By Charles Reed Jr.
Today was the day that the PBS 2011 Student Freedom Rides bus visited Birmingham, Alabama. While in Birmingham, our first stop was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. This museum highlighted the struggles of the civil rights movement with its exquisite exhibits. Hearing the audio to some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches empowered me to remain active in the fight for social justice. The longer I remain a part of this wonderful, unique, and educational experience, I know that we must all somehow become involved in helping others realize their power as young leaders of today.
Following our visit to the Civil Rights Institute, the bus went to 16th Street Baptist Church where four young, innocent girls were killed when the church was bombed in 1963. In reflecting on the bombing, it is difficult to grasp the reality of how cruel the segregationists were during that turbulent time in American history. They seemed to have no regard for human life, especially for African Americans. For some reason, they were fearful of change and were willing to use violence to cope with this fear.
During the day, we also had the opportunity to listen to Catherine Burks-Brooks, an original 1961 Freedom Rider, as she discussed her involvement in the civil rights movement. Her stories of the experiences she had during the movement were sincere yet filled with humor. She had this aura that captivated us as an audience. Her enthusiasm about empowering today’s youth was the highlight of her presentation.
Before my visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church, I didn’t know whether or not I would get emotional during this experience. This evening when we revisited the church for a gospel choir concert, I had my answer. As I sang along with the choir, the words of choir made me a bit teary eyed. These Freedom Riders sacrificed so much for me so that I would have the opportunities that I have today. I also thought about my grandmother who grew up during the civil rights movement and how she only wanted the best for me in life. I know she would be proud to see how far I have come and I wish she were here to see it. As we continue on this ride, I will always remember to appreciate those who have come before me and keep their legacy alive.