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Posts Tagged ‘ Diane Nash ’

Day 2: The Journey through Virginia – A Day to Remember

Monday, May 9th, 2011

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.

Day 2: I Love You, Too

Monday, May 9th, 2011

“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,
Karl Kumodzi

Day 2: Contributing to Your Own Oppression

Monday, May 9th, 2011

By Tania Smith

Yesterday, Freedom Rider Diane Nash gave a lecture about the basics of non-violent resistance. Nash brought up an interesting point. She said that in order to for a non-violent movement to be effective it is important to determine how the oppressed are actually contributing to their own oppression. Nash noted that every time she entered a segregated room with the sign “colored only” she felt as if she were validating the fact that she was inferior. As I listened to her words, this is what I learned. Oppressed people cannot be oppressed without their own consent.

Today as we celebrated the legacy of the Freedom Riders at Mary Washington University in Virginia and the accomplishments of James Farmer, the leader of C.O.R.E, I realized the magnitude of what the Freedom Riders had done. Fifty years ago, young college students decided to get on the bus and put an end to their oppression. They confronted the institutional injustices of the Jim Crow South and declared that they would no longer be treated as less than human. The Freedom Riders decided that they would no longer accept or validate unjust laws.

Later today when we visited Farmville, the theme was the same. In 1959, a group of brave high school students residing there protested against their poor school conditions and demanded an educational standard equal to their white counterparts. In response, Farmville decided to shut down its public schools for five years rather than desegregate. It was amazing to see that young activists took a stand and refused to contribute to the injustice that oppressed them.

These lessons can be applied today. As Americans we must ask ourselves, “How are we contributing to our own oppression?” We are by no means facing the same issues that the Freedom Riders faced 50 years ago, but this country still has much progress to make. Public education reform, healthcare reform, and immigration reform are among the plethora of other issues that need to be worked on in this nation. Instead of contributing to our own discontent, we need to be become actively engaged and informed citizens. Voting is effective but not enough, we cannot be afraid to take the “role of change” into our own hands and make a difference.

Day 1: Racism is Still Alive

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

By Doaa Dorgham

Fifty years ago the pivotal Freedom Ride movement began. The idea was simple: use nonviolence in order to eradicate the injustice of segregation by integrating public facilities such as public transportation. Yet as I embark on this journey, fifty years later, it is evident that racism is still alive and thriving in the United States.

I am a Muslim American and as such, flying in and out of airports is not always pleasant. As I entered the airport, with my suitcase and optimism, I instantly became aware of the stares and once again was subjected to yet another “random search.”  After a thorough pat down, I made it through security and made my way to the gate.

As I began to take out Ray Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders, my attention was drawn to a woman wearing in a brightly colored dress, drenched in a flowery design. However, the situation was nowhere near flowery. She looked me straight in eye, with a look that could shake anyone to their core. My eyes remained persistent, locked with hers, in this glare of disapproval.  I then looked at the woman and smiled.  Suddenly I noticed the brief moment of shock in her eyes; her eyes then readjusted to the same of look of repugnance she exhibited earlier.

The irony of the situation is incredibly profound. Here I am about to partake in a journey that is celebrating the effectiveness of the Freedom Rides, yet I am in an airport facing animosity and discrimination. However, like the original Freedom Riders, I refuse to let these situations ruin my ideals and faith in social justice.

Today’s first lecture was from the famous activist Diane Nash. She eloquently articulated how citizens have an obligation to be actively engaged civically, and not merely vote every two years. She stated, “We loved you, even though we didn’t know you.”  She then made it apparent that future generations will look at us, and ask what we have done for them.

Another point Nash made that clearly stuck out to me was the fact that you cannot change someone’s ideas, but you can change yourself. I believe the aforementioned statement is essential to any progressive movement. Although I cannot change people’s opinion of me as a Muslim American, I can refuse to become upset when faced with adversity, and use that power to become more proactive.

