Local Rosa Parks Essay Winner explores stopping bullying and championing others

The City of Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission’s Rosa Parks Education Committee encourages students in grades 7 to 12 to write an essay about how to live out Mrs. Parks’ legacy by stepping outside of the bounds of their reality, taking risks, and shaping lives to make a difference.
The City of Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission’s Rosa Parks Education Committee encourages students in grades 7 to 12 to write an essay about how to live out Mrs. Parks’ legacy by stepping outside of the bounds of their reality, taking risks, and shaping lives to make a difference.

The writing prompt this year was:

Rosa Parks changed the world. She was able to do this because of the work of many who came before her and many who worked beside her. Historically, young people have always been the trailblazers who stood on the shoulders of their ancestors and led movements for the betterment of society. As your future unfolds, how will you bravely and authentically encourage others to blaze trails? For whom are you living the life and legacy of Rosa Parks and why?

The following essay is by eighth grader Tania Willoughby:

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” -Rosa Parks

When Rosa Parks died, she left us her legacy of bravery, loyalty, and honesty. I’m planning to build a similar legacy for my generation and future generations. I want to expand Rosa Parks’ legacy by being the voice for those who do not have one and standing up for others and their rights! I want to make an impact on others’ lives like Rosa Parks did.

When I was growing up, I saw and heard a lot of bullying and racism, and I experienced some of it in my own life. I used to get bullied for how I look, whether it was for the color of my skin or the acne on my face. My classmates wouldn’t talk to me because they had a problem with my parens having separate ethnicities; they said I didn’t fully belong to either black or white. They would tell people not to hang out with me because I was either “too dark or light-skinned” for them. I used to take my conflicted feelings out by hurting myself. Even though I fought against the negativity daily, I let their words get into my head; their taunts and comments started to poison my brain. I even toyed with the idea of taking hurting myself to a higher level.

Every morning, I would dread waking up and getting ready for school, just to be taunted by my bullies. They would call me “Connect-the-dots” or “Pizza face” every day. At morning recess, I would stay inside with he safeties while they monitored the hallways. Anything to avoid the bullies.

I was afraid to tell me my mom or teacher because I didn’t want to go to a counselor and receive a label. I didn’t want to be called “crazy”or “tattletale” and be picked on even more. My dad wasn’t home much, so I couldn’t tell him how I felt or what was going on at school. None of my “friends” ever stood up for me because they didn’t want to lose their social status as “the cool kids.”

I knew that the right thing to do was to get some help. I don’t know if deep down I wanted to be found out, but one day I let my mom “accidentally” see what I’d been doing to myself. When she saw my arms, she started crying and asked me what made me do this to myself. It was then that I told her everything that had been going on. My mom went up to the school and confronted the kids who bullied me; she called for a meeting with their parents. Surprisingly, the confrontation worked because the harassment died down. After that, I felt so much weight lifted off my shoulders! I began to take pride in myself and began honoring my body.

Now that I’m older and more mature I have learned not to care what others think of me. I can’t allow someone else’s opinion to stop me from doing what is right for myself and others. These events also caused me to take a stand for the protection and promotion of other students. What nobody ever did for me, I decided to make my mission. I have learned how important it is to believe in yourself — that is the right thing to do. I believe Rosa Parks felt that way and would want me to continue her legacy by teaching others to do the same thing and live their lives fearlessly.

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My name is Tania Willoughby, I am 14 years old. I was born on November 17, 2004, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I go to Riverside Middle School. I’m biracial and I have three siblings, one girl and two boys. I’m the oldest of all of them so I try to set a good example for them. I like to draw, listen to music, sing, be with my family and friends, and I love art. I’m a funny, caring, and positive person. I’ve been through A LOT in my life but I always push myself to do what’s right and try to have positive vibes about everything.

Special thanks to Misti Stanton, Rosa Parks Education Committee Chair, for leading and organizing this year’s contest, and to Maleika Joubert Brown, Director of Equity and Inclusion at Grand Rapids Public Schools, for her support of/assistance in publication of the essays.

Photo courtesy of Tania Willoughby.
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