us to a more humane society.

She was not alone--behind Rosa Parks was a teacher. In August of 1955 she attended a two week seminar at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. The seminar was lead by Septima Clark, “queen mother” of the American Civil Rights movement. The classes Clark established schooled thousands of students in basic literacy and civil rights, producing savvy new voters and changing the course of the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks openly admired her patience and courage.

Although at the end of the workshop Rosa Parks said that she doubted any change would ever happen in Montgomery, I believe that she left empowered by the education she had received and heartened by the relationship with a great teacher. Shortly after arriving home she heard the news of the horrific murder of Emmett Till. It was four months later when she was moved to her revolutionary action.

"I thought of Emmett Till – a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store, whose killers were tried and acquitted – and I just couldn't go back."

For me, this is a story not only of Rosa Parks as a hero, but of the influence of a great teacher. It inspires me to see my role as a teacher as a sacred job. As Yoda says in the Last Jedi Star Wars film, "We are what they grow beyond--that is the burden of all true masters." We teach with faith in our students, that they will grow to be the best possible humans they are born to be, and do great things within the spheres of their own lives.

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