YOU DON’T HAVE TO BEND UNTIL YOU BREAK. YOU JUST HAVE TO STAND UP.
“I’ve been pushed as far I could stand to be pushed. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen ” Rosa Parks.
The statement quoted above was the explanation given by an African American woman named Rosa Parks for refusing to obey a segregation law which mandated that blacks sit in the back of public buses and give up their seats for white riders if the front seats were full. Rosa was consequently arrested, and charged in court, but she had made 1st December 1955 a remarkable day both in American and World history. She would go on to be crowned the “first lady of civil rights” as well as the “mother of freedom movement” by the US Congress.
Rosa Parks didn’t set out to attain any of those honours, but had her mind made up on what she really wanted, as she would later explain: “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free … so other people would be also free.” She also said that what prompted her act of defiance was that she got tired of giving in. “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 … No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
I believe that “If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” Defiance has been effectively deployed as useful correction tool by individuals to effect changes in the system when they are pushed as far as they can stand to be pushed, as Rosa rightly argued. Most of the privileges and freedoms enjoyed by people in our world today were secured by individuals refusing to “bend until they break.” Some of their actions had involved seemly insignificant steps that ended up yielding tremendous impact. Their lives and accomplishments are evident testimonies to the fact that it takes only a determined individual to change societies, communities, nations and the world. A look at few more examples of such heroes of a free world would help to emphasize the need for people to stand up to perceived injustice around them.
Most people in the world have read, watched or heard about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani female education activist who earned the wrath of the Taliban (an Islamist sect who opposes the education of girls) for standing up for her right, by refusing to give in to their demands to stop her education. During one of her speech in September 2008 she posed a profound and inspiring question to her audience “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” Matching her ideology with definite actions, Malala not only ensured that she got the education she deserves, but has inspired millions of people worldwide to stand up with her. Her decision not to give in nearly cost her her life when she was shot in October 2012 by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. It would take concerted efforts by team of doctors from several countries to save her life. Malala would go on to become the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate after sharing the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at just 17 years. Time magazine featured her as one of the most influential people globally in three different years. Through her NGO Malala Fund millions of young girls all over the world who otherwise would not have acquired any formal education had been offered opportunities to go to school.
All these achievements stemmed from her decision to stand up against the ultimatum of individuals whose ulterior desire is to place her and others like her in perpetual servitude. To the Pakistani Prime Minister Malala has become “the most prominent citizen” of the country.
Nelson Mandela is another example of an individual who gave the world something to read and write about through his rigorous acts of resistance. He stood up against the deprivations and subjections of Apartheid Era South Africa. His audacity to demand equality brought him to head-to-head confrontations with the powers that be, including twenty-seven years of his life spent in prison in defense of his conviction. Today he is recognized as one of the most prominent men who ever lived, even though he was initially labelled a villain by those who saw him as a threat to their reign of impunity.
In our world today, operations, exploitation, deprivations, subjection, and other shades of man’s inhumanity to man are still being perpetrated in various forms, degrees and methods. Millions of people are still denied access to education, others are wallowing in human induced poverty, young girls are still being given out in child marriages – the list is endless.
Nothing will change if we don’t set up walls beyond which we can hope to be pushed. Unless an individual stands up to say “NO”, injustice will continue to reign unchallenged. Achieving this most times requires a little act of defiance, taking a seemly insignificant but bold step in our own part of the world. Malala Yousafzai started by demanding her right to education, and grew to become a role model for millions of people worldwide. Rosa Parks ignited a mass movement by refusing to give up her seat. Nelson Mandela sacrificed his personal comfort in defense of human equality to eventually emerge “one of the most revered figures of our time.”
Standing up for what one believes always comes with challenges, most of them life threatening. But if those individuals mentioned above and several others not mentioned had succumbed to fear, threat or intimidations they wouldn’t have given us something to read or write about today. According to the words of Rosa Parks “you must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”
Standing up for what is right and facing whatever consequence that comes with it is far more honourable than spending our whole life bending to the demands of injustice. We should always remind ourselves that we don’t need to bend until we break. We just have to stand up.