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When my colleagues asked me to write about my favorite AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, I was kind of shocked. I mean, I'm sort of the new kid on the team, having joined the production in March as the marketing account manager. Before March, I was more like most of you — longtime viewer and living room commenter. Over the years, this series has blown my mind and tugged at my heart strings, raised my blood pressure and caused me to sob uncontrollably with stories that I never knew, or knew enough of. None had moved me more than the 2010 film Freedom Riders.
Freedom Riders tells the story of the 1961 Freedom Rides, an integrated, non-violent campaign to end segregation of interstate transit stations in the American South. For six months, over 400 Black and White Americans, most of them college-age young adults, risked their lives by traveling by Greyhound bus through the Deep South, bringing national and international attention to the racism that had long been an intrinsic part of Southern life. As an African American, I'd long known the history of segregation and racism that the South had been notorious for, but this film helped me understand that so many things about the onset of the Civil Rights Movement of Sixties. I had no idea how much of a political hot potato enforcing civil rights in the South was for President Kennedy's administration. I had no idea how defiant the states could be and were once the Federal Government felt compelled to protect the Freedom Riders on their dangerous crusade. More than anything, though, I was completely moved by these brave teenagers and young adults, who SIGNED DEATH WAIVERS to participate in these rides. Seeing the images of the severe beatings, the angry mobs laying in wait with dogs and gasoline, and hearing the first hand accounts of the riders who survived scared me in a way that I'd never be scared before. I could see myself, my brothers, sister and friends in their faces. They could have been me…
Or could it? Could I have gotten on the bus? I don't think so. My self-preservation gene would have kicked in once that clipboard with a death waiver got passed to me at an orientation meeting. Yet, here I am, fifty years later living a life where I've been free to live as I want because they were brave enough to do what I feel I could not. I'm thankful for what they did, and I'm even more thankful that AMERICAN EXPERIENCE told this story. I needed to know that young people — people younger than me -- recognized their power in their country and chose to act. I needed to be reminded that I have power as an American, and I can have an impact.
Chika Offurum is the Marketing Account Manager for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.