Taking it to the Road

Continued from Mary Beth Tinker: Taking Her Rights on a Tour:

After brainstorming with attorney Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center, the idea of the Tinker Tour gradually sprouted. From Philadelphia to Kansas City, the friends sent their First Amendment beliefs to a national level, accompanied with a big bus and even bigger passion.

“I decided it’s time for students to speak up,” Tinker said. “So many already are, and I wanted to hear their stories around the country of kids standing up against schools.”

Tinker and Hiestand put out a notice of the tour, and then received over 200 invitations to different organizations around the country. Hiestand said a huge variety was interested: high schools, middle schools, colleges, law schools and more reached out. Even though it would have been amazing to go to every single one, Tinker said they had to narrow it down and draw out a route that made sense. Tinker took a leave from her nursing job and the pair began their month-long journey.

The two got their hands on a sleeper bus and kicked off the tour in mid-Sept. at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Tinker said it was perfect timing, since the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing was Sept. 15, and Sept. 17 was Constitution Day.

“The Civil Rights movement, the Children’s Crusade and the Birmingham children were so important in my motivation for this experience that it was very inspirational,” Tinker said.

After Philadelphia, Tinker and Hiestand drove to places all around the East Coast. Whether the locations were rural or urban, Tinker said they aimed to get a variety of racial and economic diversity.

“It just took off,” Hiestand said. “People were really, really into it. And they should be. Tinker is a historical figure, just like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. The thing that’s different about her is that she’s willing to get on a bus and go out and talk to kids about her beliefs.”

At each stop, Tinker and Hiestand talk to students as well as have a formal presentation. They hand out brochures, engage students in lighthearted quizzes and answer questions.

“My favorite part is when I have these round table sessions when students just talk to me about what they’re speaking up about at their schools,” Tinker said. “That’s what I love hearing about.”

Once the fall tour is over, Tinker and Hiestand hope to take a tour of the west coast in the spring. After that, Tinker said she hopes continue nursing, and never wants to stop speaking to and hearing from kids.

Next: Reaching the Midwest