Is Shirley Sherrod the Rosa Parks of Our Time?

No she did not refuse to give up her seat on a bus. Yet, she finds herself in the middle of a racial firestorm started by the NAACP when it adopted a controversial Resolution, answered by the Tea Party (which resulted in one of its leaders Mark Williams being expelled) and now has ended up in the lap of the White House (i.e., President of the United States).

Ms. Sherrod, like Ms. Parks is an equally humble, gracious, and polite hardworking black woman from the rural south. Her life story is inspiring and disturbing all at once because it makes us reflect on a darker time in our nation's history. Her father was murdered by a white man in the south in 1965 over 45 years ago now. The man who did it never answered for his crime.

This is a woman who has seen it all. Reared at the height of Jim Crow Segregation, a dedicated daughter, wife and friend Ms. Sherrod now finds herself at the center of a national race firestorm. Charges of racism, and counter racism have filled the TV and Radio since July 13th as the NAACP President, Tea Party Leaders and politicians all scrambled to explain their respective point of view on whether or not the modern Tea Party movement is racist or not.

Like many of her generation, Ms. Sherrod was active in the Civil Rights movement. She is as a result a public servant who has dedicated herself to helping right the wrongs against black farmers. So much so that she helped found New Communities, Inc., the land trust that Shirley and Charles Sherrod established, with other black farm families in the 1960's. And for which they were awarded a historic settlement that resulted in $300,000.00 for her family. This woman's life history and experience was such that she was tapped in 2009 to serve in the Obama Administration as the Georgia Rural Farm Development Commissioner.

In a flash of national anger, an apparently doctored video tape, and the palpable fear coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Ms. Sherrod was an easy scapegoat for both the NAACP and the White House to show white citizens that they could be equally harsh on black people alleged to have made racially insensitive remarks.

The good news here, however, is that what has happened to this woman in the last 48 hours, in my opinion will change the tone and rhythm of what we have witnessed since the NAACP adopted its controversial resolution at its annual convention on July 13th. The great thing about America and Americans is that we all know when we see injustice. And all of us know that but by God's grace it could happen to us. That is why you now see Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, the NAACP and the others who condemned her (self included) all backtracking and scrambling to embrace Ms. Sherrod and apologize for the wrong that she has suffered.

But here is the point: The "teachable moment" of Shirley Sherrod is that she, like Rosa Parks has used her quiet strength and grace on national television to win over a nation. When we watch the video in its entirety, we all nod in agreement (as many in the audience that day did), because all of us have had to face our fears and our prejudices. When we see the white farmer (Roger) and his wife appear and defend this woman, call her a friend, and say that she saved her farm we find ourselves being ashamed. And we should be.

All of us hope to be redeemed when we fail and to be forgiving when others wrong us. In this case, I hope that like Rosa Parks -- Ms. Sherrod's very visible, very public injustice makes us STOP and ask some hard questions about who we are as Americans, and what we are going to do to deal with (once and for all) the ugly specter of race and racism in our time.