Eastern senior gets on board for Student Freedom Ride

By Observer staff April 14, 2011 03:02 pm
Bakhrom Ismoilov, a senior at Eastern Oregon University, will participate in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride commemorating the 50th anniversary of the original Freedom Rides that took place in May 1961.

The popular PBS history series “American Experience” selected 40 college students to spend 10 days aboard a moving classroom in conjunction with the premier of the feature film “Freedom Riders” airing May 16 at 9 p.m. Eastern time on PBS.

Ismoilov was selected from nearly 1,000 applicants representing a cross-section of America, much like the original Freedom Riders who used public transportation as a means of challenging segregation in the South.

Their journey will retrace the route of the Freedom Riders and begins May 6 in Washington, D.C., with two days of events at the Newseum. It continues through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and into Louisiana, stopping at historically significant locations along the way. The trip will end in New Orleans, the intended destination of the 1961 Freedom Riders.

“I’ve traveled my whole life and I enjoy learning about different cultures and history,” Ismoilov said. “The ride is another opportunity to be engaged and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ismoilov, who grew up in Tajikistan, is studying business administration and international business at EOU. He serves as the vice president for diversity and equity for the Associated Students of EOU.

“This extraordinary opportunity for Bakhrom has been accomplished with the support of our faculty and staff embracing and fostering his abilities, enabling him to excel,” EOU President Bob Davies said. “We’re very excited for him.”

Le Alexander, assistant director of student involvement, is an ASEOU adviser and encouraged Ismoilov to apply for the Student Freedom Ride.

“I knew this would be a unique opportunity for our student leaders to participate in, one that will leave a lasting impression on them,” Alexander said. “Bakhrom is one of the individuals I see actively participating in student engagement at all levels in a positive manner. He continually shares his passions with his peers to encourage their involvement and reaches out to his communities to find ways in which he can create change.”

Ismoilov said he is intrigued to meet the original riders who will be taking part in the trip. They include Joan Mulholland, Rip Patton, Diane Nash, Jim Zwerg, Robert and Helen Singleton, Charles Person, C.T. Vivian, Bernard Lafayette, Catherine Burks-Brooks and Matthew Walker. Many were college students themselves in 1961.

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson will accompany the group, as well as John Seigenthaler, former administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who was sent to Alabama to deal with the violence directed against the Freedom Riders.

Ray Arsenault, author of “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” which Nelson’s film is partially based on, will serve as the resident expert on the people, places and events.

In addition to the experiential learning opportunity the ride presents, it also serves as the means of launching a national conversation about the role of civic engagement in a thriving democracy, exploring what issues inspire students to “get on the bus” today, and looking at what forms civic engagement is taking on campuses and in communities across the country.

Ismoilov and the other participants will be blogging about their experiences along the route and posting updates to Twitter and Facebook.

Follow the ride on Twitter @pbsamex and @FreedomRidePBS and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ride. For more information visit pbs.org/freedomriders.