In Washington D.C. for a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance’s executive committee, I made a brief pilgrimage to the U.S. Capitol — not to convince Congress to act like adults and compromise for the good of the country — but to apologize to Rosa Parks.

A nine-foot bronze statue (counting the pedestal) of Parks was unveiled in Statuary Hall February 27, the first full-size statue commissioned by Congress since 1873.

I wanted to apologize because, when I was a boy, I thought she was uppity. I grew up among a prejudiced people and didn’t know any other way to be. Neither school nor church encouraged me to think otherwise. A small handful of black students were first allowed to attend the school I attended with all the other white kids when I entered the ninth grade, and we were not kind to them. That’s actually quite an understatement.

Ten years later, at my class’s 10-year reunion, I apologized to those brave souls — but didn’t see any of my other white classmates speak to them all evening. They haven’t been back to any of the other reunions.

The same residual guilt that had me apologizing to my courageous, pioneering classmates drew me to the Capitol so I could stand before the statue of a daring, trailblazing lady who had the courage to stand for what is right, even if she had to sit down to do it.

Rosa Parks is just one of so many people whose vision, whose sense of justice, and whose fiery valor make them heroes not just to the people they fought for, but also for those of us who needed a grown-up wake-up in order to appreciate them.

Well done, Rosa.

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