Rosa Parks and the power of refusing to move.

60 years ago, on Dec. 1, 1965, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white rider on a Montgomery bus and sat her way right into the history books. We all know the story.

Image via Lauren/Picasaweb.


Many of us have taken plenty of feel-good lessons from it about being brave and taking a stand. Most of the lessons focus on the huge impact of her seemingly small action. But there's also an important life lesson to be learned from the action itself.

Rosa Parks sparked a movement by refusing to move.

Sometimes, choosing to sit still is the most impactful action we can take. Sometimes what starts the movement that we so desperately need is actually our refusal to be moved.

It seems so counterintuitive. We've been taught that to change things, we must exert energy, we must fight inertia, and somehow force things to change with our movement — by tearing things down with brute force or, in some cases, running the other direction. So how can stillness actually spark radical change?


Photo via Joel Nilsson/Wikimedia Commons.

I once went to a yoga class where the mantra was "I am like the sun. I am big, I am bright, and I will not be moved."

It was based on the premise that all the other planets revolve around the sun, the center of our galaxy. I loved this idea and said it to myself every time I needed to feel grounded and resolute, confident that despite the chaos whirling around me, I did not have to move. I could stand peacefully and firm, like the immovable sun, in who I was and what I believed.

I held on to that mantra for quite awhile — until I discovered that the sun actually does move. It's just considerably harder to recognize and see the movement because of its relation to all the planets spinning around it. In other words, even when the sun looks like it isn't moving, it is.

Ready to get deep? Go with me here.

Rosa Parks was the sun that day.

In her refusal to move seats, she appeared to be still even though a huge, important shift really was taking place. As a result, she forced others to move around her. White bus patrons, police, supporters, society, and ultimately, the law.

Photo via piper60/Pixabay.

It's clear to see how that lesson relates to activism and social change. Time and time again, from sit-ins at lunch counters and college campuses, to die-ins on the floor of city hall, we've seen how the act of being seemingly still and not moving from the scene of injustice can disrupt and ultimately transform unjust systems.

But what if we also applied that principle to our own lives?

So often we believe that in order to make dramatic change, in order to be treated how we deserve to be treated, we have to be the ones to metaphorically move; to change something about ourselves.

We frantically move in the face of difficulty, disrespect, or opposition: We quit the job, we relocate, we lessen our demands, we adjust our appearances, expectations, or approach, we "fall back" to avoid the confrontation.

But if we're honest, oftentimes our actions are the same thing as moving to the back of the bus. We believe that if we are quiet, if we are accommodating, if we do what is asked of us, if we remove ourselves from the situation entirely, we will either win the respect of those who stand in our way or at the very least, we will make our lives easier.

Ultimately, we do this because we are afraid of the consequences of being ourselves, standing in our truth, and taking up the space that we deserve.

But what if we finally recognized that the cost of moving is actually greater to our identity and our souls than the cost of refusing to move — no matter how scary the immediate consequences may be?

What if the critical behavior change that will win us our freedom is finally breaking the pattern of adjusting, accommodating, and moving in the face of opposition?

What if we behaved like the sun? What if by "not moving" we were actually shifting not only our own perspective but everything around us?

Sounds good, right? But lessons like this are often easier said than done.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

How do you know when refusing to move is the right action to take?

Well, here are some tips, straight from Rosa's playbook:

Refuse to move ... when you have a plan. Despite the children's storybook version of events ("Rosa Parks spontaneously decided that she was too tired to move out of her seat!"), we now know that her action that day was about as strategic as it gets. She was not the first to refuse her seat, but it had been decided that this was the moment for someone to try again — and that she was the right person to do it. The NAACP knew that Rosa's arrest would be the example that best allowed for a successful court case.

You should always think about the impact that standing firm and refusing to move could make and plan for how you will deal with the consequences, regardless of which way it turns out.

Refuse to move ... when you've done everything else and you're tired. There's a myth that Rosa Parks was tired after having worked a long day and that her physical fatigue is why she refused to stand. The truth is that she was indeed tired, but not the way most people think. From her 1992 autobiography "Rosa Parks, My Story":

"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Parks' response to the system of segregation did not begin on the bus that day. She had marched and protested many times before, but on that day, she knew that only a pure act of defiance would spur the change that needed to take place. The same could be true for you. If you have adjusted and changed and run and objected enough times, refusing to move might just be the ultimate act, not only of defiance, but of freedom.

Refuse to move ... when it is morally right. Sitting in her seat wasn't just a randomly selected act of protest. It was, above all, right. Rosa had principle on her side. And there is no better reason to refuse to move than when principles, values, and morals support your presence and your position.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Rosa Parks' action will, of course, be remembered forever as one of courage and will, an act that sparked a turning point in the American civil rights movement.

But it should also be an action that we turn to repeatedly as a reminder of the power of not giving in, of being still.

She showed us that great things can happen when we stay on the bus and refuse to be moved. You, me, and the sun, we rise each morning with the same possibility and power. And we, too, can change the world.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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