Posts Tagged ‘ Esther Kim ’
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 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.
Utah’s KUED profiles Esther Kim at the Salt Lake International Airport before leaving for the 2011 American Experience Student Freedom Ride. ”I think for me, there’s a really big personal piece, of trying to figure out where I fit into this whole conversation about civil rights and social justice.” Watch the video
SALT LAKE CITY — They came to be known as Freedom Riders.
In a little-known chapter of the country’s civil rights movement, nonviolent activists boarded buses bound for New Orleans with a single objective: challenge the era’s segregation of bus travel. Over a six-month period in 1961, the volunteers endured mob violence, with local police often refusing to intervene, and imprisonment rather than forsake their ideals.
To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of this movement and promote a PBS documentary on the topic, 40 college students — including a University of Utah student — will be given the unique opportunity to travel along the civil rights bus route and document their experience. Read more…