History is infinitely interesting, often depressing, sometimes happy, and at its best, truly inspiring. It was perhaps never more inspiring than in 1961, when 436 Americans boarded buses to test and challenge segregated travel facilities in the Deep South. It was a simple but daring plan, and it changed America forever. The Freedom Riders were black and white, Northern and Southern, secular and religious, old and young. Along their journey, they were beat up, arrested, and generally treated in unspeakable ways-- ways that no human being should be treated. Most have names that you’ve never heard before, but they were and are American heroes.
This May, forty college students will have an opportunity that I wish I had when I was in college. My history classes, interesting though they were, consisted of readings and lectures, the occasional exam, and, as I recall, a lot of papers. But this spring, American Experience invites college students to “get on the bus” and journey back to 1961, joining original Freedom Riders in retracing the Rides, and beginning a conversation about the state of civic engagement today. Students will look to the Freedom Riders and to each other for lessons and inspiration about creating a society that is engaged in and energized around the issues we face today. It is an all-expenses-paid, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
As the project manager for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, I have the unbelievable good fortune and honor to participate. But the college students need to apply. The application period is open and will close on January 17th, 2011. Learn more here.
For those of you who aren’t college students, you can watch the film Freedom Riders when it premieres on May 16 on PBS, and you’ll have the opportunity to follow the 2011 Student Freedom Ride on the American Experience website and on all social media platforms. In the meantime, log on to www.pbs.org/freedomriders and learn the names of the American heroes called the Freedom Riders.
Lauren Prestileo is a project manager for American Experience.
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