To Rosa Parks

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

With immense recognition for having
planted, courageously and with everything against her,
seeds of equal human dignity
When I saw President Barack Hussein Obama being sworn in as President of the United States of America, I was very moved as I thought about Martin Luther King, about his dream which was now coming true in the greatest way imaginable. And I gave a heartfelt kiss to the memory of the person who was there at the start of this momentous reality: Rosa Parks.

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama on 4 February 1913, Rosa Parks served as a catalyst in North America for the Civil Rights Movement, for equal and inalienable rights for all citizens. Faced with segregation, racism, exclusion … she opened the doors to a different future. She lived in Montgomery and was travelling home on the bus after a long day’s work when she refused to give up her seat to a white man, as she was supposed to do according to the law in force at that time in Alabama (and in many southern states). Public transport was governed by racial segregation measures. Other legislation prevented blacks from visiting certain restaurants …

On that first day of December 1955, aged 42, Rosa Parks, with her determined attitude, changed the course of history. Let us remember: she was an African-American seamstress and not a world-famous leader. This is how the momentous changes began. She was imprisoned and fined. She and her husband, who were dismissed from their respective jobs, subsequently had to go and live in Detroit, Michigan, in 1957.

But driven by her determination, her bravery and her lucidity, she embarked upon a long journey which would lead, as it snowballed, to the “global moment” when President Obama, before the eyes of the whole world, was inaugurated as President. In fact, the act carried out by Rosa Parks – known as the “Mother” of the Civil Rights Movement– led to a very long boycott of the buses, organised by another African-American who was unknown at that point: the pastor Martin Luther King.

And so, in 1964 the Law prohibiting racial discrimination was passed.

Rosa Parks died in Detroit on 24 October 2005, aged 92. Two years earlier, she had stated that the great challenge today was “freedom for all”.

It is now essential, and without delay, for future generations to rise up once again in favour of civil society. There is another form of segregation, of exclusion, another domain, another subjection which prevents civil society, which prevents “We, the people …”, from taking our common destiny in our own hands. This is another great turning point in history, which needs many of us to act as Rosa Parks did.

On 21 October 2008 I wrote:

To Rosa Parks,
with infinite gratitude.

You had
the courage
to remain
in the seat
that you were supposed to
give up
to the white man.

You liberated
us all,
you released us all
and gave us
the status
of brothers.

You did not reach
your destination
that day.

They took you away
in handcuffs
as the walls,
the fences
and the enclosures
began to fall down.

And splendid days
began to dawn
with no discrimination at all
for all