Fifty years ago, the Freedom Riders
risked their lives during their 10-day journey by bus from Washington to
New Orleans to call attention to segregation in the South. Their
vehicles were bombed and participants were beaten.

“Fortunately, these days we don’t have to
put ourselves in danger to create change,” said Erica Shekell, a
Michigan State University junior, who is on her own 10-day journey,
retracing the route of the 1961 trip.

“We can simply make YouTube videos, and people will know what’s going on."

The students are using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to document their experiences.

a lot safer than what the original Freedom Riders had to do,” said
Shekell, who is pursuing a double major in journalism and media arts and
technology. “They didn’t have social media, so the only way to get
media attention was to go into situations in which people reacted
violently toward them.”

Shekell was one of 40 students chosen
from 1,000 applicants from across the country to participate. The trip
promotes the “American Experience” documentary “Freedom Riders,” which
begins airing on PBS stations May 16, the same night Shekell and her
fellow passengers arrive in New Orleans. 

“I’ll be tweeting about anything I find
interesting, such as what city I’m going to at this moment,” Shekell
said. “I’m also going to be tweeting about my experience as a MSU
student going on this ride, as well as my experience as being a resident
of Howell.” 

Each student has his or her handle for Twitter: Shekell’s handle is @eShekell and the hashtag is #pbsbus.

Active engagement in social media is one of the reasons Shekell was selected, she said. 

The students contribute to a blog by
posting their thoughts and producing videos. Some of the posts and
videos document their experiences during the day, some talk about why
they got on the bus, and others discuss social injustice and respect for
“invisible” groups.

“People in the older generation think
that my generation is apathetic because we are not out there doing
protests or joining organizations,” Shekell said. “They think, ‘Why
aren’t young people engaged these days?’ In my opinion, young people are
using new social media instead of going to protests.”

’Freedom Riders’
Airs at 9 p.m. Monday, May 16 on WKAR-TV
For more information on the documentary and the project,