In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting African Americans who made significant contributions to the health and well being of our communities. Their contributions have had a profound effect not only on African Americans, but on our entire nation.
Before there was the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March, and the #TimesUp Initiative, there were Black women fighting for the rights of women. One woman who led this initiative understood first-hand the challenges of being a woman and being Black. Intersectionality and Black women’s health is something we rarely hear about, but it’s something Black women have always faced and my shero Rosa Parks understood this.
Rosa Parks is well known for her work during the civil rights movement, most notably for refusing to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a White passenger, after the “Whites-only” section had been filled which helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States. Although her act of disobedience led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, what has been omitted from her history is the role she played to end sexual assault and domestic violence.
Rosa Parks was a pioneer of Black women rights and a seasoned freedom fighter. She spent years investigating sexual violence against Black women, collecting testimonies from those who had been assaulted, and advising them to speak out against sexual violence.
After joining the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943 and becoming the branch secretary, Rosa Parks spent a decade pushing for voter registration and seeking justice for Black victims of White brutality and sexual violence. She supported wrongfully accused Black men and pressed for the desegregation of schools and public spaces and was committed to nonviolent direct action and the moral right of self-defense.
Every day I think of women like Rosa Parks, who chose to step up and speak out – even while sitting. I think of the mental anguish it took for her to be a champion for the anti-rape movement. She helped lay down the foundation for many activists and advocates doing that work today, like Peer Health Exchange teaching consent to 16,800 ninth graders across the country.
As an organization, I think of how far we have come in empowering young people to make healthy decisions. I also think of the work ahead and the challenges we face. How we can continue to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ youth and individuals with disabilities, and how we need to advocate that our government make sex education and mental health a priority. I also think of how much Rosa Parks listened and how we sometimes have to be silent and just listen.
I find myself challenging men to be pro-woman, and white people to be pro-Black. Because let‘s be honest, Black women continue to be the punching bag in our society. I am waiting for the day when the work Rosa Parks did will truly be behind us, when we can look back and consider sexual violence and racism a thing of the past. Until that day comes, we are still speaking out, standing up and sitting down for our rights.
Philister Sidigu is the Manager, Communications at Peer Health Exchange. She is passionate about engaging the public in an ongoing dialogue around preventative measures and health equity.
Photo credits: nbcnews.to/2otqRqi. E.g.: Rosa Parks smiles during a ceremony where she received the Congressional Medal of Freedom in Detroit, Mich., on Nov. 28, 1999. PAUL SANCYA / AP file. Featured photograph cited from http://to.pbs.org/2okjrXc.