by Lindsie Wagner
In previous generations, young adults would actively fight for causes in which they believed. In this generation, students support causes by finding the correlating Facebook page and becoming a fan, junior JaJa Quarless said.
In an attempt to bridge that generational gap, and also to bring awareness to the Civil Rights movement, PBS’s American Experience is sponsoring 40 college students in a journey similar to that of the Freedom Riders 50 years ago.
The original Freedom Rides were organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, a group started by students at University of Chicago in 1942. The rides were meant to break down segregation in transport systems in the eastern and southern regions of the U.S., according to a 1962 Associated Press article.
Quarless was selected as one of the students to make the trip, following the intended map of the original Freedom Rides.
“I decided to apply firstly because I felt like when people hear about the Civil Rights movement, they hear about Dr. King, but the movement was driven by a lot of young people too,” Quarless said.
Several original Freedom Riders, many of whom were college students when they made the journey, will join Quarless and the other college students as they follow in their footsteps.
On the trip, both the students and some original Freedom Riders will take a bus through eight states, and will reach their final destination in New Orleans, the intended destination of the original Freedom Rides.
The students and accompanying original Freedom Riders will be greeted by a public event and rally in New Orleans.
“I feel like as an African American male, I’ve benefited a lot from them and other Civil Rights activists,” Quarless said. “I want to put myself in their shoes.”
Quarless said he expects to find a different kind of education on this trip than that which he has found at Whitworth.
“Whitworth is inclusive and tries to bring people in,” Quarless said. “But at the same time there are stories, especially the African American stories, that are omitted from the curriculum and from the dialogue.”
Quarless said he hopes to find a learning experience connecting him further to his own heritage, and to be able to bring some of his lessons back to Whitworth.
“I think the main way I’ll be able to bring this experience back to Whitworth is for one, to make people realize that it was only 50 years ago,” Quarless said. “In light of that, I’d want to stress to students and faculty and the greater Spokane community that the struggle didn’t end 50 years ago.”
As an Act Six scholar, Quarless said he has gained a strong sense of the issues of social justice and inequality. The mainstream curriculum at Whitworth has also affected his identity.
“I would say Whitworth has affected my identity because on one hand, Whitworth’s an open environment; I don’t feel an active press by the administration against learning about civil rights and my heritage,” Quarless said. “Whitworth has affected my identity, though, by not including the African American perspective in the dominant narrative.”
It is troubling that students can get a four-year degree at Whitworth without ever coming into contact with the African American experience, he said.
“That undermines my personal identity and my collective identity as an African American,” Quarless said.
The Freedom Rides will give Whitworth students the opportunity to learn about history and civil rights in a new way, as the participants will be actively giving updates on Facebook and Twitter. A full-length film, which will appear on PBS, and 12 short films will also come out of the project.