By Michael Tubbs
“Fifty years later, Oh yes. Fifty years later oh yes” was my rendition to the popular freedom song, originally sung by the Freedom Riders. They looked at me and smiled as they added their expert voices to the chorus, and we stood united in front of the Newsuem celebrating and marveling what they had accomplished when they risked death to desegregate interstate buses. The entire first night of the Student Freedom Ride was a blur but included a heart to heart with original freedom rider Earnest “Rip” Patton, a brief conversation and photo with one of my personal heroes, Congressman John Lewis and my first time viewing the documentary that got me on the bus, Freedom Riders by Stanley Nelson.
The Student Freedom Ride is an awesome opportunity to reflect on how far the country has progressed but also poses a challenge. It is a challenge that Freedom Ride coordinator Diane Nash characterized as “what history will require of [me].” At the very least, I know that history will require that I give back and pay forward the amazing opportunities I have been given, including this one, as a direct result of the blood, sweat, and tears of those that came before me. Additionally, the training we received from the Children’s Defense Fund’s Director of Youth Leadership and Development Jalaya Lyles Dunn forced me to consider the question, “What am I called to do now?” and to use this trip as a time to begin to chart a new route for freedom and justice in my generation.
At 20, I am the same age as many of the Freedom Riders were in 1961. I can’t fathom facing death or even expulsion from school, but I am passionate about social justice, especially in regards to equal education and ending the cradle to prison pipeline. I am certain that this is what I am called to do and I look forward to hearing the answer to Jalaya’s question from my fellow rides as we embark on this journey. As the night came to an end, original Freedom Rider Robert Singleton said that he has been jailed for his participation in the movement on August 4, 1961 and that a baby named Barack Obama was born on the very same August 4, 1961. The lesson from this was that history is made in the present, and the decisions and sacrifices that I make on May 6, 2011 will impact a child who is just coming into the world on this day.