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Posts Tagged ‘ North Carolina ’

Day 3: One Step Away

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Stephanie Burton

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the urge to cry, yet here I am with that undeniable and highly embarrassing tickle in my throat. We–40 excited college students, certain members of the press and yes, those original, fearless Freedom Riders–are on our way to Greensboro, N.C., a historic stop on our ten-day journey, and a single loan tear is fighting to make its way south toward my cheek, mimicking the route of the rolling bus. The culprit? Meghna Candra, 19, a University of Pennsylvania student and my bus partner for this 2-hour trip to N.C. Born in India, Meghna came to the U.S. with her parents at the tender age of two. She enjoys bike rides, sampling Philly’s “culinary landscape” and exploring new adventures. Her sparkling nose ring and long eclectic skirt adds to her overall laid-back vibe, and she often murmurs “mmmhhmm” before answering a question. You never have to wonder if she’s really listening…just wait for that reassuring sound.

This is how our light-hearted chatter began, as perhaps it does with many friendly strangers who find themselves sitting next to each other in a quaint space.

But as we talked, I began to learn more about Meghna’s hopes, dreams and fears. She told me about her family’s eight plus year struggle to gain citizenship and how it fueled her passion to reform immigration laws. She taught me a brief history lesson on immigration in the U.S. and about the unjust cases that have led so many men and women to menial paying jobs, unfair labor conditions and/or death by bounty-seeking, minute-men.  My new bus companion talked about her work with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group that fights for better labor conditions for Florida’s tomato farmers. She engaged me in dialogue about the specifics surrounding this group—how some members make $10,000 a year or less, how their lives resemble modernized slavery—and I soaked up this new information. I thought, ‘Wow, this girl is going to change the world!’

Then it was my turn.

I told her about “Swipe, Swipe and Swipe Again,” the event my friends and I planned, which fed over eighty members of Tallahassee’s population. I confided in her my plans to open a pregnancy resource center in Montgomery, Alabama, my hometown, and how I can’t wait to start a non-profit for young girls. It was her turn to learn more about my hopes, dreams and fears, and she did a wonderful job. She responded by giving me a newspaper, “One Step away,” which is a publication that is written solely by homeless people for homeless people.  She told me that she was going to throw it away that day, and something told her she should keep it. Imagine that! I was amazed, and I feel inspired to start a publication in Tallahassee, Florida, my university’s city.

A newsletter would allow the homeless population to find their own voice. Instead of just giving them aide, a newsletter would allow them to help themselves and to ban together to solve their OWN issues. It’s brilliant. It’s inspiring, and that’s why I sit here facing the window with tears in my eyes while Meghna helps herself to some of my Cheez-its.

Our simple conversation was like water for my mind. It was enough to give me a new idea. It gave me a new reason to do what I do!

Day 3: Samantha Williams

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Day 3: Laughter, Sweat, Tears

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Ryan Price

Today I laughed often, sweated gallons and wept openly.


Whether it was John Walker’s (better known as JWalk) ridiculous story of his mountain-top coal mining protest or laughing with Joan Mulholland at her pride in going to jail, humor pervaded the day.

The offhand jokes all day on the bus, coupled with the way the original Riders resisted with humor 50 years ago brought levity to a heavy day. Amid learning of their struggles and oppression, they taught us the real power of laughter. Hell, if the jailer is going to take your toothbrush for singing, keep singing at ‘em. Just don’t open your mouth as wide.


Early this afternoon, the laughter gave way quickly in the stifling heat. There are few words we dread hearing on the bus more than, “The air conditioning is out”. I might even prefer, “We got a flat” or “The lavatory is out of order.” The heat quickly shot up to over 90 degrees while the sweat beaded down our faces during our intense workout, sitting.

The joyful ruckus of debate, discussion and laughter was for the first time silent in the heat of the mid-afternoon. For the first time, our condition was similar in one way to that of the original Freedom Riders. We were still safe, at ease and in the company of friends. All of us could sit wherever we wanted on the interstate bus without fear of retribution. But for the first time, the trip wasn’t entirely comfortable.

The heat already set my nerves on end. I felt short tempered as I packed and unpacked my bag on the bus. Imagine the confluence of variables the original Riders faced- environmental heat, the heat of oppression, social ostracism, threats of violence and death. It all made me think- if we can barely handle the heat, how could we ever measure up to them? What we realized after the Civil Rights Museum, quite explicitly, is that we can’t.


It’s been at least a year since I last wept openly, but I have no shame over the tears I tasted today.

In solemn silence our tour group entered “The Hall of Shame” in the International Civil Rights Museum.

We were greeted with the image of a burnt human soul on the ground in front of a sea of happy faces. A burnt black body lied dead amidst the crowds of the happy faces.

This was followed by the image of two men hanging from a tree, their once healthy bodies clearly beaten by clubs before their hanging. The tour guide explained lynching, forgetting that the image in front of us was a more vivid definition than she could ever hope to give.

The tour guide then moved on, and the thick silence was interrupted as Rip Patton (original rider) cleared his throat, “Hey,”

The group paused and guide said, “Yes?”

“Hey, wait,” he said, clearly choking up.

We all waited eerily as the strongest, most respected man in the room gathered his ability to speak. Moments turned to seconds as the air thickened.

“There was a lynching in December of 2010, December. That’s all.”

The Civil Rights Movement needs no dramatization or hyperbole. An accurate look at American History, taking away the revisionist celebrations as we travel through these states, clearly reveals our own capacity for evil.

The Civil Rights Movement was a peaceful response of human dignity against the violent machines of human evil, and the stories of those two hanging men, Emmett Till, Viola Gregg Liuzo and the other victims I learned of today testify to it.

That’s where I shed my first tear.

