Several months ago, PBS’s American Experience encouraged college students across the country to apply for their opportunity to “Get on the Bus” and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original Freedom Rides, when more than 400 civil rights activists rode interstate buses through the South to challenge racial inequality. Prospective student riders submitted personal essays explaining their motivations for participating in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride. These submissions offered a wonderful glimpse into a generation of remarkably thoughtful, responsible, conscientious and engaged college students. Over 1,000 students applied, and the 40 students chosen all represent the indomitable spirit of the original Riders. Here, the Responsibility Project has gathered short excerpts from five of the finalists’ personal essays, and you can learn more about all 40 of the 2011 student riders on the American Experience website.
From May 6-16, the 40 students will join original Freedom Riders, journeying from Washington, DC to New Orleans, LA, retracing the 1961 Rides.
Michael Tubbs - Class of 2012, Stanford University / Stanford, CA
Major: Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity
Hometown: Stockton, CA
….As a first generation student at Stanford University, I have made it my mission to draw on the lessons and courage of those in the Civil Rights movement to develop the skills I need to affect change in my generation. I have co-founded taskforces to end Racial Profiling, served as a campaign leader in the Children’s Defense Fund’s campaign to End the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, worked in the White House and in NGOs in South Africa’s townships all in effort to ensure that the spirit and purpose of the Civil Rights movement remains alive and well in my generation. This opportunity is the perfect capstone, allowing me to reflect on the past as I continue to aspire to create the future that the Freedom Rider’s risked their lives for so many years ago….
Doaa Dorgham - Class of 2012, North Carolina State University / Raleigh, NC
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
…After taking part in several interfaith dialogues and community service projects, several things became clear to me. One of which is how much more a community becomes united when they have a sense of understanding and respect for others’ differences. I feel it truly rewarding to be able to have a local church or synagogue contact me when they need help, likewise the mosque. I have witnessed firsthand how animosity and hate can be transformed into love and kindness. This country has been based on staples such as freedom of religion and tolerance of varying cultures. Our beloved country is commonly referred to as the great American melting pot, in which varying cultures, beliefs, and ideas collectively create something awe- inspiring and sacred….
William Dale - Class of 2014, University of Kansas / Lawrence, KS
Major: English, American Studies w/ concentration in Race and Ethnicity
Hometown: Topeka, KS
…I leaned against the wall. I gazed at the group of two hundred and fifty uniformed schoolboys huddled in clumps around the gym. The boys were normal high-school aged kids, restless and eager to leave, but they came together to finish the chant – “We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We believe in Urban Prep!”
I ventured into Urban Prep for a one-week program this Winter Break. At this charter school in Chicago, the students I encountered came from disadvantaged schools across the city. The boys’ former schools were not provided with the materials, teachers, and administrations to get their students into higher education.
I had read books about these fallacies in the American public education system before the trip. I knew the statistics about the dropout rates in cities across the United States as well. There was one thing, however, I had never seen before I arrived at Urban Prep – a human face to a monumental problem….
Rachael DeMarce - Class of 2012, Carroll College / Helena, MT
Major: Political Science and Communications
Hometown: Great Falls, MT
…Obtaining an education has not been a familiar or effortless task. Even though it was never said directly to me, I knew that as an American Indian, I was expected to fail and that I would be lucky if I graduated. Every six weeks during middle school I received an award for American Indian students that read “good job getting a 2.0 GPA or better” despite the fact that I was receiving a 4.0. To me, that implied an Indian only needed and was required to be average. At times, attending a high school off the reservation made me feel alone, ashamed, and unauthentic as a member of a tribe that is not federally recognized. I found comfort through learning about the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. This gave me a greater sense of appreciation for the opportunities that I now have…
Tania Smith - Class of 2013, American University / Washington, DC
Major: International Studies
Hometown: Washington, DC
…After having been through all these experiences, I want to be a part of Freedom Riders because it is a living, breathing testament of the success of non-violent movements. For first time in my life, I would be able to correlate what I have read and studied by relating it to real people and real stories. I want to be part of the Freedom Riders because I am a social justice activist and I would like to take the lessons from this experience and apply them to work I am doing in Haiti. As a Haitian, I want my fellow Haitians to know that violence is never the answer to long lasting positive change. Finally, I want to be a freedom rider because I want to pay homage to the strength of the young college students like myself, who went out and risked their lives to make a difference…