I sincerely believe that when one is faced with tremendous opportunity, it is selfish to not share such prized jewels with the rest of society. And as such, everything I learn on this incredible journey I will incorporate with “Wake Up! It’s Serious Campaign For Change” on my campus. The focus of the movement is to spur dialogue and initiate cohesion within the university as whole, addressing adversities of race, religion, and sexual orientation on campus and stopping intolerance in its tracks.

Day 1: A New Spark

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

By William Dale

A spark. That’s all it takes. It takes a spark to start a bus, ignite a movement, to produce change. In the blazing summer of 1961, the Freedom Riders started that ignition, becoming a vehicle that drove the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to audiences across the world. Their mission: to fight segregation in inter-state travel in the deepest, darkest parts of the Deep South.

The Freedom Riders were extraordinary, ordinary people that faced extreme adversity and hardship. Over the past two days in D.C., I have met so many of these brave and heroic people. One rider, in particular, has been my hero ever since I learned of the Freedom Riders’ struggle. Her name is Diane Nash.

In our conversation with Nash, she explained Gandhi’s principles of non-violence.  “Truth, love, and self-suffering…” she explained. “These principles were the basis of the Freedom Rides.” The journey towards truth is essential in the fight for freedom and justice, Nash said, and the search for truth influenced every decision she made during the summer of 1961. Nash’s second principle of love lays out the core of the non-violent movement. She loved her fellow riders, and she cared for their white, southern attackers.  Nash cared for them so much that she wanted them to right their wrongs and carry out peace.

But it is the final principle of self-suffering that stuck out to me the most. The Freedom Riders were attacked by mobs, and their buses were firebombed. They risked their lives and signed their last will and testaments before “getting on the bus.” News of the treacherous rides traveled across the world, shining a spotlight onto the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Their dedication to the cause, however, makes me wonder if my generation has this same passion and commitment. I have never seen my peers physically fighting off their oppressors. I have never run for my life off of a burning bus, and I am not risking my life by posting my opinion on this blog. Things have changed.

Fifty years after the original Rides, the state of social activism and civic engagement has evolved, primarily through the social media boom. Engagement and social media are two streams that constantly intersect. You can connect to millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. The traditional activist is now fighting for change and justice on the web. Two questions, however, still bother me: “How will this change in activism affect the basic principles of truth, love, and self-suffering? Would our generation be able to ‘get on the bus?” These are the questions I hope to find answers to on the Student Freedom Ride, and in these answers, I hope to find my inspiration to ignite a new “spark.”

Day 1: Alicia Skeeter

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Day 1: Words, Storycraft and Civic Revival

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

By Peter Davis

On the first official day of our Student Freedom Ride, my fellow 39 riders and I heard three talks at the Newseum.  In the morning, it was an honor to hear Diane Nash — the legendary leader of the second wave of Freedom Riders — discuss why she participated in the Civil Rights Movement and challenge us to participate in non-violent direct action of our own.  In the afternoon, we listened to Stanley Nelson — award-winning director of the Freedom Riders documentary that inspired our trip — describe how to bring history to life through engaging filmmaking.  To end the day, we heard Jalaya Liles Dunn challenge us to find the stories that will be the ingredients of our generation’s movement: our story of self, our story of us, and our story of now.

What struck me about the three talks is that all touched on the poetic side of movements: the importance of words, of narratives, of stories in building energy to sustain a collective effort.  Nash started her talk with an insightful analogy. “When scientific inventions arise, we need new words to describe them,” she explained, citing how electricity made the words ‘volts’ and ‘charge’ arise.  “Likewise,” she continued, “when social inventions take pace, we need words to express them.”  She then went on to describe how the Civil Rights Movement needed a new word to describe the power that the movement’s fighters used to wage war on segregation.  They chose “Agapic Energy”— a phrase deriving from the agape, the Greek word for ‘brotherly love.’  Indeed, Civil Rights movers and shakers did not only use sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and marches as tools of change— they used language, too!

