SMC Student One of 40 Nationwide Selected for Incredible Journey Freedom Ride May 6-16

Carla Orendorff

SMC student Carla Orendorff is one of just 40 students nationwide to be selected from nearly 1,000 applicants for an incredible upcoming journey: PBS’ “American Experience” 2011 Student Freedom Ride to Retrace Historic Bus Route.

The 2011 Student Freedom Ride is an experiential learning opportunity for college students in conjunction with the broadcast of “Freedom Riders” and the 50th anniversary of the original May 1961 Freedom Rides. Over a ten-day journey May 6 – 16, the Ride will be a moving classroom in which the college students from across the country will retrace the route of the original Freedom Rides.

Accompanied by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, original Freedom Riders and others, the Ride will engage students in this important era in our country’s history, as they learn about the extraordinary commitment and courage of the individuals who took part in the Freedom Rides. 

“It’s going to be an incredible journey,” said Orendorff. “The Freedom Ride is an important part of our history. There’s nothing better than learning from the people who actually participated in it, and I’m excited to hear what they have to say.”

The Ride will also serve as a means of launching a national conversation about the role of civic engagement in a thriving democracy, explore what issues inspire students to “get on the bus” today, and look at what forms civic engagement is taking on campuses and in communities across the country. The acclaimed film “Freedom Riders,” directed by Nelson, will premiere on “American Experience” on Monday, May 16 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS.

Orendorff, of Reseda, is a film, video and photography major at SMC. She is a documentary filmmaker and media activist who is passionate about bringing untold stories to light. She is a mentor for ImMEDIAte Justice, a program that empowers young women of color to share their stories about reproductive justice through film. In addition to teaching youth filmmaking classes at the Echo Park Film Center, she enjoys going on adventures, browsing obscure historical archives, and supporting her local DIY (Do-It-Yourself) music and arts scene.

The 40 Student Freedom Riders were chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants and represent a diverse cross-section of America, much like the original Freedom Riders, who were black and white, men and women, and who, in 1961, used public transportation as a means of challenging segregation in the South. The students hail from 33 states and the District of Columbia, along with others who grew up in China, Tajikistan and Haiti.

Students from a broad range of schools are represented — from state universities to community colleges, from religiously affiliated schools to the Ivy League. Students were selected on the basis of their essays on their reasons for wanting to participate, their thoughts on the role of social media and technology in civic engagement today, and their extracurricular activities.

“At ‘American Experience,’ we think history is fascinating, but more importantly, we know it informs almost every social and political decision made today. We saw that in Egypt, where protesters looked to the American civil rights movement for instruction and inspiration,” says “American Experience” executive producer Mark Samels. “Fifty years after the original Freedom Rides, young people all over the world are once again having their voices heard. They’re using new and very different tools to do that, but drawing on lessons from history to inform how they use those tools. It’s those lessons from 1961 and how they are informing civic engagement today that we look forward to exploring on this ride.”

Kicking off in Washington, D.C. with two days of events at the Newseum that will gather many who were involved in the original Rides, the 2011 Student Freedom Ride will depart on Sunday, May 8 and roll through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and into Louisiana, stopping along the way at historically significant locations. The journey will end in New Orleans, the intended destination of the 1961 Freedom Riders.

The original Freedom Riders who will join the students (many of whom were college students themselves in 1961) will share their memories of this bold and dangerous experiment in the fight for equal rights.  Students will also meet with today’s leaders in civic engagement. 

Among the highlights of the trip will be events at Atlanta’s Morehouse College with original Freedom Rider Bernard Lafayette, a ribbon cutting at the Anniston Bus Station, the town where one of the buses was firebombed in 1961, and a presentation at Vanderbilt University’s First Amendment Center by John Seigenthaler. Events will also take place at Montgomery’s historic First Baptist Church, where the original Freedom Riders, along with Martin Luther King, Jr. and 1,500 others, were trapped by a mob until the Kennedy Administration summoned federal marshals, marking a turning point in the civil rights movement.

The Student Freedom Ride will end in New Orleans on May 16 with a public event and rally to welcome the students and the original Freedom Riders 50 years later.  A complete itinerary of events will be released at a later date.

More information is available at Freedom Riders online ( and Freedom Riders in the Classroom ( You can also watch a video clip ( of Orendorff.