Earlier today, over 1,000 students from across the area gathered at Charlottesville High School to watch history come alive. It was part of the Virginia Film Festival screening of the documentary "Freedom Riders" about the more than 400 Americans who, in 1961, stared down the dangers of racial tension in the Deep South to make a statement about segregation. After the film, real-life Freedom Riders joined the students to answer questions and share their personal stories.
One of the most moving moments of the assembly was when a student took the mic and, instead of asking a question, simply said "Thank you... From the bottom of my heart, thank you for what you did." The film's director, Stanley Nelson, bowed his head and teared up. So did I.
After the panel discussion, a common feeling among students was the urge to put themselves in the Freedom Rider's shoes, and ask themselves if they would have had the courage to stand up to injustice. Those in the audience left wondering what they could do to help make the world a better place. One high-schooler told me he wants to start small in his community and hopes his good deeds could spread to the nation and maybe the world.
Everyone came away with an appreciation for those whose risk and sacrifice have made it possible for us to live the way we do... a determination to never take that for granted... and a passion to leave the world a little better than we found it. Thank you, Freedom Riders.