Later in the day, Stanley Nelson discussed how a good narrative makes a good documentary film, reminding us that you need to make viewers latch on to the stories, characters, and emotions of a piece of media if you want them to care about it.  Appropriately, Jalaya Liles Dunn echoed this emphasis on narrative in her talk about how organizing begins with engaging stories— the stories of why the individuals involved in a cause became involved, the stories of the group’s shared values, and the stories of why their cause is urgent.  As I reflected on these calls to new words, to engaging narratives, and to unifying stories with my fellow Student Riders late into the evening, it hit me: the movements of the future cannot survive solely on organizers…they might just need poets as well!

Day 1: The Story of “Now”

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

By Samantha Williams

The day before the original Freedom Riders departed Washington D.C. for the first ride in 1961, they came together in what was half-jokingly referred to as the “last supper.” They settled on Chinese food — unfamiliar cuisine to a then 19-year-old John Lewis.  I say “half-jokingly” because, though they hoped for the best, they knew that the consequences of their impending ride could potentially lead to death. Their lives were on the line, and they had spent months preparing for this nonviolent movement to eradicate segregation in the South.

Tonight, as I sat amongst my fellow student riders and Ray Arsenault (the author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice) eating Chinese food just as the Freedom Riders had done, I began to understand the weight of the situation. The journey that began 50 years ago at a Greyhound bus station in D.C. will continue tomorrow from the very same place.

Earlier this afternoon, Jalaya Liles Dunn from the Children’s Defense Fund gave an incredible presentation about “charting the next route for freedom and justice.” As she outlined the ways in which we can improve our communities, she emphasized the importance of understanding ourselves, engaging others who share a common thread, and creating “the story of now.”

The Freedom Riders “had a story of self and built themselves into a story of we,” she said.

“They created the story of ‘now,’” added Peter Davis, a student rider from Cambridge, Mass.  On May 17 when the bus is emptied and we go our separate ways, we cannot forget the importance of writing our own story of ‘now.’ As individuals we are weak, but together there is no stopping us.

It cannot be done alone and it certainly can’t be done with just 40 students. It will take an entire movement of young people to become civically engaged and respond to the pressing issues facing our generation. Whether it is racism or other forms of intolerance, education or foreign policy — there are a number of issues that directly affect each of our lives and they will not be corrected if we continue sitting by, apathetically waiting for someone else to fix the problem.

Diane Nash eloquently said, “You have no control until you exert control.” She’s right — our voices will not be heard until we turn up the volume.

Day 1: Agapic Energy

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

By Lily Astiz

The power of love she says! The power of love, Amen!  She says it’s the love for mankind, the unique energy that that love creates in all of us that gives us the strength to demand change.  Agapic Energy, that’s what Diane Nash says, the student organizer from Nashville who was essential to making the Freedom Rides possible.  I feel that love.  It’s the love at the base of humanity, the love that moves through all of us like a breathing current.  It’s a current that once tapped, will sweep you off your feet and out of the illusions of segregation, isolation, and powerlessness that bind your understanding of yourself, the world and your relationship to it.  It’s a feeling, something powerful yet unseen.  This love is dangerous to oppression, hate, dishonesty, and helplessness because it expands not only your hearts, but also how you understand that nature of your own narrative.  What’s your story?  Who defines you? Who draws the limits to what you can do?  Are these limits real?  How much of what you believe do you assume from the language and images that are presented to you by society?  It feels like a movement is stirring, much like what Nietzsche explains as an “awakening.”  Humanity is beginning to see the hidden constructs and infrastructure that create the myths that rule our thoughts– the idea that we are out of control of our own destiny.

I am not saying this awakening will happen overnight.  The ingrained habits of the mind as well as pressures to conform, mistrust, and live within a “defined” world all make it difficult to break free from the chains of oppression, the chains we create inside of us that limit ourselves and our minds.  Yet, I know who I am.  I am a human being and I will not live in illusion.  I am a human being, and with that knowledge I know I am connected to every other human being throughout the world by a common thread.  It is my humanness that connects me to this planet and to those who inhabit it.  It is our humanness that we have forgotten. And if we are to survive the challenges that face us in the years to come, it is our humanness that we must liberate and awaken in all.