Rosa Parks took a seat so our nation could stand up

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (USAFENS) -- In October, I was in Texas for a journalist’s workshop when I learned that Rosa Parks, often dubbed the ‘mother of the civil rights movement,’ died at age 92.

Though the news took my breath away, it was then that I realized a hero doesn’t necessarily wear a military uniform or a red cape. This particular heroine instead donned a winter coat to buffer the chill of a Montgomery, Ala., morning in 1955 as she rode the bus to work.

Her quiet rebellion during the Jim Crow segregation era spurred a controversy that soon became the icon of activism for millions who fought for fair treatment of all races.

The choice -- one Ms. Parks always described as unplanned -- to stay put as a white person waited to take her seat, jarred our nation’s conscience and earned her the reverence of people the world over.

The 380-day bus boycott (where thousands walked to work as far as 20 miles a day) that soon followed Ms. Parks’ arrest led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision to desegregate her city’s public transportation.

A short bus ride detoured to a long journey toward freedom by way of mass demonstrations, the introduction of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the world and the transformation of America’s homes, schools and workplaces into hotbeds of change.

The “timeless longing for human dignity and freedom,” as Reverend King wrote in his book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” was what inspired Ms. Parks and the generations that followed.

Our stride toward freedom remains the cornerstone of democracy as it has been since the birth of our nation.

As the news ticker scrolled past the bottom of my television screen, I understood the power of one to change the lives of many.

Conversely, I realized military members are a broad spectrum of many thousands, yet we too can change lives as a unified force.

Ms. Parks, a humble seamstress turned civil rights activist, garnered numerous humanitarian and achievement awards. In 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton presented her with the nation’s highest civilian honor, a Congressional Gold Medal.

“We must never forget about the power of ordinary people to stand in the fire for the cause of human dignity,” the former President said.

Here’s to the members of the Air Force and our sister services -- ordinary people who make an extraordinary commitment each day.