Archive for the ‘ Rider posts ’ Category
By Esther Kim
Was it naïve to think things would have remained superficial on a trip like this? That we could have treaded water for ten days?
In a sleepy haze, on an early morning that has become part of an already blurred memory of this bus ride, I texted those questions to myself.
While my fellow riders spoke to “knowing history to understand our future” in their introduction videos, I shared my interest in what the group dynamic of the students would be while on this revisiting of history.
The lines drawn across identities and communities and the un/conscious reasons why we did or didn’t engage with one another revealed so much about the state of race, gender, class, sexuality, awareness, politics, civic engagement and activism within this generation.
At times I think we collectively recognized the depth and weight of what we were witnessing— in Rock Hill, in Anniston, in New Orleans. You couldn’t escape it if you had wanted to. But how do we connect what we learned about the original Freedom Riders to how we live now? The Freedom Riders worked to challenge the social segregation of the South, and yet the self-segregation on our bus went acknowledged and unaddressed. But is the answer to desegregate, especially in the case of self-segregation? Are these actions merely reflective of the need for community based on more than circumstance?
This experience has challenged my idea of community. It would have been naïve to assume that after ten days on a bus we would magically become a collective. Or maybe this is exactly what a community looks like. Maybe my fellow riders will vehemently disagree with my thoughts but that doesn’t change our shared experience. I reflect on the emotion behind the charged words of Jerome Smith, a leader from the New Orleans Freedom Rides group. His frustration came from his perception of how the New Orleans group was not adequately represented in the recent Freedom Rider recognition. The fact that this history of the Freedom Rides cannot be contained within a two-hour documentary, a 700-page book, or a ten-day bus ride reminds us that we cannot be satisfied with what we are given, and that the movement for truth and justice is never ending; whether or not we can do this as a community, only time will tell.
By Jason McGaughey
I have long felt trapped within the confines of my own mind, fearing that when I open my mouth and expose who I truly am, I will inevitably be rejected. Such anxiety has not been all bad for me though. I think that there is something about experiencing life as an observer that has helped me remove myself from my own lived experience to attempt to understand life from the vantage point of the theoretical “other.” This has given me the freedom to question the most deeply held of all of our national beliefs: that we live in a free and equal society. I can honestly say that I do not believe we truly do.
Would a truly free society have the world’s highest prison population that is based upon a racist justice system? Would a truly free society call a human being illegal for entering this nation to escape systemic problems created by this nation’s corporate interest? Would a truly free society cut the triumphs of workers’ struggle that our ancestors fought so hard for? Would a truly free society push neoliberal trade policies that exploit working people around the world? Would a truly free society continue to ostracize people simply because of their sexual orientation? Would a truly free society continue to waste the world’s natural resources to perpetuate a lifestyle that is killing the planet? Would a truly free society continue to cut funding for the education of our nation’s youth? Would a truly free society continue to pursue an imperial foreign policy that is killing countless people around the world, and to be so inhumane to not even acknowledge how it is based upon hysteria about other religions and cultures? Would a truly free society be able to continue to perpetuate such inequalities, and have the audacity to not even acknowledge how they are based on racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and homophobia?
The narrative we tell ourselves is built upon illusions. Meaning that we are all too often taught our history through a lens of historical amnesia. We do not recount the whole story of the horror of our past, nor do we remember the full story of how people have come together to collectively fight against oppressive systems throughout that same history. The truth of our history is a duality. By not knowing our past nor recognizing our present, we perpetuate a system that creates and solidifies structural violence and institutionalized racism.
This trip has re-cemented my commitment to the movement. It is all too easy for me to stay quiet, to not speak truth to power, to not plead with others to come to recognize the way in which oppression is built into the very structural fabric of our society. This journey has been an intellectual, spiritual and relational rebirth for me. To learn about the struggles of the past from civil rights heroes in such an intimate manner has been beyond inspirational. Then to have this intimacy coupled and magnified by sharing it with other young activists brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions. The conversations that I have had with my peers, where we learn and share so deeply with each other our lived experiences of struggle has been nothing short of the foundations of revolutionary theory. We are creating within one another a revolution of values. We are coming to see our unity and how it is through this weapon of togetherness that we will be able to fight back against such a large and terrifying macro system of exploitation. The system is simply too big and too powerful to take on by ourselves. Though, through the higher power of solidarity we can come together as the masses to be able to truly create a nation for, of, and by the people. Only then is there any real hope that we can create a truly free and equal society not built upon systems of exploitation. We must dream big and not loose hope. Without hope we are lost. This trip has helped me regain my sense of hope, and I am grateful for that. Long live the civil rights revolution and the hope that it teaches us all.
By Stephanie Burton
On May 6, I began a journey of self exploration. In ten short days (that’s the power of this trip), I learned to soak up information, to dissect it in agonizing detail and to formulate new ideas, new questions. I’ve asked “how” and “why” several times along the way, becoming so thirsty for knowledge that I HAD to grab a notepad to keep it all together. Back, forth, up, down; the pen would not stop moving! One notepad led to two notepads, and so on and so on.
