Rosa Parks Exhorts Students To Pursue King's Dream

Sometimes it's the presence that makes the impact.

Thus it was yesterday as hundreds of college students, faculty members and guests stood to applaud the frail, 77-year-old white-haired woman beaming from the podium of Seattle University's Pigott Auditorium.

Rosa Louise Parks, often described as the ``Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement,'' deflected the adulation toward her listeners:

``I thank God that he has spared me . . . to share a few of my experiences with you,'' she said.

Parks, who ignited the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycotts when she refused to give up her seat for a white man on Dec. 1, 1955, was the keynote speaker for the 1990 Northwest Minority Student Leadership Conference.

The two-day conference, sponsored by Seattle University, ends today. Students from 22 colleges and universities are attending.

Saying he was thrilled to meet Parks, Seattle Mayor Norm Rice introduced her to the audience by observing that in Africa warriors honored a hero by rising and beating their shields in approval. The mayor paused for effect and declared: ``Let us rise and welcome a hero.''

The standing ovation was warm and extended.

Parks told her listeners that the 381-day boycott led by the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ``is one experience I can never forget. . . . It was such a great time. . . . It united the people as never before.''

The conference opening took on a religious cast, with spirituals sung by the Brotherhood Singers of Tacoma, poetry by Seattle poet Ardis Clinton Jr. and a song by Seattle vocalist, Deana Long.

Listeners swayed to rhythms and held hands at one point to demonstrate a united commitment.

Parks told the audience to pursue King's dream, adding, ``I'm still in the struggle as we move into the '90s.''

Much honored for her civil-rights activities, Parks left Montgomery for Detroit and has worked for U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, since 1965. In 1987 she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks (in memory of her husband) Institute for Self Development to encourage youth to reach their potential.

``As we work together, we must learn not to let any differences impede our progress . . . regardless of race, creed or color,'' Parks said. ``We will live and work together and be successful and overcome the evils we have to face.''

Among those evils are war, crime, racial prejudice, illness and homelessness, she said.

``I feel if we all do whatever we as individuals can, we can make a difference in the world today,'' Parks counseled the students.

The conference is designed to help minority students improve campus opportunities, foster cultural diversity and sharpen their leadership skills.

The conference chairman, Benes Aldana, an SU junior, said one aim of the get-together is to develop a statewide coalition of students, staff and faculty members who will work ``to eliminate racism on our campuses.''

Not only would the coalition encourage ethnic studies courses and more support for students of color, but the ``hiring of more faculty of color on our campuses,'' he said.

The Rev. William Sullivan, SU president, greeted the opening session via a pretaped video welcome shown on a large screen on stage.

``Mrs. Parks represents in her own life the leadership, the courage and the character we seek to develop in our students,'' the SU president said.