IB Topics takes notes from Freedom Riders


IB Topics students at the American University School of International Service (SIS) gather in a lecture hall to hear Freedom Riders speak about their experiences.

On September 28, students in Ms. Jennifer Dean’s and Mr. Steven Brown’s IB History Topics classes visited American University to watch some of the original Freedom Riders from the civil rights movement talk to students of the university’s School of International Service (SIS). The event, organized by a professor in the SIS, called a “teach-in,” was meant to create a conversation among the students about topics such as non violence and protest.

The IB Topics classes went to listen to the Freedom Riders because they were studying the civil rights movement in class. Senior Leonie Alder, a student in Ms. Dean’s Topics class, was excited to listen to the Freedom Riders speak because she wanted to make connections between what she learned in the classroom and what they actually experienced. “I expected the Freedom Riders to share their experience in a way that went beyond what we learned in school about the Freedom Rides,” she said. “They have firsthand accounts that make something that seemed so far removed, feel so real.”

The Freedom Riders speaking at the event discussed both their experiences in the civil rights movement and their views on the methods of nonviolence in the movement. The speakers were also able to take questions from both Washington-Lee students and students from American University. “We went to learn about the protests that impacted our nation from the people that created the change,” senior and IB Topics student Kayla Salmon said. “We were able to hold an open discourse about protest, change, and freedom.”

Even in the present day, the Freedom Riders who spoke at American University continue to be active in protests. Many of them commented on the current protests at universities across the country. “What inspired me most was the dedication and passion that the former Freedom Riders still held for change and protest,” Salmon said. “They still participate in marches for change not only in the United States but worldwide as well.”

For Salmon, the overall takeaway was that standing up for what you believe in could create progress. “The firsthand knowledge let me see how the little things make a big difference,” she said. “Participating in protests is an accessible way to create change.”

An activist herself, Alder was inspired by the protest of the Freedom Riders. She was especially surprised by the fact that civil rights movements continue to rely so heavily on people other than prominent civil rights leaders. “[I was surprised by] how much they trusted young people to take the mantle and continue their fight for civil rights,” Alder said. “The discussions focused a lot on the future of civil rights, and it was amazing to get the perspective and sage advice of these seasoned activists.”