May 16, 2011

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Tariq Meyers gives a video reflection on Day 7 of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride. (via PBS)

Growing up in Dorchester, Tariq Meyers noticed that everyone seemed to have some kind of destination in mind for themselves — but he saw many of his peers encumbered by obstacles as they tried to get there.

“I just noticed that my peers were struggling. Whether it was to stay in school, some of my peers were struggling with race issues, some of my peers were struggling with class issues,” Meyers said.

Meyers is wrapping up his freshman year at Ithaca College, where he is a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar. And he’s one of forty students riding through the South on the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, retracing the steps of hundreds of students who, 50 years ago, wound through the country’s most segregated states, challenging the institutionalized discrimination they found there.

Dorchester, Meyers said, is how he got to be the man he is today. It’s home. And Meyers says it’s a big part of his reason for joining the Student Freedom Ride: Meyers wants learn what he can about the spirit of the original Freedom Rides toward ongoing Civil Rights issues today — with different, modern tools that weren’t around when the first Riders hit the road.

“I see the Civil Rights Struggle as a continuum,” Meyers said. “Though we engage very differently, we’re still on the roads for civil rights.” It’s people of color, he says, but also age, ability, sexual orientation, gender discrimination.

U.S. census data showed Boston to be one of the country's most racially divided cities. Meyers says that’s a problem that he wants to keep thinking about. “I think Boston is a very segregated environment, and we have to challenge that,” Meyers said.

But he’s quick to point out that it’s not the exact same problem as segregation seen earlier this century, when there were stark, obvious rules maintaining division. “I think it’s below the surface and we have to challenge that,” Meyers said. “I think that’s part of what comes with working with civic engagement.”

To solve contemporary civil rights issues, we need to use contemporary tools, Meyers said. “While we’re not going out there and getting on busses and going down south and facing immense violence in every case, starting a Facebook campaign, or starting a Tweet campaign, or even tweeting at a lot of these campaign events is a way in which those after us and those somewhat before us can really connect to a new form of civic engagement,” Meyers said.

And he’s hoping to show that strategy really is activism. “I’m seeking to bring legitimacy to a civic engagement of my peers now, by drawing upon the experience of the Freedom Riders in the past,” Meyers said.

Meyers says that, after college, he’d like to bring his lessons from the Freedom Ride — and the many others he’ll doubtless learn in the next few years — right back to where he started. “And also, it’s my dream to go back, and help Boston. My dream is to be mayor of Boston. I always get the chuckle here and there… but it’s the truth,” Meyers said.

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