Eleanor Roosevelt & Rosa Parks – The Voices of Quiet Leaders Heard Across the Years



BY BRITTANY ORIE

Quiet leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks…how did they do it? How did some of the quiet leaders of our time break out from that hidden corner and become some of the most famous and influential people in history? Surely at some point they probably felt challenged by their introversion and, maybe, even shyness. These quiet leaders are not with us anymore, but what if they could write a personal letter to an aspiring introverted leader? A letter sharing their motivations, challenges, and what led them to become so accomplished? It might go a little something like this:

“Dear one, it was my passion for social activism and my love for people that led me to change the role of the First Lady of the United States. Normally I don’t feel the need to go on about myself, but this is to inspire you. I was extremely shy growing up. I must say being led to a public life where I get to help others broke me out of my shell. I’m certain the same thing can happen for you. If you feel led to make a difference, any difference at all, go for it. My passion for people and humanity led me to work with the Red Cross during World War I, with the League of Women Voters where I empower women to play a role in public affairs, and to become a leading activist for women’s and black’s rights. But as rewarding as all of it is, I am still, and will always be an introvert. I will forever enjoy solitary retreats inside, by the fire, on a cold evening. I’m not sure how many people will enjoy that as much as I do; it’s practically the only thing I want to do after traveling and speaking engagements! I want to encourage you that you do not have to change who you are. You can still be yourself, just a better version. I want to leave you with this: trust the experience, do what scares you every single day, and don’t let anyone make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

“All I wanted was to get home after a long hard day at work. I took the bus as usual. Pretty soon a lot of white people filled the bus. It got to a point where some of them had to stand. The driver then told some of the black folk to give up their seat for the whites. I was one of those black folks. While some black men gave up their seats, I was resistant. I was tired. I was tired of the segregation, the black struggle, and I was tired of being silently passive about it all. So I took a stand while sitting. The driver ordered me to give up my seat, but I just said, ‘Nah.’ It wasn’t easy for me at all, but I knew it had to be done. For that, I was arrested. But that moment right there gave birth to the influential Montgomery bus boycott and the Civil Rights Movement. My life took quite a wild turn from there. I began traveling and speaking publicly across the country. During that time I was so frightened about being in front of an audience that I had near panic attacks in between speaking events. Some nights I could barely sleep! But I had to put my shyness aside and do it. What kept me motivated were honesty and truth, the pain of seeing my people suffer daily and a strong need to speak about it and, hopefully, put an end to it. I wanted freedom. I also served as secretary for the Montgomery division of NAACP and helped protect black women from being sexually assaulted by white men while I was there. I also co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development where I teach the young folks about the everyday struggles of the blacks. Had I not spoken up on the bus, I would’ve never become the ‘mother of the Civil Rights Movement.’ My word to you is to speak up, follow your passions, and educate and lead in your own way.” ~Rosa Parks

 

 


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