During Black History Month, we celebrate the life and work of pivotal leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. However, few may know that before Rosa Parks, there was Rosa Young.
I recently attended a showing of The First Rosa: Teacher, Confessor, Church Planter. Produced by LCMS Communications in conjunction with LCMS Black Ministry, this 42-minute documentary gives a historical look into the life and work of Rosa Young, a strong, compassionate, determined leader who loved the Lord and valued His children.
The film depicts Young’s life of service to the glory of God and her ability to enable others to have the same. Among her many accomplishments, Young taught more than 2,000 students quality, Christian education during a time when education for children of sharecroppers in the South was limited. Many of these students went on to enter professional church work as pastors and teachers because of Young’s influence. Read more about her life and accomplishments here.
Young is a leader of our church body whom I deeply admire. As I watched The First Rosa and read about her story, four key leadership principles on leaving a lasting impact stand out to me.
Here’s what I’ve learned from Rosa Young:
1. You don’t have to be a pastor to make a lasting impact in the church. In fact, you don’t even have to be born and raised a Lutheran! Young was born the daughter of a Methodist minister and wasn’t connected to the LCMS until Booker T. Washington advised her to write the LCMS Mission Board when she was in need of financial assistance because the cotton boll weevil had brought economic hardship among the families of her students. Young wrote the board, and a partnership was born.
Furthermore, Young was an African American woman in an economically poor area of the South during the early 1900s. The odds were not exactly in her favor to create an educational powerhouse for Lutheran education. Yet, that is exactly what she did. I admire Rosa’s boldness and courage to faithfully pursue the good work God had prepared in advance for her to do despite the hard realities she faced.
2. Think and live outside the box. Sometimes help and new partnerships come from unexpected places. I wonder what Young thought as she wrote the LCMS Mission Board for financial assistance. She had no ties to the LCMS or anything to give her sway. How easy would it have been for the Mission Board to blow off her letter, a letter from a non-LCMS woman down in Alabama requesting financial assistance? And yet the Mission Board took her request seriously, went down to meet Young and toured her school. They saw the work taking place and the vision Young had. As a result, they agreed to fund the school, pay Young’s salary and allow her to expand her vision by opening up additional schools. All while, they took the time to train Rosa and teach her the Lutheran faith.
This is a challenge and encouragement to me to seriously consider the requests of people in need and of people with whom I have no connection. It also makes me evaluate my current network of colleagues and consider what new partnerships may be beyond my current reach just waiting to be formed.
3. Value Christian education. Young recognized the value of Christian education. Her mission from day one was to provide quality Christian education to those for whom none was available. Something I celebrate among our church body is its ongoing investment in Lutheran education. As a product of a Lutheran grade school and university, I have seen firsthand the benefits of attending Lutheran institutions and its impact on my life as a follower of Christ.
I wonder where today there are youth with limited access to quality Christian education. How can we individually and collectively help make Lutheran education a viable option for these students? How can we continue to value and invest in our existing Lutheran grade schools, high schools, universities and seminaries?
4. Value young people. Young recognized the value of young people. The film included interviews with some of her students. Now fully grown and graying themselves, many of them shared a similar story of Young seeing something inside of them they hadn’t yet recognized in themselves. She inspired boys and girls almost willing them to continue their schooling and become pastors and teachers and leaders in the church.
We can learn from Young’s life that the way to leave a lasting legacy is by investing in the next generation. As parents, teachers, pastors, youth workers, coaches, etc., we have the opportunity to greatly influence the next generation of youth inspiring them to grow in becoming the men and women God has created them to be. We have the opportunity to greatly influence the next generation of youth inspiring them to pursue careers in professional church work. We have the opportunity to invest in the next Rosa Youngs.
For more information on Rosa Young and the film, The First Rosa, visit https://www.lcms.org/thefirstrosa.