As soon as I tug out the long gym bench at Junior School Assembly, some of the students, especially the Grade 4s and 5s, start to shift and nudge their neighbours. Within half a minute or so, a dozen more eyes have lit up, as their memories get into gear. Rosa Parks is about to walk on the stage.
I don’t just tell the story; we act it out. I get to be the bus driver, and the students are the black and white people that come to sit on the bus. Gradually it is filled up, and I am at the point where I choose the girl (it is always a girl – the way my bus works is that the boys are the white people who sit at the front and the girls are the blacks who sit at the back) who is going to be Rosa Parks. A Grade 5 student gets to be Rosa Parks – and each time I am confident that whoever volunteers and gets selected knows exactly what to do: like Rosa Parks, she takes the only available seat on the bus, at the front, right beside the driver, exactly where she is forbidden by law to sit.
The rest is history. Rosa Parks is arrested; Martin Luther King (whose life is commemorated in the US this Monday) organizes the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the loudest chorus of the US civil rights movement is joined.
Yes, every year. There are some stories worth telling and re-telling. Especially in our school, where we have been illustrating the theme in the past few years that every student has the capacity for leadership, as represented in this story: that is, the capacity to make a difference, and to develop the character and skills that will seize moments like this, and transform the world.