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Ordinary People Can Make a Difference

Ordinary people can do great things

by Helen Redfern (revised, originally published in 2008)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To show that ordinary people can speak out against injustice and make a difference.

Preparation and materials


  1. Can you imagine a time when black people were only allowed to sit on certain seats at the back of a bus? When black people were not allowed to vote in elections? Can you imagine a town where black and white children had to attend separate schools and be separated at dances by a line down the middle of the room?

  2. In the southern states of America, only 50 years ago, this was how it was. Let’s hear about three ordinary people who had the courage to speak out.

  3. Show the image of Martin Luther King.

    An ordinary clergyman, whose father was a minister and whose mother was a teacher, organized peaceful protests and boycotts against discrimination. Here was an ordinary man who spoke out against the injustice that he saw. This ordinary man delivered extraordinary speeches with memorable lines like ‘I have a dream that one day in Alabama . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’

    That clergyman was Martin Luther King, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and assassinated in 1968, at just 39 years old.

  4. Show the image of Rosa Parks.

    In the town of Montgomery, Alabama, like most places in the Deep South, buses were segregated. On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks left Montgomery Fair, the department store where she worked, and got on the same bus as she did every night. As always, she sat in the ‘black section’ at the back of the bus. However, when the bus became full, the driver instructed Rosa to give up her seat to a white person. When she refused, she was arrested by the police.

    In protest against bus segregation, it was decided that from 5 December, black people in Montgomery would refuse to use the buses until passengers were completely integrated. For 382 days, the 40,000 black people in Montgomery walked to work, organized carpools or took taxis operated by black drivers who charged the same fare as the bus. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a decision by the Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to accept integration.

    An ordinary woman showed extraordinary courage. This ordinary woman became known as the ‘mother of the civil rights movement’.

  5. Show the image of the film poster for Hairspray.

    The previous two examples were taken from real life, but the next one is not. It is taken from the hit film, Hairspray. It’s Baltimore, 1962, and Tracy Turnblad, an ordinary young girl, is obsessed with ‘The Corny Collins Show’. Tracy auditions for the show and gets to appear – a dream come true! However, she becomes aware of the way that her black dancer friends are being treated and realizes that she has to do something. As she tells her father, ‘I think I’ve kind of been in a bubble . . . thinking that fairness was gonna just happen. It’s not. People like me are gonna have to get up off their fathers’ laps and go out and fight for it.’

    This ordinary young girl brought about an extraordinary integration.

Time for reflection

It may be difficult to comprehend the situation in the USA in the time of Martin Luther King. However, there are many unfair things happening in the world today, too.

Who will speak out against child labour?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Who will take a stand against bullying?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Who will stand up and challenge racism?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Who will speak for those who have no voice?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Maybe we think . . .

- Not me, that’s for sure.
Who would listen to me?
There’s nothing special about me.
Nothing I say would make any difference.

Pause to allow time for thought.

I wonder if Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks had similar thoughts. If they did, they still weren’t afraid to stand up for what was right. They were not afraid to stand up for truth.

We are all ordinary people. Fairness is not going to happen by itself. Ordinary people need to find their voice. Take a stand. Speak out. Make a difference. Today.


‘You can’t stop the beat’ (from the original soundtrack for the film Hairspray), available at: It is 5.22 minutes long.

Publication date: August 2017   (Vol.19 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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