Monday, May 16, 2011

Be the Candle, Be the Mirror

Author Edith Wharton once said, "There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." Oh, how I love that quotation. At times, we are called to be the candle, the source of new ideas or the change we wish to see in the world. Other times, we are asked to be the mirror; to strengthen and inspire others to be the candle themselves.

Fifty years ago this month, a group of young men and women chose to be both the candle and mirror by risking their lives to spread the truth about the treatment of people of color in the segregated southern United States. In 1961, these white and black students boarded commercial buses in Washington, D.C. and traveled throughout the deep South, challenging segregation laws along the way. They risked their lives and the possibility of imprisonment by defying the restrictive Jim Crow travel laws, such as using the wrong restrooms or sitting at the wrong lunch counters at bus stations. Over that summer, Freedom Riders were attacked and beaten by angry mobs, and some riders were almost killed.

In spite of the dangers, their courage and commitment to non-violent protest served as a candle showing the world the willingness of people to stand up against such inequality. Freedom Riders became a mirror as well, bringing national attention to the violent disregard for the law that was used to enforce segregation in the South in the 1960s. Thank goodness for you and for me that more than 200 young Americans answered the call to be candles in the Civil Rights Movement. I only hope that when I am asked to take a stand and also be the light of change that I will be as brave and courageous as these heroic Americans.

To learn more about the Freedom Riders, watch the American Experience documentary about their travels in 1961 on your local PBS station or online.

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