Now that the trip is over, I’m left with four notepads and a powerful assignment: to find the answers to my scribbling.
Each question stemmed from a conversation that I had with the people who were taking the journey with me—39 other students, members of the press, and the original Freedom Riders. I’m truly thankful for such an eye-opening experience. Thank you to everyone who uttered a word my way; you have left an imprint in my mental psyche forever.
Listed below are my top 11 questions:
1. Why do we give others the privilege of interpreting the bible for us? If we took each phrase in the bible literally, would we all be dead? Are there people out there who live out the principles of the bible word for word?
2. Bless the child that has its own. Why don’t I have an entrepreneurial spirit?
3. Why is yesterday the 1st time that I’ve had a deep, spiritual connection with a person outside of my race?
4. Someone said that the “Save the Children” commercials exploit kids because they find the most poverty-stricken kid to talk on camera, which causes the viewer to make generalizations about the entire impoverished group. But if even ONE kid is living so poorly, isn’t it still important?
5. Does PR have a place in advocacy work? If so, what is the limit?
6. Do introverted people ever make a notable contribution to society… famous introverts?
7. Why does it feel so good to tell your story? And if it’s simply about telling your story, why do we get mad when the paper doesn’t print all of our quotes or everything we said?
8. Am I supporting segregation by going to an HBCU (Historically Black College)? But what is the alternative? What college has diversity all across the board—gender, race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc?
9. Why didn’t the International Civil Rights Museum have an exhibit on American Indians’ struggle in the U.S.?
10. Do I have conflicting narratives?
11. When is it okay to label an event a “celebration?” Can we truly “celebrate” a painful event, even if it is 50 years later (the bombing of the bus in Anniston, Alabama)?
By Collis Crews
As we travel towards New Orleans, the intended final destination of original Freedom Riders, I realize that there is still a journey that we must continue. That journey is the struggle to eliminate the racial and social injustice that still persists today. Firsthand exposure to the living historians who traveled with us and visits to many of the key civil rights museums and churches across the South broadened my understanding of all that was sacrificed, and touched my heart in ways I never thought possible. I shed many tears along the way.
The Freedom Riders played a key role in the civil rights movement. If not for these brave men and women, African Americans and other minorities would still be living in segregated societies, suffering the adverse effects of racial oppression. It is troubling to see that, in spite of all the post-segregation gains made by civil rights activists such as the Freedom Riders, many young African Americans have either forgotten or are ignorant of their efforts. This is often demonstrated within our community by the lack of motivation to seek higher education, and failure to exercise civic responsibility due to voter apathy.
Today’s African American youth feel that we do not have anything to fight for, but they are wrong. Spending ten days traveling through history and being exposed to both past and current civil and human rights issues left me certain that there is still much work to do. Unlike our predecessors, we have the advantage of reaching out to millions through use of modern technology. We must act! In some ways our job will be harder because racism and discrimination is more disguised than it was fifty years ago. However, through education, acceptance, and understanding, we can continue the efforts of the Freedom Riders and other civil rights groups who paved the way for our generation. As the new generation, it is our mission to continue the fight and I look forward to applying all that I’ve learned to help bring a positive change to the world.
By Michellay Cole
As this wonderful journey concludes, I want to reflect by answering the question, “So what will you do next?” I felt inspired to write this poetic piece after listening to some of the original Freedom Riders speak with high school students in Mississippi.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will dedicate my life to the struggle for civil rights.
From this day forth, I will lead others as I follow God. I will forgive those who threaten the movement towards civil rights for all individuals because I know that my enemy is not any being but that instead, my enemy is any institution that disregards the sanctity of human life.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will dedicate my time and energy to telling the stories of those that often go untold. From this day forth, I will not allow laziness, complacency, or mediocrity to dominate my life. I will use my talents to spark change and make a difference in my life and the lives of others because I know that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will dedicate my voice to spreading knowledge to those who are deprived of education. From this day forth, I will be the change I would like to see in the world. I will not criticize corrupt or ineffective institutions without offering a better solution because I know that faith without work is dead.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will aim to motivate others to also dedicate their lives to the struggle for civil rights. From this day forth, I will not pull up the ladder of success and close the door of opportunities once I accomplish my goals. I will instead lower the ladder and leave the door wide open for the next generation so that they too can accomplish their goals.
By Francisco Diaz
As this journey comes to a close, I reflect on the last ten days on the road. I have learned much from the people I have met, not only from the Freedom Riders and other civil rights veterans, but the other students on the bus and the myriad viewpoints and causes we all keep close to our hearts.
Much of our trip has been spent mulling over how different our struggle is compared to back in the ‘60s. The Klan has traded in robes for suits, and night riding for aggressive lobbying. The challenges and adversaries we face are more superfluous, ambiguous, and globalized, they are not as obvious and the challenge seems daunting. Fortunately, the approaches people are taking to take on these problems are diverse, even if they sometimes seem disparate.
