Posts Tagged ‘ Erica Shekell ’
By Erica Shekell
The 1961 Freedom Rides serve as a model and inspiration for other social justice movements. The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement is one of these.
It was a few years ago when I first heard the phrase “gay is the new black.” It expresses the idea that both blacks and LGBT individuals have been discriminated against legally and socially and that some have been beaten or even killed because of their identity. It also expresses the idea that black people have more legal rights and greater social acceptance than LGBT people do at this time – that most of the goals of the civil rights movement have been achieved – and that LGBT rights are the “next frontier.” It implies that the LGBT community is the next marginalized social group that has yet to receive rights that other citizens enjoy, and whose civil rights will likely be addressed next.
While there are many parallels between both communities, I take the middle route. The statement “gay is the new black” is compelling, but I feel that it is neither accurate nor constructive.
Some individuals are offended by the phrase and object to this comparison; they argue that LGBT people have not had to endure deeply systemic discrimination. While there were “colored” and “white” drinking fountains, there have never been “gay” or “straight” drinking fountains. Segregation such as this was deeply ingrained into many aspects of law and everyday life – and most laws do not regulate the everyday lives of LGBT people in the same ways they regulated the lives of black individuals in the Jim Crow South.
Some individuals may argue that discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals is inconsequential compared to the incredible amount of violence endured by slaves and blacks living under Jim Crow. Some may counter that LGBT people would endure the same extreme violence if LGBT was a physical characteristic like skin color, and the absence of this is why they have not endured such violence en masse and only in isolated incidents. Other individuals may argue that while the black community faced violence, they at least had support and comfort from their families – something that many LGBT people lack.
As is apparent, the danger with the phrase “gay is the new black” is that it sets the two communities up for competition, each competing to be the “most” marginalized and therefore most legitimate. I believe that both are legitimate and that it is not necessary for them to compete.
Both groups strive for equality and the right to live freely. There are many other parallels between the Freedom Rides and the LGBT rights movement – many of the Freedom Riders did not tell their parents about their participation, and of those who did, many did not receive blessings from their parents and were even discouraged from participating. Fathers were angry. Mothers cried. This is often the reaction that parents have when their children come out as LGBT. Both groups are familiar with rejection and disappointment from parents.
Another parallel is that “allies,” as supporters of the LGBT community are called, are incredibly important to furthering social acceptance and legal rights of the community – just as white Freedom Riders were integral to the success of the movement. White riders such as Joan Mulholland and Jim Zwerg were respected and celebrated because they cared deeply enough about their country to do something about it and showed that civil rights weren’t just a “black” issue. They gave a face to the thousands of whites who supported the movement. Similarly, members of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) receive enthusiastic applause and cheers at LGBT events and marches. It is sometimes difficult for LGBT people to receive strong support, particularly from family members, so those parents, family and friends who are supportive are all the more appreciated.
The success of both movements hinges on the idea that equality and fairness are not values just for “them,” but for all of us – with that idea being represented by the faces of all people.
By Erica Shekell
As we approached Petersburg, Va., Freedom Rider Dion Diamond explained to us over the bus microphone that on our left was a new mall which had devastated the thriving downtown economy when the mall was built. It wasn’t until we saw the downtown that this meant anything to us.
The bus dropped us off across the street from the old Trailways station where the original Riders had stopped. Mr. Diamond led the group of us around the corner and down a long, sloping street. The street was lined with myriad small shops – wig shops, doll repair shops, ice cream and massage parlors, old department stores and a number of unique shops of very specific niches – and the majority of them were closed, boarded up, for sale or abandoned. Paint was peeling off the bricks.
We were almost the only ones walking on the sidewalks. Even the stores that seemed to still be surviving were closed at the time, perhaps because it was Sunday and Mother’s Day. Our group was so large that we overflowed off the sidewalk and halfway into the road – but it didn’t matter – we were in no one’s way because no one was there. Several of the students commented that this street was one of the eeriest places they’d ever seen.
It was hard to believe that something so apparently vibrant had been so completely devastated. We couldn’t wrap our heads around it. Peter made the comment, “I can’t get over how a city dies.”
We understood then what the mall had done to what looked like an amazing and vibrant local economy.
It was strange when a lone pedestrian or a single car passed us. There were about 50 of us – “probably the biggest number of people who have been on this road in 10 years,” someone commented – and we all had cameras and video cameras. Many of us were in nice clothes. I felt that we were very conspicuous – that we were tourists invading a solemn place that ought not to be invaded or trivialized through photographing it.
I wasn’t sure if we were looking at the town correctly through our numerous lenses. Some of us were photographing it for its aesthetic and photogenic qualities – looking at it with the eyes of an artist – and others seemed to be photographing it from a photojournalistic standpoint – photos meant to reveal the truth and change it. A few students were posing for photos on a bench near a small tree, and I wondered if they were looking at the scene from the eyes of a tourist – one who sees it as a spectacle and wants to show photos of themselves there just to impress their friends – but I wasn’t certain if this is what they thought.
I wondered if it was right to treat the dilapidated downtown as this place of exoticism and mystique – particularly when it was not some fantasy or a museum display, but a possibly inescapable reality for real people. It made me question the ethics of our photography along the Ride and photography of such things in general.
Petersburg was a very different experience in that we weren’t learning just about a historical problem that has been already solved, but an example of a problem that will be our job to solve.
EAST LANSING – When Erica Shekell steps aboard a bus with 39 other college students this week, she’ll be taking a step back in time.
Shekell, a Michigan State University journalism and media arts and technology junior from Howell, will retrace history as she takes a 10-day-long journey that follows the original path of the 1961 Freedom Riders. Read more…
Student Activist Relives 1961 Freedom Rides
PBS Selects MSU Junior for 50th Anniversary Tour
By Tara Cavanaugh
Erica Shekell is about to go on the ride of a lifetime.
The Michigan State University junior was selected among 1,000 applicants to take part in the PBS American Experience 2011 Freedom Ride. The ride celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides, during which a diverse group of men and women peacefully protested racism and segregation by riding together on busses through the Deep South. On their well-publicized journey, they faced violence, discrimination and even imprisonment. Their story is the subject of a PBS documentary, “Freedom Riders,” that will air on PBS’s American Experience program on May 16 at 9 p.m. Read more…
‘Freedom Riders’ Rolling into WKAR Tonight
By City Pulse Staff
Wednesday, May 4 — Fifty years ago today, the Freedom Riders boarded two buses and began their journey to challenge the segregation that still existed in the South. Tonight, WKAR-TV and Michigan State University’s College of Arts and Sciences presents a free screening of the “American Experience” documentary “Freedom Riders” at 7 p.m. in WKAR’s Studio A in the MSU Communication Arts and Sciences Building.
The film will be followed by a discussion with civil rights movement veteran William G. Anderson and a reception to honor MSU junior Erica Shekell, who will participate in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, which will retrace the original trip from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. Shekell plans to chronicle her trip through social media and video posts, beginning May 6. Read more…
Michigan State Student Relives 1961 Freedom Rides
by Kristen Parker
EAST LANSING, Mich. — A passionate believer in diversity and social justice, Michigan State University junior Erica Shekell will be the only college student from Michigan – one of two from the Big Ten – to participate in a 10-day journey through the South that retraces the original 1961 Freedom Rides. Read more…