If we could gather even a fraction of the courage these past idols had to stand up for civil and human rights, just a fraction of it, we will be able to move mountains.

As Bamidele Demerson, the director of the museum said when we entered, “We’re hoping that this generation, the generation of today, can take us even further than the original freedom riders.”

Through laughter, sweat and even tears, let’s move mountains.

Day 3: Meghna Chandra

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Day 3: Defining My Own Narrative

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Kaitlyn Whiteside

Today I came to terms with being White.

I sit on the bus beside these incredible riders, both young and old, and I hear their stories about oppression, discrimination, and racism. I think about my background, searching for some story to offer as a condolence, an explanation, a possible similarity of struggle but all I come up with time and time again is privilege, luck, and incredible circumstance. By all accounts I have lived the ultimate American, White, middle-class life: stay-at-home-mom, private school, family all around, college education… love and support surrounding my each and every decision. For most of the afternoon I wallowed in misunderstanding. How can I even sit on this bus and pretend to belong here? How can I possibly relate to challenges and obstacles that these people have faced and more importantly, will continue to face once we leave New Orleans and go home. If I wanted to, I could forget I ever stepped foot on this bus, forget I met these incredible people, and go back to Atlanta to my friends, my sorority, my job and let “the race debate” be something I save for intellectual play time. But for people of color, they’ll go home and without question, whether they like it or not, will continue to face these issues every minute of every day. I felt like a fraud sitting around the table tonight, an idealistic do-gooder, desperate to somehow understand and turn this cause, their cause, into my cause. But I don’t want to be an ally. I don’t want to watch the struggle play out from the sideline as I cheer on without real involvement. I want to be an activist, an innovator, a problem-solver. My whiteness must become irrelevant. I want to get drawn in not by default or accident of birth, I want to get drawn in, like Joan, because I want to make my home a better place and for right now, my only option is to do that in the skin I was born in.

Day 3: Because We Knew it was Right

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Maricela Aguilar

Day 3: Until Aliens Attack

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Zilong Wang

Today, the Student Freedom Riders had a discussion on racial division. I have long had the suspicion that mankind would constantly draw lines among themselves until aliens attack the earth; only after the ET arrives would we then realize that we the people in this world are indeed all humans, and we are not that different from each other.

But the aliens aren’t attacking. So do we have other ways to get rid of the endless division and opposition among ourselves? I do not have an answer to this question, but I would like to reflect upon the root of the divisions.

It almost seems that the tribal-style division is a part of our deepest animal instinct; even chimpanzees are divided into groups and launch warfare against each other. Humans divide themselves into groups for food, security, warfare, economic interests, control over resources– for survival. This survival game is then turned into group division based on skin color, nationality, geographic location, language, economic class, social status, etc. Various institutions are formed to perpetuate the structure and culture of a group: churches, monuments, schools, courts, political establishments, etc.

In order to form a unified group identity and to increase group cohesiveness, we then create “the others” to show the contrast. “The others” are portrayed as inferior in order to show that we are superior; “the others” are unethical and backward so that we appear to be moral and civilized; “the others” are a threat to our society so that we need to unite within our group and fight against “the others.” And in many situations, we form divisions to satisfy our ego: we are different and we are much better. Division and discrimination have become an important part of many people’s ego and psychological wellbeing.

So before the aliens attack the earth (and force us to see the truth that all of us on earth are equal humans), what should we do? We should be aware of where our divisions come from, keep the conflicts in control, and find common ground to increase mutual benefits. We should get the ego out of the way of our reason, and realize that we would even increase our self-interests by loving, not hating others.

If humans do not reduce their divisions and enmity against each other, they will probably destroy themselves before any ET makes its way to earth.

Day 3: Activism and Filmmaking

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Francisco Diaz

Day 3: American Roadway One

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Davy Knittle

The dinosaur roamer
of an interstate system

American carousel access
to its breakaway points
emptied by the impulse
of its own travel

Jeff Davis highway and
the road to Richmond
flooded with electric cars, maybe

or becoming that land
made flat by its unreflected lights

No span is a highway island,
a glow that’s always on

The great drive an analog that
took no original account for wear

In the roadway, going –
some pools of weight on the trees
their shadows as a pull
to the highway shoulder

Their output points, 8:30 light
over the throw of construction

The highway the outcut center, then
of the base state of forest
of the specific tack of the land

The road a sphere outracing its radius
rewriting its everywhere center
over a fenceline, a raceway
a telephone tower archived between sets
the fixed start, and over again,
of a ceaseless region

This poem speaks to a number of questions that have dictated how I’ve seen the first days of the ride, about the physicality of what landscape we’re seeing, as compared to what the original riders saw. In many ways, the original Freedom Rides were an ideal enactment of some fragments of the American Dream. A roadtrip in the pursuit of civil rights speaks to both an idealized American freedom of action and a freedom of movement, by means of the interstate highway. It makes sense, given how roads and roadway automotive travel have figured into the American 20th century narrative of American exceptionalism and the enactment of autonomous American identity that one of the first crucial acts of the Civil Rights Movement was focused on interstate travel legislation. That to be American was, before almost anything else, to be able to travel on the roads.

With this in mind, I’ve been struck both by how extreme American urban desolation looks – how filled with vacant buildings the cities of Petersburg, Virginia and High Point, North Carolina are, and by how much of the American landscape stretches out along two and four lane commercial roads that fit the same nationally-prevalent businesses into the landscape. What does it mean for us to be undergoing this driving trip? In 50 more years, who will be on the roads? What will become of the roads, and of the people who need the roads to move around their home radii, when that kind of driving becomes untenable? What kind of an America will we have as a result? How does the change that will necessarily happen in the great automotively-bound majority of the country suggest or signal what other kinds of American change could look like? Who will we be, as Americans, when we are no longer a nation of drivers?