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Q&A with Arkansas's Student Freedom Rider, Samantha Williams

Posted on 15 Apr 2011

As soon as AETN learned that an Arkansas resident had a seat reserved on the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, we were excited to find out why she decided to apply and what she hoped to learn from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions and these are her responses. We look forward to following her journey and sharing it with you!

Arkansas’s rider is Samantha Williams, from Bryant, and is a political science major at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Samantha will embark on May 6 and return May 16. For more information about the 2011 Student Freedom Ride and “Freedom Riders”, visit  www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders

Why did you apply to “get on the bus?”

Samantha: I heard about the opportunity through the U of A and was instantly intrigued. I am a political science major and very interested in American history and politics. The Civil Rights Movement in particular is a topic I have loved studying about ever since junior high school, so when this opportunity presented itself I knew I had to apply. I used to be journalism major as well, so the Student Freedom Ride seemed like such a perfect fit in that it combines writing with civic engagement. Although I have not been a victim of racism, I have witnessed firsthand the prejudice that so many people still have toward others who are different from themselves. I wanted to "get on the bus" to share my experiences with other young people and create a positive dialog amongst individuals of all colors. How can we continue to move forward while still acknowledging the progress that we have made as a nation? Young people sometimes think they can't make a difference and that's true if you refuse to get involved. But the fact is that we can all make a difference if we step up and speak out for what is right. Additionally, I wanted to pay tribute to the selfless men and women who risked their lives for equality. They are the true heroes.

What do you hope to experience?

Samantha: I have no idea what to expect! I'm really hoping to use this experience to learn more about the other riders and the issues they face as we are all so diverse and from every part of the country. I'm hoping to learn more about the ways in which I can make this world better and how to effectively promote tolerance and acceptance. And of course, I am beyond excited to speak to the original Freedom Riders — they are the reason I've been given this once and a lifetime opportunity. I almost feel guilty in a way. I'm going on this 10 day journey where quite frankly, I don't expect to be ridiculed, taunted or physically threatened. The Freedom Riders didn't have that same luxury. But even though the circumstances are vastly different, I really want to try and see what they truly went through.

Why is this 50-year-old story of Freedom Riders important to people in today’s world?

Samantha: There are so many reasons the Freedom Riders' story still resonates with people today. Take a look around when you go to the grocery store, to school or out to dinner. You'll see people of all races interacting with one another and going about their lives side by side. That wasn't always the case, of course. The rider's made that possible! How awesome is that? Had they not stood up for what was right, who knows what kind of nation I would have grown up in. At the same time, it'd be silly to pretend as if racism does not still exist. It does and I've witnessed it, whether it be toward one of my best friends who is Palestinian or an African American. I strongly believe that in order to completely eradicate racism and intolerance, we must understand our history and that includes the Freedom Rides.

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