Free To Ride is the story of the relentless spirit of community members from across Dayton, Ohio who overcame a suburban contingent opposed to the expansion of public transit along a commercial corridor, and the system of checks and balances that allowed justice and reason to prevail.
Amid growing racial tension in the United States and around the globe, Free To Ride shows that peaceful change is possible and provides communities with a film they can use to build meaningful equity movements in their part of the world.
With their new documentary Free to Ride, researchers at Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity explore the connections between race, class, and transportation inequality in the United States.
Access to safe, affordable, and reliable transportation widens opportunity and is essential to addressing poverty, unemployment, and equal opportunity goals like access to good schools and health care services – but transportation funding programs don’t benefit all areas and communities equally.
I used to pass people walking along the overpass.... And I used to think to myself, 'these people have to be idiots, to do something so stupid and dangerous.' I never once asked myself why they were doing what they were doing, or whether it could be another way.
This is a story about a community that took action to correct an injustice from its past. As regions have expanded along interstate highways, the socioeconomic impacts have not been random. These events could have taken place in any city, because every city has a history of decision making that supported some while abandoning others. This is a story about what racism look like in 21st Century America—subtle, structural, coded, unconscious...invisible.Educational Component
Matt has been on staff at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity since 2009 and the focus of his work has been on expanding access to opportunity, neighborhood revitalization, and the history behind regional inequality. He has managed many of the Institute’s mapping initiatives and is the producer of the Institute’s first feature length documentary, Free To Ride.
Prior to working for the Kirwan Institute, Matt was a regional planner with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission in Dayton, where his work focused on land use policy, transportation planning, and regional development. He has also worked in local planning departments in Kettering and Piqua, where he assisted with development planning and zoning code enforcement.
Matt holds a B.S. in Urban Affairs and a minor in African American Studies from Wright State University, as well as a master’s in City and Regional Planning from The Ohio State University.
Jamaal serves as the Director of Strategic Communications for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. He stands alongside an applied research institution and leads a dynamic communications unit to effect change in the communities the Kirwan Institute works in. Jamaal is a former seminarian and attended Ball State University, where he studied Public Relations and Journalism and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 2007. He directed the Institute’s first film, A Reading of the Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Max is a graduate of the University of Vermont, where he studied sociology and criminal justice. He has since worked for over 15 years as a filmmaker, during which time he has also edited film and television for many of the industry’s most respected production companies and broadcast networks, including Miramax, BBC, Bravo, and AMC.
He produced and directed The Opportunity Crisis, a feature length documentary about the cultural and economic transformation of the American citizen into the American consumer. The film was an official selection by the International Documentary Film Association for the 2003 IDFA film festival in Amsterdam. Chamberlain also edited Mejor Es Que Gabriella No Se Muera, a feature length motion picture produced in Mexico and financed by the country’s national film fund. The film was chosen by The American Film Institute as an official selection for The AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles and was awarded “Best Picture” as well as the “Audience Award” at The CINEQUEST Film Festival in 2008.
Audrey is a Civic Engagement Associate at JPMorgan Chase, and is a graduate of the City and Regional Planning graduate program at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture. Before joining the Kirwan Institute as a Graduate Research Assistant, she worked as a congressional aide to a U.S. Senator and received her bachelor’s degree from DePauw University in conflict studies.
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity is an interdisciplinary, applied-research center at Ohio State University, and our vision is an inclusive society where all people and communities have the opportunity to succeed.
So, how did we go from responding to a request to make a few maps to producing the feature-length documentary film, Free To Ride?
It began with the realization that all we really needed to do was to tell the truth—to simply show the impact one decision could have on the most vulnerable members of society. After learning about what members of the community had been able to do through years of tireless advocacy, and realizing the small but meaningful contribution our maps had made, we wondered how our work could amplify the precedent-setting efforts made to secure better access to opportunity for everyone.
Ultimately, we decided to make Free To Ride because we believe that this story is about more than 3 bus stops in Beavercreek, Ohio….that it’s about what it means to belong in America, and about who has the right to participate in our economy.
Effective research is just the search for an untold story that needs to be heard. At the Kirwan Institute, we work every day to improve the collective understanding of how our biases, and the things we build together under the influence of our biases, hold us all back from living in the kind of world in which we long to live, and how we can engage one another in thoughtful ways that lead to a future where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.
Visual Effects by Jamaal Bell and Jason Duffield
Musical Score by Kelan Gilbert
Executive Producer Sharon L. Davies
Co-Produced and Edited by Maxwell Chamberlain
Written and Produced by Matthew Martin
Directed by Jamaal Bell
How did a legal aid attorney’s simple request for a few maps turn into a documentary film and an educational curriculum about equity, public discourse, and what it means to belong in 21st Century American society? First, it is important to understand that the Kirwan Institute was created to be an interdisciplinary, applied research center within an academic setting. In other words, its work is ...
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