Four north central Florida residents will be honored this weekend with the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Award for their activism and service to the community.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her action helped to spur the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.
In 2006, the Rev. Milford L. Griner, of Bartley Temple United Methodist Church in Gainesville, founded the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee, which each year nominates for recognition two to five people who embody the same understated dignity, activism and humility as Parks.
The 2020 honorees are Ellie Chisholm, Arupa Freeman, Mary L. Mitchell and Clovis Watson Jr.
“This year, our theme is ‘A call to action: Taking a stand for justice,’” Griner said. “These nominees have done that, so that is why they were chosen.”
The honorees will receive their awards at a ceremony set for 3 p.m., Sunday at Dayspring Missionary Baptist Church, 1945 NE 8th Ave. Let’s meet them here:
“It’s funny to me that I found out I had been selected for the award when I was in Montgomery,” said Chisholm, 73, who is being honored for her efforts in combatting racism in the education system. “The very next day, Monday, we went to the Rosa Parks Museum.”
Chisholm has been a part of at least three programs dedicated to providing education for children and adults who have challenges in learning and are economically disadvantaged.
She began her activism as an early childhood advocate in 1997, after seeing a disparity in her students’ education. She started as a curriculum specialist and a regional specialist for Head Start, a federally funded educational program for preschool children.
Her friend, Verna Jackson Johnson, another retired educator, described Chisholm as a “quite solder” because of the humble nature in her tenacity.
“I was so elated to see that the award was being presented to her,” Johnson said. “I called her the next day. She said, ‘I never thought of earning anything. I just did it’ – and that is truly her.”
Freeman, 74, has dedicated her life to providing necessities for the homeless nonstop, and has for at least the past three years done so despite her own physical ailments. The Vermont native moved to Gainesville in 1983 and, while walking her dog one day, coming across an elderly married couple, a pregnant woman and a man in a wheelchair sleeping on the sidewalk.
She went on to create the H.O.M.E. van (Homeless Outreach Mobile Effort), in which she and a group of volunteers fed 200-400 people a week as well as provided water and toiletries.
Freeman isn’t one to seek recognition, however, and said she preferred to not even talk to a reporter about earning the Rosa Parks Courage Award.
“Reverend Griner was kind enough to give it to me,” she said. “There are a lot of people in the world doing great things.”
Griner put this way: “Everybody knows her. … She has made a big impact in Gainesville, so there will be a lot of folks that will be coming to see her get her award.”
Mary L. Mitchell
Mitchell, 59, is pastor of Bartley Temple United Methodist Church. Griner nominated her for her outstanding efforts in serving victims of domestic violence and people with HIV/AIDS.
“The things that the church was teaching, that you are married for better or for worse or that the man was the head of the household, was bounding women in these situations,” Mitchell said.
She said she became an advocate when a group of women sought support from the church.
“One lady shared that she cooked for one church’s potluck, and someone who found out that she was HIV positive started a rumor to not eat the food, as if her being HIV positive was going to contaminate it,” Mitchell recalled.
“She talked about how well she cooked, and I asked her, ‘Well, when are you going to cook for us?’” the pastor said. “I wanted to show her that that may have happened in another situation, but not all people see it that way.”
Clovis Watson Jr.
Watson, 61, represents parts of Alachua and Marion Counties in the Florida House of Representatives, and is running against incumbent Sadie Darnell in the Alachua County sheriff’s race in the 2020 election. He was nominated for the Rosa Parks Courage Award because of his efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons, Griner said.
Watson introduced a measure to restore their voting rights each year in the legislative session starting when he joined the body in 2012 through 2018. It failed to gain traction each year, but voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment that accomplished much of what his legislative efforts had sought.
“I truly believe when you’re free from confinement, you must be free for opportunity,” Watson said in April, as the Florida Legislative Black Caucus pushed back on proposed legislation that would add more conditions related to allowing former felons to vote.
“If not, you’re still confined, just not between prison walls,” he said. “We need to offer opportunity to those who have made mistakes to be reintroduced in society as equals and certainly an opportunity to vote.”