In grade school, Frankie Crews got annoyed with me and we almost came to blows. I ran home and tried to enlist my father to my cause. Dad’s silly advice? “Fight Frankie.”
I replied that Frankie was bigger and stronger than me. Frankie can beat me! Dad’s foolish reply? “So? You get beat. Fight anyway.” That day, I added my father to the list along with Rosa Parks … I did not like him either.
A year later, on my way to the Apollo movie theater (the extinct one … on Brooklyn’s Fulton Street), an older guy falsely accused me of roughing up his little brother. He assured me that a 25-cent fee would save me from a broken nose for the infraction. This guy was bigger and stronger than I was, so it was not a very difficult decision. He got his quarter. When my older sister Cathy noticed that I was back home 15 minutes after leaving for the movie, she found out why and marched me back up Throop Avenue to look for this felon.
She had fire in her eyes over the injustice. I was bigger than my sister, and the thug was bigger than both of us. Yet there we were … marching toward this ill-advised confrontation. Somehow, I was actually glad for him that we didn’t cross paths that day. My sister’s determination was fierce. Her spirit was focused and resolute. And yes, she too made my list of unpopular people.
The list of folks I was not pleased with would expand beyond my father and sister. In later years, it would include Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and thousands of other men and women of various backgrounds who took a stand against injustice. Who fought back against seemingly impossible odds. Who were afraid but didn’t allow fear to turn them around. These people took on giants. Sometimes they lost their battles, but never without proving that the giants could be challenged. They demonstrated a courage that benefited all of us. They held high the torches of bravery and resistance, while I stood humbled in the long shadows cast.
With her act of defiance, Rosa Parks set in motion an entire era of these warriors. When she sat down, she stood up for us all. She was my older sister, dragging me down a Brooklyn street to reclaim my dignity. She was my father, insisting I stand up for myself. I didn’t like how small their example made me feel, but I sure like the better world they helped create. God bless Rosa Parks, and all those who fight for the values she personified.
George Gaffney is a comedy writer, director and tall drink of water from Queens. He studied film and TV production at UNC-Chapel Hill before co-founding Cult Comedy Pictures in NYC. As the creative director of Cult Comedy he’s NOT afraid to get edgy with his humor… probing the boundaries of cultural acceptance (but he IS afraid of snakes, so don’t go there). Check out his website for more information on this fascinating human being: George Gaffney.net