TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida A&M University (FAMU) student Stephanie Burton knew that spending a few weeks out of her summer on the bus with the original Freedom Riders would be one of the highlights of her college career.
Burton said, “I was thinking, ‘what a way to complement what I’ve learned in the classroom!’”
Burton, a senior journalism student from Montgomery, Ala., was selected for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, an experiential learning opportunity for college students in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the original May 1961 Freedom Rides. Over a 10-day journey, the Ride will be a moving classroom in which 40 college students from across the country will retrace the route of the original Freedom Rides. Accompanied by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, original Freedom Riders and others, the Ride will engage students in this important era in America’s history, as they learn about the commitment and courage of the individuals who took part in the Freedom Rides.
“I applied for the 2011 Student Freedom Rides because as a Montgomery native, HBCU attendee and African-American woman, I realize the value and importance of civil rights history,” said Burton. “During my application process, I read that we would be required to blog and shoot video. As a journalism student, those assignments particularly stood out and motivated me to apply as well.”
The Student Freedom Riders were chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants and represent a diverse cross-section of America, much like the original Freedom Riders, who were black and white, men and women, and who, in 1961, used public transportation as a means of challenging segregation in the South.
Burton was selected on the basis of her essay, describing the reasons for wanting to participate, her thoughts on the role of social media and technology in civic engagement today and extracurricular activities.
“I hope to gain a better understanding of the Freedom Riders Movement,” said Burton. “It is such an outstanding story of courage, determination, resilience and fearlessness! Besides understanding, I would also like to find a sense of purpose and organization.”
Burton said she plans to start a non-profit in Montgomery, Ala. for teens and young mothers.
“I also want to be a community organizer, attacking issues in our society such as homelessness, obesity, poverty and illiteracy,” the strong-minded individual said. “But I think I can learn from the original freedom riders the best way to go about doing that.”
The participants will travel through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and into Louisiana, stopping along the way at historically significant locations. The journey will end in New Orleans, the intended destination of the 1961 Freedom Riders.
“I’m most looking forward to meeting the 39 other students who have been selected,” said Burton, who plans to use social media as a means to chronicle her trip and share her adventure with the public. “We can bounce ideas off of each other. We all want to help make the world a better place.”