Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Posts Tagged ‘ Tennessee ’

Day 9: The Spirit of Creative Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

By Marshall Houston

I don’t have an “issue.” I don’t have any specific cause that dominates my thinking. I’ve struggled during this experience to be an “activist” because I’m not one—or at least not an “Activist” with a capital “A.”

I’ll probably never be an expert on any topic, but I believe that I can play a role—a unique role—in developing a deep commitment to human dignity and the empowerment of all people in society.

At best, I am a connector and sharer of ideas, knowledge, and strategies; at worst, I’m someone who loves people and good stories. I’ve embraced this role during my time as an undergraduate, and it has helped me on this ride.

Now that I’ve been on the bus for nearly ten days, I realize more than ever that it will take a comprehensive and unified effort of individuals working for the same general cause—the dignity and rights of all people—to move closer to the Beloved Community.

I understand that the path to the Beloved Community is a journey similar to a climber struggling up a mountain, step by step, with a fog clouding the line of sight up to the mountaintop. The climber can’t see the destination but, by looking back, sees that the view has never been better or as high.

All we can do is work together to continue taking forward step after forward step, no matter how small or difficult.

Though I lack an “issue,” three principles frame the way in which I look at the world, and by extension, the steps that I take.

1.    I believe collaboration is innovation.

Innovation in this sense focuses on ideas coming from the collaborative efforts of a cognitively diverse group. By creating a space for free discourse that is rooted in dignity and equality, unexpected ideas emerge and lead to innovation.

2.    I believe in the power of the human possible.

This means that each and every person has the ability to positively and uniquely contribute in society, and once individuals are enabled and ennobled to discover and utilize these talents, the possibilities are endless.

3.    I believe we need community problem-solving in a spirit of creative entrepreneurship.

Community problem-solving stresses the impact that a group of individuals can have on society using resourcefulness, perseverance, and dedication. Creativity is not confined to the arts, and entrepreneurship is more than just for-profit businesses. Combined together in this spirit, people will approach problems with a belief that they can create something—anything—that improves society.

These three principles are my “issues” in life, and I am confident that the Beloved Community will emerge from a commitment to these ideals.


Day 9: Nine

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

By Diana Mahoney

They still take my breath away. I thought that by now, I’d have become immune, desensitized, overexposed. Day after day, wandering through galleries, hearing stories, gazing at blatantly honest photographs. Mangled human bodies, bloody beatings and people bent over, sobs wracking their entire frame.

I can’t understand the Rwandan Genocide. Or the Holocaust. Or the Klu Klux Klan. Stories like that of Emmett Till, haunting, chipping away at my desire to believe in the goodness of humanity. Glossy photographs of brutal police beating based on skin tone, shattered glass reflecting the bloodied face of Jim Peck, black and white film reels capturing forever the cruelty we as human beings are indeed capable of.

Once upon a time, in what would come to be remembered as one of the most horrific moments of humanity, a young girl scribbled out a sentence which would come to be remembered and repeated for decades.

“Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart.” Anne Frank’s infamous quote echoes through the Holocaust and into the years following. With hints of naivety and hope, she voices an idea that I can’t help secretly, yet desperately wanting to believe is true. And then I switch on the television. Or pick up the newspaper. Child soldiers. Human trafficking. Domestic violence. Inhumanity so beyond my comprehension, so polar opposite to the world both Anne and I want to believe in.

Sitting in the dark church, watching the Freedom Riders documentary for a second time, I feel my breath catch. Because I’ve met these people, ate with these people, laughed with these people, received hugs from these people. No longer are they simply characters in a story that inspires me. Flesh, blood, memories, families and stories… they’re real.

Photographs flash across the screen of people armed with clubs and hate, and images of people I shared heaping plates of steaming spaghetti with mere hours ago. I suck in my breath and try to make out their facial expressions in the dark room, try to comprehend how people can commit these atrocities against other human beings.

Later that night, after trading in the business casual look for t-shirts and gym shorts, a few of us sprawl out on one of the large hotel beds. One in the morning seems the ideal time to discuss Communism, Eminem, and reoccurring dreams.

“In Chinese culture, the perfect number is nine. Because if you reach ten, you’ve peaked, it’s a downward slope from there. Thus, nine is the perfect number because it means that there is room for growth,” Zilong, an exchange student from China, explains.

Nine. It’s the reason that each and every one of the forty of us have gotten on this bus. Nine gives us hope, that there is still space left to make a difference, space to grow. Nine hints at possibility, reminding us that we still have new heights to reach, something to strive for. That amidst all the horrific things that have been and that are, a space is created. A space full of hope, full of possibility. An avenue for humanity to begin picking up the broken pieces and begin piecing them together in a step towards redemption.

“It’s not a safe space, it’s a brave space… step up and step out.” said someone in our group as we sat around on tiny, multi-colored plastic chairs during a discussion on race. I couldn’t agree more. The world isn’t a safe space.