On this bus we have people passionate about education inequality, environmental justice, immigrant rights (or as I call it, the right to migrate and the right to stay home), the prison system and so on. Some of us are amazing orators, some can sing, some write, some make films. But we all have passion. We all look to tackle the world’s problems in a different way.
The level of discourse and debate on this bus is of the highest level I have experienced anywhere to date. It gets to the point that someone like myself, who has always considered himself a fierce intellectual, has gotten almost weary of talking politics! From the days of conversation, I can only think of one phrase to bring it together: “Many roads, one journey.”
We all have a place in the world, a role to play in the “Grand Act” that is the human experience. Shakespeare once said, “all the world’s a stage, the men and women are merely players.” We all have a crucial role to play in the upcoming act. I can see some people on this bus holding political office. Some might go into law, or become great educators, or incredible labor organizers. Some will undoubtedly reach high accolades or widespread recognition. But as we have learned on this trip, the struggle for freedom has countless nameless, unsung heroes. For each Martin there is a James Farmer or Bayard Rustin. For each Rosa Parks, an Irene Morgan. No matter how, we will all contribute an essential part of ourselves to the ongoing struggle for the Beloved Community.
By Marshall Houston
I don’t have an “issue.” I don’t have any specific cause that dominates my thinking. I’ve struggled during this experience to be an “activist” because I’m not one—or at least not an “Activist” with a capital “A.”
I’ll probably never be an expert on any topic, but I believe that I can play a role—a unique role—in developing a deep commitment to human dignity and the empowerment of all people in society.
At best, I am a connector and sharer of ideas, knowledge, and strategies; at worst, I’m someone who loves people and good stories. I’ve embraced this role during my time as an undergraduate, and it has helped me on this ride.
Now that I’ve been on the bus for nearly ten days, I realize more than ever that it will take a comprehensive and unified effort of individuals working for the same general cause—the dignity and rights of all people—to move closer to the Beloved Community.
I understand that the path to the Beloved Community is a journey similar to a climber struggling up a mountain, step by step, with a fog clouding the line of sight up to the mountaintop. The climber can’t see the destination but, by looking back, sees that the view has never been better or as high.
All we can do is work together to continue taking forward step after forward step, no matter how small or difficult.
Though I lack an “issue,” three principles frame the way in which I look at the world, and by extension, the steps that I take.
1. I believe collaboration is innovation.
Innovation in this sense focuses on ideas coming from the collaborative efforts of a cognitively diverse group. By creating a space for free discourse that is rooted in dignity and equality, unexpected ideas emerge and lead to innovation.
2. I believe in the power of the human possible.
This means that each and every person has the ability to positively and uniquely contribute in society, and once individuals are enabled and ennobled to discover and utilize these talents, the possibilities are endless.
3. I believe we need community problem-solving in a spirit of creative entrepreneurship.
Community problem-solving stresses the impact that a group of individuals can have on society using resourcefulness, perseverance, and dedication. Creativity is not confined to the arts, and entrepreneurship is more than just for-profit businesses. Combined together in this spirit, people will approach problems with a belief that they can create something—anything—that improves society.
These three principles are my “issues” in life, and I am confident that the Beloved Community will emerge from a commitment to these ideals.
By LeRoy Ford
Today we visited the city of Selma, Alabama. For me, the drive into Selma was a little depressing because everything looked so run-down and tattered. As we were driving in, I wondered why this area was so neglected. These thoughts continued to bring me down because I felt like something needed to be done. Then I began to think about the history of the city and all of the fighting that took place there to win us the rights we have today. Thinking about this put things into perspective as to why it looked the way it did. Selma may be a poor city, but it is rich with history to be shared.
When we first arrived in Selma, we drove over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to enter into the city. Driving over this historical bridge gave me a feeling that is almost impossible to explain. I couldn’t help but think back to the brutality that happened on that bridge in 1965. However, the bridge wasn’t our first stop. We went to the historic Brown Chapel A.M.E Church. Sitting in the pews, I tried to envision myself sitting in those same pews fifty years ago, participating in the march for voting rights. Being in the building in which so much history took place made me feel blessed and very thankful for those who fought so hard for me to have the freedoms I have today.
After our visit to the church, we returned to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but this time we walked over it, just as they did in the 1965 march for voting rights. We exited the bus and walked over, two-by-two and silently. Silence has never had so much power as it did in that moment. As we walked, I thought back to the courageous people walking in 1965. I thought about the fear that I’m sure they had inside of them, knowing what was waiting on the other side. I began to smile to myself, knowing that because of those brave souls, I could now walk this bridge and be assured that brutality wouldn’t be waiting for me on the other side. As we reached the other end of the bridge where they were met with brutality in 1965, I felt like I could rejoice. I realized that I just took the most meaningful walk in my life and that I will never forget. I took a walk through history.