In the spring and summer of 1961, black and white civil rights activists road buses throughout the segregated South to challenge discrimination laws.
Those riders were savagely beaten and arrested. But they also inspired many others to follow in their footsteps and become involved in the civil rights movement.
Fifty years later, a group of young food activists are boarding a bus in Birmingham, Ala. (where Ku Klux Klan members mercilessly attacked the Freedom Riders in 1961), and are riding it north to Detroit. Their mission is to raise awareness of the disparity in food access, an issue that they say has ties to the same social injustices the Freedom Riders were challenging.
The group, which has dubbed the event the “Food and Freedom Ride,” will stop at the Dole Institute of Politics on Aug. 12 to share stories of their journey and how those lessons connect to the civil rights movement. Their visit coincides with the final day of the Dole Institute’s “Freedom Riders” photo exhibit.
The riders are part of Live Real, an organization of young people from across the country who want to create a food system that makes “real food the norm — not the exception.”
Among their chief concerns are the “food deserts” that have developed in urban and rural areas, which makes it a struggle for people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy food.
“It’s not just about building gardens. It’s repairing the social infrastructure that led to the need,” said Brett Ramey, one of the founders of the group who is now a community health worker with the Center for American Indian Community Health at the Kansas University Medical Center.
“Freedom Riders were all about increasing racial and social equality. The black and whites traveling around were fed up with the way they and their neighbors had been treated, whether formally or informally,” Ramey said. “We’re seeing the same parallels where we have the need to revitalize the food system.”
Part of the organization’s goal is to raise awareness about projects that have increased access to healthy foods, such as programs in Detroit.
On Aug. 12, the Dole Institute, 2350 Petefish Drive, will host the group for a brown bag lunch starting at noon.