Rodney Bullard, Chief Executive Officer of The Same House in Atlanta, Ga., encouraged participants in the John R. Lewis Leadership Conference to strive to be leaders who take actions to positively impact their communities.
The John R. Lewis Leadership Conference is presented annually by Troy University and the City of Troy and is now in its 21st year. The event seeks to bring individuals together to promote dialogue that fosters multicultural collaboration to strengthen relationships and empower diverse leaders with the tools to better serve their organizations and communities.
Speaking during the opening session of the conference on Friday night in the Trojan Center Theatre, Bullard recalled the actions taken by the late Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks aboard a Montgomery city bus on Dec. 1, 1955.
After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Bullard began his service to his country, and it was during that time that he was selected to be a White House Fellow. Arriving in Washington, D.C. to begin the fellowship, Bullard was greeted by the news of Mrs. Parks’ death and the plans for her to lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. At that time, he recalled, only one African American had ever laid in state in the Rotunda – Dr. Martin Luther King – and no one, until Mrs. Parks had ever received that honor.
“I told my wife they we should go see and pay our respects to Mrs. Parks,” he recalled. “I remember looking at Rosa Parks laying in state, and I thought about the courage it took in 1955. We know the rest of the story, but in 1955, she had no idea how this would end. This was not trivial. This was not just ‘I’m going to sit down and not get up.’ This was quite the act.”
Bullard said as he thought about it, he realized the statements he had heard earlier in life were true – for Parks, taking this action aboard the bus and ultimately being arrested was not just about her.
“She sat there, refusing to surrender her seat, not because she was tired, but because she was tired of a system that impacted everyone – black and white – whether we knew it or not,” he said. “She did it because she had courage. Leadership requires courage. She did it because she was selfless, and leadership requires selflessness. It requires you to be bigger than yourself. At the end of the day, Rosa Parks impacted the three feet around her with only what she had, which was to sit. You can always impact the three feet around you – the place where you are.”
Bullard leads The Same House, a community-driven movement addressing the social and economic challenges facing the world today. The idea for the organization, Bullard told Leadership Conference participants, evolved from the idea of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community and was sparked by a statement made by Congressman John Lewis at an annual fundraising event.
“When I went to work for Chick-Fil-A, we had this event called the Beloved Benefit after Dr. King’s Beloved Community,” he said. “We were hosting 1,500 people at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. We had Bruno Mars and Steve Harvey, Emeli Sande, and T.I., and we had a wonderful event, but most importantly we had Congressman Lewis. He got up and he said, ‘We are one people, one family. We all belong to the same house.’ This notion that we can all belong to the same house resonated with me so much so that we took that opportunity to take that Beloved Benefit and bring it into its own corporation to further the mission of us belonging to the same house. At the end of the day, we want everybody to do well in the house, just as you want everybody in your house to do well.”
The conference continued Saturday with breakout sessions for both students and adult participants during the morning and a keynote luncheon address by educator, motivator and performer Michelle Summers.
Summers, whose career as an educator spans more than 24 years, currently serves as an educational facilitator with the Department of Youth Services where she seeks to provide hope, direction and educational services to disenfranchised adjudicated young me within the state of Alabama.
She is the founder and CEO of Michelle Summers Enterprise, LLC, as well as the creator and host of the social-media platform “Michelle Speaks (Life),” which has amassed thousands of followers nationwide.