Natalie Ornell ’12 Launches Effort to Honor Rosa Parks on Public Buses in Massachusetts

March 7, 2018
Rosa Parks (center) sits on a bus speaking to another woman.
Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Thanks to a campaign led by Natalie Ornell ’12, the Massachusetts state legislature is considering a bill that would direct the MBTA to install decals or an LED display honoring civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

The Boston Globe recently ran a story on Ornell’s leadership in paying tribute to Parks in this manner. The bill, which Ornell’s state representative, Sen. Walter F. Timilty, filed at her request, is in the Committee on Transportation, according to his office.

Ornell, a Braintree resident, came up with the idea on vacation last fall in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. She boarded a public bus and noticed a decal honoring Parks that was plastered on the window.

“When I saw the decals for Mrs. Parks on the Miami buses, I thought that these should be on all buses in America because this is American history, which we should honor,” said Ornell. “We should be reminded daily of her fight and of how far we have left to go to strive for racial equality.”

Several local leaders, including Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston NAACP, and Boston at-large city councilors Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, and Annissa Essaibi-George, support the legislation, according to the Globe.

Cambridge City Council also recently voted in favor of the proposal and, if it passes in the legislature, also plans to hold a public school art contest to determine the design of the image that will appear on the decal.

Ornell’s interest in civil rights history began at Wellesley, where she took Diversity in Education, taught by Veronica Darer, senior lecturer in Spanish. In that class, she realized that she "did not receive a good enough education in civil rights history or African American history attending both public and private schools in the area."  

Another of Ornell’s former instructors, William Joseph, professor of political science, said Ornell’s campaign for the Rosa Parks decal reflects “her deep interest in and personal commitment to issues of human rights and social justice.”

Ornell is a grant writer for the Asian American Civic Association in Boston, which helps immigrants and others who are economically disadvantaged or speak limited English gain access to social services, adult education, and job training/employment programs.

“I write grants to help immigrants succeed,” she said. “Many of these immigrants face discrimination and fear every day, especially in this political climate.”

Photo: Rosa Parks (C) riding on newly integrated bus following Supreme Court ruling ending successful 381 day boycott of segregated buses. Boycott began when Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person.