Posts Tagged ‘ Day 2 ’
By Jason McGaughey
This whole journey is only just emerging, but already my life has forever changed. Before I left for this trip I was warned not to let it radicalize me. The notion of such an idea I found rather insulting. Why should I fear the becoming of the self that I dream of being? Why should I fear the development of a community of struggle, even if our community only lasts for a short while? This is the sort of community that I have longed for— a community where I know that I can be free, a community of liberation.
I am simply not a man with eloquent enough words to truly describe what all of this has meant to me— to have the opportunity to learn firsthand from the Freedom Riders, a true community of liberation; to hear their testimony of the depth of brutality that they were up against, and their triumph through it all with the courage of nonviolence. It would be too easy for me to say that I would have gotten on the bus in ’61. It would be all too easy for me to say that I would have had the strength to confront such oppression with nonviolence. But the reality is that words are simply all too easy to say. To truly live out ones convictions has never been that easy. So all that I can say with any sense of honesty, any sense of integrity, is that if I were among the Freedom Riders in ’61 then I wish that I were the sort of human being that could muster that kind of courage, that kind of faith to have overcome my own fears and gotten on the bus. I can only hope that I would have had it within me, I will never know for sure.
Though I will never know if I would have had the strength to have gotten on the bus for the original Freedom Rides in ’61 I do know that I have had the courage to have gotten on the bus with the 2011 Student Freedom Riders. Admittedly we are not facing any oppression by taking this journey, but we are still a community of struggle. We are young people seeking to follow in the legacy of the Freedom Riders; we are seeking to acknowledge and confront the ways in which injustice and structural violence still plague our communities, our nation, and our world. We have each accepted the call in our own ways to fight for justice to aspire towards full liberation. This journey has only just begun, but already I have had so many beautiful conversations engaging fellow activists in dialogue about what wrongs must still be righted. We have the opportunity to learn and grow, to develop our own sense of the Beloved Community, to become filled with the Agapic Energy that Diane Nash talked to us about, and to become filled with that call to action that comes from the energy of love for humanity. I am forever grateful for this experience. I am forever grateful for this chance to become, this chance to transform, this chance to know that I have a place within the community of Liberation.
By Charles Reed Jr.
To begin our trip through the Deep South, the 2011 Student Freedom Ride embarked on a journey to Fredericksburg, Virginia—the first stop of the original 1961 Freedom Riders. As the bus was driving down Route 1, the exact path the original Riders took, it truly hit me about how much courage the Freedom Riders had. I experienced indescribable, overwhelming feelings when I thought about what it must have been like to travel that same route 50 years ago. It is unimaginable the thoughts that must have been running through their minds. The tenacity and motivation of the Freedom Riders is something that I greatly admire.
Not only was this part of the Ride significant because it marked my first journey through the Deep South, but it was also the first time I would revisit my alma mater of just one day (I was officially a graduate of the University of Mary Washington as of May 7). It was an unforgettable experience for me to receive my diploma today in front of my family, friends, and 39 of my new friends on this Ride.
UMW has played an important role in my life, but it was also an aspect of the Freedom Rides being that it was James Farmer’s home for 13 years where he taught as a Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies. The lessons I learned about Farmer regarding the way he used the philosophy of nonviolence to galvanize an army of nonviolent activists that fought against the Jim Crow laws of the South is knowledge that I deeply appreciate.
This brings me back to the first day of our 2011 Student Freedom Ride in which we had the opportunity to learn from a true American heroine, Diane Nash. Just like many of the original Freedom Riders I have met, she encouraged us in our workshop to pursue our dreams, discover our passions, and stand up for what we believe in.
These beginning moments of this historic journey have me feeling an enormous sense of honor. As an advocate for social justice and civil rights, I understand that my job of educating people about social issues such as the Freedom Rides is not over with, but instead it has just begun. It is my duty to encourage and help people become more socially aware. I have the power to affect many lives, and I want to assure myself that I do just that.
By Esther Kim
I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately.
I’ve been thinking about how heroes are brave in the face of adversity. How heroes make us feel safe. How heroes inspire us to think, act and see differently. How heroes make us want to be better people. But heroes are complex, flawed people, just like the rest of us. I would argue that the best superheroes are the ones with the most complicated histories. And the heroes we love the most are the ones we see ourselves reflected in. So why is it—for all the change we fight for, dream of, want to see in the future—that we we work so hard to keep the ideas of our heroes static, unchanging, frozen in time?
On this trip, I witnessed a hero show their humanity by sharing a controversial but honest opinion about immigration in the U.S. As I talked to my fellow riders in hopes of processing, I heard many different responses, ranging from disappointment and frustration to apathy and excuses. I kept hearing that it was the age of the person that formed their opinion, as if age and ideology are mutually exclusive. This is a dangerous excuse because it assumes that ideas and opinions can be controlled and that we can control how we’re affected by them. In fact, ideas do the exact opposite – they’re able to seep into our minds and are impossible to remove.
It’s a mixture of things that keep us from seeing our heroes as everyday people working in collectives to make change. Living in a world that can sometimes seem so ugly and hopeless and the ease with which violence, hatred and fear are used to oppress and maintain power is hard. The romanticized image of a hero helps us deal with the hard parts. But it also takes away that person’s ability to be flawed and our ability to separate the great work accomplished from the troubling beliefs that we need to be critical of.
Just because you admire someone doesn’t mean you must accept everything they say as truth. We as activists need to know the history of the Freedom Rides because the unheard alternative narratives empower us. But we also need to seek out and understand the experiences of other minoritized communities and movements. The world we live in isn’t just about us as people in the United States but as global citizens with a responsibility to see that our struggles aren’t our own, but all of ours.
