‘Freedom Riders’ inspire students to lead

By on February 18, 2012
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Two “Freedom Riders” who stood up for what they knew was right, putting themselves in danger, taught students to be leaders at Burt Kahn Court Thursday night.

Civil rights activists Bernard Lafayette and Ambassador Andrew Young, two “Freedom Riders,”
rode buses into the segregated southern United States in the 1960s to test a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in bus terminals.

Jacob Nadeau | The Quinnipiac Chronicle

“Now I actually understand what it is to be a leader–not just somebody who tells people what to do but somebody who actually leads but doesn’t lead by force,” said Veronica Fletcher, freshman at New Haven Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. The Alpha Kappa Alpha Emerging Young Leaders program invited a group of young teenagers to be inspired by the civil rights leaders.

Similar to Lafayette and Young’s fight against racism is Fletcher’s fight against sexual orientation discrimination. Fletcher is an active member of the Gay Straight Alliance at her high school. She said homosexuals are now the targeted group by bullies in school. She asked the men what she could do to start a movement and become a leader.

“Volunteer to do the thing that nobody wants to do,” Young said. “Do anything you can to help others. Leaders aren’t people who tell people what to do. Do whatever needs to be done wherever you are; whether it’s at work or class.”

Fletcher was excited that she got to see advice directly from the famous civil rights leaders.

“That was awesome because I didn’t have to like go through anybody to ask him; I just asked him myself so it was awesome,” Fletcher said.

The men also discussed citizenship education as a solution to society’s problems. Lafayette suggested the state of Connecticut create a junior legislature to teach 12 to 17-year-olds about the political system. Students would gain experience passing bills, they’d understand the system, and it would encourage them to get involved in public policy.

Today’s technology to learn, find knowledge and spread messages greatly enhances the ability for our society to progress, Young said.

“I believed we could change the world,” Young said. “But I didn’t put a timetable on it. We didn’t even have cell phones there was no such thing as an Internet. The things that are happening technically — Internet, Facebook, Google — I get in arguments with young people and i cant win because I am giving them all of the benefits of my years of reading, but before I get through, they Google it.”

Ed Gordon, host of BET’s “Weekly With Ed Gordon” moderated the discussion. The event was part of Quinnipiac University’s annual Black History Month celebration.

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