By JoyEllen Freeman
After the screening of Stanley Nelson’s film Freedom Riders at the Newseum in Washington D.C., Diane Nash made the important point that as citizens, we do not have to wait on legislators or politicians to fix our communities; we have the power to affect change. From my own experience, I have found that between exams, applications, homework, and the everyday stresses that result from being a college student, it is easy to develop an attitude of complacency or acceptance. Life can become a cycle of robotic motions that we follow just to make it to our ideal academic or occupational destination. If we take a step back, however, and evaluate the pressing issues in our communities, these problems may require more than just another degree. For the original Freedom Riders, the issue of injustice and segregation in their communities required so much more, and I learned from the film that in many cases, Freedom Riders left behind school, their families, and an entire way of life in order to fight for the justice that their nation promised. Although it was expected of them to get an education, become productive citizens, and abide by the laws of society, the Freedom Riders chose, as John Lewis put it, “to get into trouble.”
I have decided that on this trip, I need to make some of my own trouble. To me, making trouble means stepping out of my comfort zone for the sake of justice. It means sharing the story of the Freedom Riders with everyone that I meet. It means shedding all sentiments of fear, reluctance, and complacency in exchange for courage, eagerness, and restlessness. Diane Nash said that “we can’t change others; we can only change ourselves,” and that is my personal goal for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride. During his talk about documenting the Civil Rights Movement, Stanley Nelson said that “you don’t have to be superhuman to make change.” Explaining the 1961 Freedom Rides to the man sitting next to me on the plane to D.C., smiling at a stranger in the Newseum, and accepting new ways of thinking are all ways that I can and have affected change in my community. As I embark on this new journey, I am just as excited to make change as I am to be changed.