By May Mgbolu
Retracing the original 1961 Freedom Ride has been an incredible opportunity to explore the details of the civil rights movement, especially from a Southern perspective that has not been traditionally represented in my textbooks, teachings, and experiences. I wanted to go on this ride because I knew that at the end of ten days I would not have only met the heroes of the Freedom Rides and individuals that ignited and continued the fight for justice for decades, but also understand the relation of that past to my present.
Growing up in Arizona and experiencing the United States–Mexico border and immigration issues helped me to discover my passion and goal of contributing to creating a more inclusive society, where race does not play a powerful role in determining which groups have access to resources and opportunities.
Today we left Lynchburg, Virginia and traveled to North Carolina where we stopped in Greensboro, High Point, and are staying the night in Charlotte. However the highlight of my day was stopping in High Point and speaking with Mary Lou Blakeney. Mary Lou was a high school student that participated in the High Point sit-ins during the 60s in order to desegregate lunch counters. Mary’s personal story and experience in the civil right movement really inspired me and reminded me of Arizona, but particularly Tucson’s youth. Mary discussed how High Point sit-ins where the first demonstrations in North Carolina done by high school youth. She explained how the high school students were discouraged to participate in the sit-ns but felt it was their time and duty to create the change they wanted to see in their community. In Tucson, there has been a strong movement against immigration reform, and the current policies that negatively affect Latinos, immigrants, and the Tucson community. But over the past couple of months a youth group called UNIDOS, which is comprised of local Tucson high school students fighting for the preservation of ethnic studies, has gained a lot of negative attention and portrayed as anti-American due to their sit ins and openly expressing their mission. However that makes me question whether Mary Lou and the other high school students in the 1960s were considered anti-American then? Or were they visionaries that understood that these acts needed to occur in order to change the future?
I think too often we forget to look at movements like High Point sit-ins and commend students for being bold and standing up against oppressive figures and systems that neglect youth and others that have been left out of social and political discourses. I think this group UNIDOS has the potential to positively impact my Tucson community and help continue the legacy of youth voice and pave the road for future movements in Arizona.