SMC student hitches a freedom ride

As part of PBS's American Experience, the interactive Student Freedom Ride is currently on the road as a moving classroom with a focus on civil rights, and Carla Orendorff, one of Santa Monica College's own, is one of the participants. The trip will chronicle the journey that the original riders took in 1961, and will serve as a moving classroom for students, according to PBS's website.

Orendorff was ecstatic when she discovered she had been selected to participate in the ten day journey—May 6 through May 16.

"I've always had a passion for civil rights," Orendorff said.

Orendorff and her fellow Freedom Riders have spent some time with Stanley Nelson, director of the Student Freedom Ride's accompanying films (Wounded Knee, The Murder of Emmett Till).

"It's like a dream to be able to talk to the filmmaker afterwards," said Orendorff, who aspires to be a documentary filmmaker herself.

Since 2008, Orendorff has been the Youth Program instructor and Youth Film Fest curator at the Echo Park Film Center, where she attended as a student before becoming part of their staff.

In high school, she began organizing and working on projects geared toward empowerment. "I was interested in bringing social change to my school and connecting with people about different issues."

"My dad is a Native American Rights activist. And I'm the daughter of an immigrant; my mom came here from Bolivia," Orendorff said of her diverse background.

After researching Freedom Riders, the film, Orendorff's interest was sparked. When she heard about the opportunity to join the original Freedom Riders on a student freedom ride to retrace the route they traveled fifty years ago, she felt like it was something she wanted to do.

"I've had the whole perspective from my mom's side, understanding the circles that immigrants face coming into the country and trying to make a living.

"I'm proud of being multi-cultural, and really embracing that, and understanding that there are many different struggles for minority groups," said Orendorff.

As the group of students and original Freedom Riders travels, they will wind their way through what used to be a section of the country where civil rights were a contentious issue.

Viewers can read blogs, look at photographs, and watch videos posted by the forty students on the 2011 Student Freedom Ride on the PBS website.

"They were our age when they decided to get on the bus and challenge segregation in the South," said Orendorff of the original band of Freedom Riders.

Orendorff described how the original movement was organized by young people who used non-violence to convey their message, it is tactics like this that have inspired Orendorff on her own journey during the Student Freedom Ride.

"SMC is a pretty amazing place. There's a lot of potential within the students and the faculty to work on projects that make a difference in our school," said Orendorff, who described herself as being a nontraditional student. "I've met really passionate people that have inspired the work that I want to do."

Over one thousand students from across the nation applied to be a part of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.

There is no cost incurred by the students, whose expenses are being taken care of by American Experience.

"I studied the history a lot and I feel very inspired by this story," Orendorff said.