Apples and Oranges (Pt. 2): The Produce of Progress
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase."
- 1 Corinthians 3:6
I do it for the people, I do it for the love
I do it for the poet, I do it for the thug
This is for victory, and this is for the slaughter
I do it for my mother, I do it for my daughter
Promise I'll always love ya, I love to kiss and hug ya...
My pretty black princess smell sweet like that incense
That you buy at the bookstore supporting black business
Teach her what black is; the fact is her parents are thorough
She four reading Cornrows by Camille Yarborough
I keep her hair braided, bought her a black Barbie
I keep her mind free; she ain't no black zombie
- Talib Kweli, "Black Girl Pain"
In Paul Rogat Loeb's article, "The Real Rosa Parks" we are reminded and/or enlightened about the larger context of the civil rights activist's life. Parks' life tends to be reduced to a singular (albeit monumental) moment in time void of any background or post-script. It is almost as if she arbitrarily and completely out of the blue, on a random day, decided to stay in her seat and risk going to jail or possibly worse. Surely she was tired, but that feeling of fatigue would not have been different than any other day after laboring as a seamstress. Loeb adds some pertinent, yet often overlooked details to the story and furthers our insight:
There were other people who played a pivotal role in Parks' development as an agent for social equality including her husband Raymond who encouraged her to join the NAACP, Montgomery NAACP head E.D. Nixon who was a mentor and JoAnn Robinson, a professor at a local black college who helped mobilize the people for the boycott after Parks was arrested. All of these people planted seeds in Parks' soul and engaged in actions that made Parks' historical refusal to give up her seat to a white man possible. In return she inspired and influenced countless people both directly and simply by her example. It has been said that Parks served as a spiritual mid-wife for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, became the catalyst which propelled the then 26 year-old Baptist preacher into an international figure and champion of human rights.
Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had been active for twelve years in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary. The summer before her arrest, she’d had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee’s labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she’d met an older generation of civil rights activists, like South Carolina teacher Septima Clark, and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning “separate-but-equal” schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign.
As an educator, I have to constantly remind myself that every word and deed can impact a young person in a positive or a negative way. Will a student that I instruct or advise be someone who helps change the course of history for the better and allow millions to experience a greater level of freedom - a more robust dimension of salvation? We all have the potential to make such a contribution to society, by investing love, wisdom, time and resources into the lives of our children. One plants, another waters and God gives the increase.
I gave my daughter an African name which means "beautiful flower". I have never been into gardening, but I do know that flowers need substantial sunshine, fertile soil and water to grow and remain healthy. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices to properly nurture the flowers in our garden. We may have to deny some or our own desires or even needs and take away time from other projects or areas of interest for the sake of the flowers. Children are the reflection of not only their parents, but of their communities and society. If we question the quality of the fruit, we need not look any further than the tree for an explanation. Pathological trees produce sick fruit. Healthy trees yield abundant produce that feeds the soul and makes progress possible.