By Benjameen Quarless
While I was walking at night in Washington, D.C., it upset me that so much poverty can exist in the epicenter of American justice and equality. I live in the east side of Tacoma, which has a reputation for vagrants but it could not compare to the situation in D.C. On almost every corner and crevice there was an African American asleep among felt blankets and newspapers. Furthermore, all of this is going on within sight of the White House and other buildings that embody life, liberty and happiness.
After exiting a restaurant, I saw a person in need and offered them some of the change from my dinner. It was not much, but I thought the few dollars could help this person out. It struck me when this African American woman, sitting on a stack of old newspapers, in a nook between two buildings, said something simple yet profound to me. She looked me right in my eye and with a proud and confident voice said, “I need help but not from you, no thank-you.” Although her living situation could obviously be improved, she was not willing to accept my gesture of kindness.
To me, this shows that the American dream has failed a segment of our society. On one hand, I admire this woman for her resolve to fend for herself in a society that has pushed her to the margins. However, my heart bleeds for her because she is forced to choose between improving her circumstances and keeping her personal dignity intact.
My first night in Washington, D.C. was a sobering experience; sobering in the sense that I learned a truth that was difficult to process, but also in the sense that I have come to see reality with a less clouded lens. Television and media paint a picture of the world that does not include everyone’s narrative, like the women who slept among molding newspapers. I felt like it is our responsibility as her fellow neighbors and citizens to include her story in the American narrative.
The American experience is not an ideal. There are people who live on the margins of society who are not in the thoughts of the collective American experience. Hopefully, this journey with the Freedom Riders will highlight the untold and hidden story of the 1961 Freedom Ride and broader struggle for civil rights, but more then that I hope that discourse can breathe equality into the shadowy and newspaper filled building nooks all across America.
By Samantha Williams
Walking off the bus to a roaring round of applause at Mary Washington University (UMW) today, I almost instantly understood the importance of community. As we approached the welcoming crowd we were greeted with smiles, kind words of encouragement and a genuine sense of joy that we were continuing the legacy of the Freedom Riders.
UMW has spent months preparing for the Student Freedom Ride, creating an exhibition, holding on campus events about the rides and heavily promoting Charles Reed, Jr. — a graduate of UMW as of today. The administration, faculty and student body made a concerted effort to promote both the work of the original riders and the next generation of student activists. They made myself and the other students feel like we were representing something bigger than ourselves.
As a young person attending college in a relatively small community (or at least what feels like a small town atmosphere), I have found that the same support I witnessed today at UMW is sometimes lacking in my own environment. That is not to say that civic engagement in not encouraged at my campus, but I do feel that there is always more that can be done. The Civil Rights Movement, African American history, and the significance of the Freedom Riders are topics that should serve as constant reminders of this country’s long struggle for equality.
Although institutionalized segregation ended many years ago, more subtle forms of segregation and discrimination still exist — a sentiment expressed by many original Riders on our trip. In Arkansas, there is a clear divide between black and white neighborhoods and schools as a direct result of years of social inequality. In most cases I don’t think it is intentional segregation, but rather acceptance of the status quo. However, I strongly believe that in order to transform our culture and create a more balanced economic system, we need to acknowledge as a community that we will no longer accept a way of life just because that’s the way it’s always been.
Sometimes all it takes to trigger action is a call to action. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the many issues going on in America and throughout the world, and when you feel alone in your desire to implement changes in your own community it makes it that much more difficult to feel empowered and initiate change. But when people come together to vocalize their needs and wants, and older generations show young people that they believe we really can do great things, the dynamic will slowly shift from apathy to activism.
“Why did you do it?”
“For those that were unborn. For you. Because even though you weren’t born yet, we loved you and we wanted a better world for you.”
Diane Nash spoke these words to us on our first day at the Newseum in Washington, DC. We had just finished watching the beautiful documentary Freedom Riders by Stanley Nelson, and we were now listening to a panel discussion on the movie and the emotions behind the Rides. When Nash said that she was part of the movement because of love, my heart skipped a beat.
Regardless of one’s faith or beliefs, Jesus the historical figure was a man who strived for social justice. He was the ultimate revolutionary. In reaching out to the marginalized and rebuking the oppressors, he exemplified what it means to truly love other human beings and to respect the dignity of the human person. I strive to follow in this example of love, and it motivates much of my outlook and the social change that I seek. In my introductory video, I said that I thought love was what was behind the civil rights movement. In my opinion, when people approach service and social change with the right intentions, love is always behind it – whether one is conscious of it or not.
What else would sustain someone taking a beating in hope that it will change the status quo for someone else they’ve never met? It doesn’t matter what God you believe in or don’t believe in – there were Freedom Riders of all religious and non-religious backgrounds. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is – there were lots of white Freedom Riders as well. And as Diane Nash proves, it doesn’t matter whether or not you will live to see the person you’re impacting. All that matters is that you share a common humanity, and the innate ability to have compassion can drive you to develop an eye for and a love of that common humanity.
So often today, I see people separating themselves and building walls because they perceive others to be different. We see it in our airports during the “random” security checks, we see it in Arizona with the dehumanization of people born a couple miles across an artificial border, and we see it on the news and in our communities when people celebrate the death of a human being. It’s hard to remember, but we need to try and remind ourselves that we share a common humanity. We need to strive to follow the examples of people who love fiercely and indiscriminately – people like the Freedom Riders and Diane Nash. Or if you can identify, people like Jesus.
Thanks for reading,