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Transit employees play passenger roles to honor Rosa Parks, MLK day

Chapel Hill Transit employees will turn into actors today to remember an African-American woman who took a stand after she was denied equal access to the services they provide every day.

As part of the town’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day week-long celebration for town employees, transit workers will reenact Rosa Parks’s historic bus sit-in.

The employees-turned-actors have named the program “Why Should I Move?”

Chapel Hill Transit Director Steve Spade said the play will feature an older Rosa Parks, played by transit employee Michelle Sykes, reminiscing on the historic day when Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery City bus in Alabama on Dec. 1, 1955.

In the background, other employees will also help reenact that day.

“Since we are a bus company we thought it would be a good idea to do something about Rosa Parks,” said Sheila Neville, a Chapel Hill Transit bus driver who is also playing the role of young Parks.

Chapel Hill became one of the first towns in North Carolina to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a town holiday in 1984— two years before it was a national holiday.

But this past week marked its largest and most inclusive celebration ever.

The festivities expanded from a one-day event to a week-long observance running Jan. 9 to Jan. 16.

The celebration has also grown to include Chapel Hill employees in all departments, not just in the Public Works department, which has organized Martin Luther King Jr. Day events since the town began the celebration 13 years ago.

“The town manager wanted to see the celebration shared by more employees,” said town Spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko.

The reenactment is a new part of town employees’ celebration, which has also featured blood drives, group readings and special speakers.

The longest-running festivity — an event in which employees share speeches and poetry — is in its 13th year and will also be held today.

Chapel Hill employees also went to public housing units for elderly residents this week and planted flowers in a beautification project as part of the celebration.

Employees also discussed their won personal encounters growing up in the civil rights era in sessions held throughout the week.

Maggie Burnett, office manager of the Public Works Department, participated in and organized the events to help honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.

“I was the product of mandatory desegregation of public school systems in Chatham county,” Burnett said.

“It’s an important part of American history and it honors a person that put his life on the line for all Americans for equal treatment.”

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