Honoring the "freedom rides" and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr., Annapolis Transit will offer free bus rides to the public tomorrow, starting before dawn and ending at 10 p.m.
The one-day ridership program is a way to mark King's birthday, a national holiday, and his legacy of peaceful social change, Annapolis officials said.
When Rosa Parks, a Montgomery woman, refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus one day in 1955, she sparked a boycott that heralded the civil rights movement and the struggle against segregation.
"Public transportation brings people together, figuratively and literally," said Paul Foer, the city's Department of Transportation marketing specialist. "We invite everyone, especially families, to ride the buses as a way of bringing people together."
Foer said two county nonprofits are participating in the city's first free ride program by sending small teams of adults and teenagers to ride Annapolis Transit buses as "Peace Riders."
The Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County and the Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center recently approached Annapolis Transit with the idea of sending youths paired with adults aboard the buses on the day King's birthday is observed. The groups will board buses at the Spa Road transfer center in the afternoon.
Fay Mauro, executive director of the Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County, said 20 teen- agers, mostly high school girls, will engage in the exercise of approaching strangers - other bus riders - with material on conflict resolution.
Foer said the "Peace Riders" concept dovetails well with the free-rides program and that brochures were printed in English and Spanish to spread the word.
"This is a community service instead of just having the day off," said Mauro. "[The teen- agers] are improving their own skills and doing something in the spirit of freedom."
Samantha Bemis, 17, a youth coordinator for the Volunteer Center, said she and friends have put up signs in bus shelters about the event.
"I can't wait. His [King's] legacy lives. If you go to a common place, you get to a lot of different people," said the Broadneck High School senior. "You have to act on injustices, break down barriers, and that's what this project is trying to do."
Bullying is the kind of everyday conflict teenagers face, she said.
Linda Deming, 57, who directs the Conflict Resolution Center, said translating King's teachings into messages that ring true for young people is at the heart of the project.
"These kids will come of age in this century," she said. "We came of age in the last century."