50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and LJP

Posted on 07/01/2014 @ 12:39 AM

Freedom Summer 2014: Thoughts from the Field

When I was in college, I studied the history of the civil rights movement because I was fascinated with movement building and strategies. I was an activist in college and an Ethnic Studies major so civil rights and social movements were my life. I learned about Freedom Summer during high school but I understood the impact of Freedom Summer, Freedom Fighters and Freedom Riders in college. I wondered what it was like to put your life on the line for your community. What did it feel like to be monitored by the FBI, targeted by the government, or seen as a threat for fighting for the civil rights of your community.

Fast forward nine years later and I find myself at the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer on Tougaloo campus in Jackson, Mississippi. I am here representing LatinoJustice and I’ve brought two of my youth leadership fellows. We were fortunate enough to be accepted to present a strategy session at the Freedom Summer Youth Congress titled, 'Think Critically, Act Creatively: Utilizing New Media Tools for Youth Empowerment & Movement Making." I jumped on the opportunity to present at Freedom Summer because we are witnessing a new era of freedom fighters and freedom riders in the United States and around the world. I wanted to present on how we harness the energy and passion of young people, to create 21st century agents and champions of change in the community. I know first hand the power of social media advocacy when it is fused with the arts education and creativity. Our youth leaders know to create with a purpose and to build coalitions and relationships along the way.

I also wanted to bring a new generation of leaders to Mississippi as the veterans of Freedom Summer asked us to take the torch and keep fighting on. They are telling us “We have your back! Do something!” and I wanted our youth to be present and to take on the challenge that has been given to all of us.

On our first day here, we prepared for our workshop at the hotel and then began the half-mile walk to Tougaloo. We quickly learned that this was not the smartest of plans because of the rainy weather but also because it’s not necessarily safe. As New Yorkers, we walk everywhere, so half a mile to a campus seemed like no big deal. Our new friends disagreed and scolded us and asked that we not walk around.

Our workshop was packed with young people from all across the country and also from some of our friends from Make the Road NY and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. With over 80 youth, we focused on how to tell your story by utilizing music, poetry, theater, design and social media for advocacy campaigns. We connected with groups from Michigan, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, Vermont, and Ohio.

It has been a humbling and life-changing experience to sit with the Freedom Riders and Freedom Fighters at lunch and to listen to their experiences and their advice. Yes, they admit they are nostalgic and that it wasn’t easy, but in the moment, they were fearless. In the face of all that uncertainty and all the threats to their lives and their families, they remained steadfast and fearless. One of the Freedom Riders talked to me about failure as it relates to community organizing and stopped me when I told her that I felt that we had failed our community since 2006 and now by not stopping the deportations or passing immigration reform. She stopped me, grabbed me, looked me in the eyes and said, “Young woman, you have failed no one. What feels like an overwhelming failure is just a setback in the struggle. All of you young people want change now, and you need to understand that it takes time. You will fail over and over again, but you’re still moving forward. Not everything will work, but those failures are part of a larger purpose to move us forward. You failed no one.”

This was truly an experience that we will never forget and now more than ever, I am inspired to ensure that LJP is fighting for the rights of all marginalized communities as we all fight for rights that have moved us to where we are today. We stand on the shoulders of giants and now it's our turn to continue the fight. The question is which side are we going to be on. I say Freedom side!

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