You know who Rosa Parks is, but have you heard of a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin? Chances are, you probably have not, but believe it or not, this young girl was also arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. So, how come she didn’t go down in history as a Civil Rights icon like Parks? Well, just like every great movement, the Civil Rights Movement needed a flawless PR strategy. The story of Claudette Colvin is untold, because she was a teen with a “wild child” reputation. Colvin had gotten pregnant that same year, and had not participated in any of the formal civil rights protests. Consequently, the NAACP did not see her as an appropriate person to represent the public face of the movement. Although Colvin had straight A’s in school, in the public eye, she would not have received the same respect that Parks did. While she was brave for taking a risk for something she believed in, she was not “good” enough for the NAACP and Civil Rights leaders to associate her story with theirs.
Regardless of what the history books don’t say, Colvin was a young girl who really made change happen. Like many Usher’s New Look students, she was Powered by Service and used her passion to make a difference. While Parks presented a more acceptable face for the Civil Rights strategy, Colvin was one of five women who were part of the actual lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle, the trial that went all of the way to the Supreme Court and ended the desegregation of the buses in Montgomery!
Colvin didn’t get the public credit she deserved for her defiant stance, and in her Alabama community, even fellow African Americans with the same goals shrugged her off as a just trouble-making teen. This reputation made it hard for her to find work in her hometown, so, a few years later, she left Alabama to move to New York. It wasn’t until now, decades later, that people are finally beginning to recognize her for her courage and achievements, including the brave legal stance that she took.
The morals of this story:
- Don’t underestimate our youth: You are never too young to make a difference.
- Small actions can spark #BIGGERTHAN change.
- Know what your personal brand is and stick to it.
- You don’t need to be famous to make history!