In 1955, Rosa Parks very publicly changed the lives of countless others. In 1994, one person secretly helped to change hers.
When Parks was assaulted and robbed in her home at the age of 81, the founder of Little Caesars (and the owner of both the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings) stepped up.
Upon hearing of the incident, Mike Ilitch reportedly offered to pay for safer housing for Parks as long as necessary.
It was a secret he kept for years.
Who Was Rosa Parks?
Rosa Parks made history on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955 when she refused an order to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus.
She was arrested, convicted, and fined.
Her incredible act of defiance became the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Led by none other than Martin Luther King Jr., it ignited the civil rights movement in America.
Known as ‘the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement,’ her bravery garnered her worldwide recognition. She won numerous awards including the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.
Parks moved to Detroit in 1957 where she continued to fight for civil rights.
Rosa Parks Receives Help From an Unexpected Source
In 1994, at the age of 81, Parks was assaulted and robbed in her home. The assailant, Joseph Skipper, walked away with $53.
When word of the attack got out, Judge Damon Keith immediately called in the big guns — real estate developer A. Alfred Taubman and the Pizza Pizza! man himself.
Taubman offered up an apartment in his Riverfront Apartments complex in downtown Detroit. Illitch offered up a promise — to pay for Parks’ housing expenses indefinitely.
The Rosa Parks Trust Fund was created, containing more than $100,000.
While Illitch’s contributions to the business world were widely recognized, his act of kindness was shrouded in secrecy. Hidden from public knowledge, and known only to a select few individuals, his generosity towards Rosa Parks remained a secret for many years.
Silent Support: An Act of Kindness Unveiled
It wasn’t until an article was published in the Sports Business Daily in 2014 that the secret came out.
And it didn’t garner popular attention until it resurfaced after Illitch’s death in 2017.
The article contained a photograph of Keith holding a copy of a cheque.
“It’s for $2,000, dated November the first, 1994,” Keith said. “It’s from Little Caesars Enterprises to Riverfront Apartments, and I know it was just one of many. It’s important that people know what Mr. Mike Ilitch did for Ms. Rosa Parks because it’s symbolic of what he has always done for the people of our city.”
Eventually, after nearly a decade, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church took over Parks’ rent payments. And in December 2004, the Riverfront Apartments offered to let her live rent-free until her death in October 2005.
Legacy of Giving
It wasn’t Illitch’s only act of giving. Throughout his life, the billionaire pizza mogul made significant contributions to various charitable causes. In 1985, he established the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a mobile pizza kitchen that provides food to those in need. It has served more than 2 million individuals in the United States and Canada.
Additionally, he founded the Little Caesars Veterans Program, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, the Detroit Tigers Foundation, and Ilitch Charities. All with the intent to improve the lives of children, veterans, and families in the Detroit area through various programs.
Mike Illitch and Rosa Parks may have come from two completely different worlds and lived very different lives, but there is one common thread that ties them together — their unwavering commitment to creating positive change.
It’s a legacy that continues to inspire people today, proving that one person really does have the power to make a difference. Whether it’s in one person’s life or many.
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