Be brave. I find myself repeating it back to myself constantly. I can’t understand the inhumanity, the violence. And perhaps, in some way, I’m not meant to. Nine. There’s still work to be done, risks to be taken, people worth believing in, potential. Nine. We haven’t peaked yet.


Images from Day 6

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Day 6: Dispatch from Ray Arsenault

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Historian Ray Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, writes from the bus of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.

Day 6–May 13: Nashville, TN, to Birmingham, AL

Day 6 started with a torrential downpour–the first bad weather of the trip–that prevented us from walking around the Fisk campus and touring Jubilee Hall and the chapel. So we headed south for Birmingham, passing through Giles County, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and by Decatur, AL, the site of the 1932 Scottsboro trial. We arrived in Birmingham in time for lunch at the Alabama Power Company building, a corporate fortress symbolic of the “new” Birmingham. We spent the afternoon at the magnificent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where we were met by Freedom Riders Jim Zwerg and Catherine Burks Brooks, and by Odessa Woolfolk, the guiding force behind the Institute in its early years. Catherine treated the students to a rollicking memoir of her life in Birmingham, and Odessa followed with a moving account of her years as a teacher in Birmingham and a discussion of the role of women in the civil rights movement. Odessa is always wonderful, but she was particularly warm and humane today. We then went across the street for a tour of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the September 1963 bombing that killed the “four little girls.”

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to a tour of the Institute; there is never enough time to do justice to the Institute’s civil rights timeline, but this visit was much too brief, I am afraid. Seeing the Freedom Rider section with the Riders, especially Jim Zwerg and Charles Person who had searing experiences in Birmingham in 1961, was highly emotional for me, for them, and for the students. As soon as the Institute closed, we retired to the community room for a memorable barbecue feast catered byDreamland Barbecue, the best in the business. We then went back across the street to 16th Street for a freedom song concert in the sanctuary. The voices of the Unity Memorial Choir, first formed in 1959 to help boost the morale of the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth’s local movement, were beautiful, as always. The students were so enthusiastic, clapping rythmically and sometimes singing along, and the movement stories interspersed among the stanzas filled the church with emotion and more than a few tears. The hour-long concert ended with everyone present linking arms and singing “We Shall Overcome.” This was perhaps the most intense experience of the trip for some. Afterwards we spent a few minutes in nearby Kelly Ingram Park, site of the 1963 confrontation between Bull Connor’s attack dogs and the young marchers of the “children’s crusade.” The park now boasts “freedom sculptures” dedicated to the marchers’ courage. Back at the historic Tutwiler Hotel, the students held a 2-hour-long “teach-in,” during which they made presentations on contemporary social justice issues. This was their idea, organized by them. A fitting end to a long and emotional day on the freedom trail.


Day 6: Seigenthaler’s Bedtime Story

Saturday, May 14th, 2011


Day 5: Dispatch from Ray Arsenault

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Historian Ray Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, writes from the bus of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.

Day 5–May 12: Anniston, AL, to Nashville, TN

Our fifth day on the road started with the dedication of two murals in Anniston, at the old Greyhound and Trailways stations. I worked with the local committee on the text, and I was pleased with the results. In the past, there was nothing to signify that anything historic had happened at these sites. The turnout of both blacks and whites was gratifying and perhaps a sign that Anniston has begun the healing process of confonting its dark past. The students seemed intrigued by the whole scene, including the media blitz. We then boarded the bus and traveled six miles to the site of the bus burning; we talked with the only local resident who was there in 1961 and with the designer of a proposed Freedom Rider park that will be built on the site, which now boasts only a small historic marker. I have mixed feelings about the park, but perhaps the plan will be refined to a less Disneyesque form. It was quite a scene at the site, but we eventually pulled ourselves away for the long drive to Nashville.

Our first stop in Nashville was the civil rights room of the public library, the holder of one of the nation’s great civil rights collections. Rip Patton gave a moving account of his life as a Nashville student activist. We then traveled across town to the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, where John Seigenthaler talked with the students for a spellbinding hour. He focused on his experiences with the Kennedy brothers and his sense of the evolution of their civil rights consciousness. As always, he was captivating and gracious, and full of truth-telling wit. We gave the students the night off to experience the music scene in Nashville, while I and the Freedom Riders participated in a Q and A session following a screening of the PBS film. The theater was packed, and the response was very enthusiastic. It was great to see this in Nashville, a hallowed site essential to the Freedom Rider saga and the wider freedom struggle. On to Fisk this morning before journeying south to Birmingham and “sweet home Alabama.”


Day 6: Zilong Wang

Friday, May 13th, 2011


Day 6: Alicia Skeeter

Friday, May 13th, 2011


Day 6: Equality?

Friday, May 13th, 2011