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Lessons from the Life of Rosa Parks with H.H. Leonards

H.H. Leonards, founder of the Mansion on O Street and author of “Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus: Life, Lesson, and Leadership”, shares some of the lessons she learned from Rosa Parks and explains why it’s so important to help others tell their stories.

Tell The Story with R.H. Boyd - H. H. Leonards

When H.H. Leonards first agreed to host Mrs. Rosa Parks at the Mansion on O Street in 1994, Mrs. Parks only planned to stay for a short time. That her temporary respite lasted for ten years. Mrs. Parks considered The Mansion to be her home-away-from-home, where a meaningful friendship blossomed between the two women.

“Everything I did from the moment she came into my home was deeply affected by her presence,” Leonards recalled. “It wasn’t necessarily from the words she said or spoke; it was from the essence of who she was.”

In this episode of Tell the Story with R.H. Boyd, Monique Gooch, editor at R.H. Boyd Publishing, sits down with Mrs. Leonards to discuss the legacy of Mrs. Parks and the powerful changes that can happen when people say yes share their stories.



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Creating a Space for Community

Years before meeting Mrs. Parks, Mrs. Leonards had moved to Washington D.C. and decided to establish a unique space where people could gather and experience the transformative power of art. That place was the O Street Museum, a set of row houses with rich historical significance in American government, music, and culture. 

“I was very disappointed when I came to Washington D.C. I wanted to help my country and I only met people who wanted to help themselves. And I thought through art and music, people remember their soul and do positive things with their life by looking up,” Leonards explained. “I had a vision of creating a space where people had conversations about who people wanted to become, not necessarily who they were at that moment.”

In 1994, Mrs. Leonards received a phone call from a Mr. Willis Edwards asking if Mrs. Parks could come to stay at the mansion gratis as part of their heroes-in-residence program. He explained that she was an elderly woman who had been brutally assaulted in her Detroit home. 

“I was not a good student, and I did not know who she was at the time,” Mrs. Leonards admits. “But I could tell from the depth of sorrow in the voice I was listening to – his name was Mr. Willis Edwards – that she needed my help. And I said yes.”

Rosa Parks’ Life “Beyond the Bus”

Most people know Mrs. Rosa Parks as the civil rights icon who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. But Mrs. Leonards wants people to know about the breadth of Mrs. Parks’ advocacy, wisdom, and care for others that extended throughout her entire life. 

“She didn’t want people to think that it was just one incident in a life that made you,” Mrs. Leonards explained. “You needed to keep on making those small steps to affect change.”

Mrs. Leonards was also deeply inspired by Mrs. Parks’ strength and perseverance during immensely difficult circumstances, including her assault. 

“Life is not always easy, and when you are on your knees from what happens you need to stand up and go forward,” Mrs. Leonards said, reflecting on a lesson she learned from observing Mrs. Parks. “There’s always somebody else that’s in more need of help than yourself, and the key is to help other people on all levels.”

The Inspirational Power of Story

In addition to her work helping other people find creativity and inspiration through the museum, Mrs. Leonards is the author of the forthcoming book Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus: Life, Lessons, and Leadership, which will give readers a deeper understanding of who Mrs. Parks was and the wisdom she had to offer. 

Leonards hopes that readers will also feel inspired by her recollection of Mrs. Parks to create meaningful change in their own lives and spheres of influence.

“You can speak gently. Mrs. Parks was very gentle, but the power of her [words] was people leaned over to listen,” she explained. “Anyone can become Mrs. Parks; you just have to put one foot in front of the other.”

To learn more about Tell the Story with R.H. Boyd, please rate, review and follow this podcast wherever you listen to your audio content. And to continually feel empowered to tell your own narrative, make sure you follow us on Instagram and Twitter @rhboydco.

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