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A week into its launch, the 2008 Soulforce Equality Ride will make its way to Atlanta and two historically black colleges.

The upcoming ride, a youth-organized bus tour to faith-based colleges, opens Oct. 1 with a stop at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., before making its way to Columbia, S.C. and then to Morehouse College on Oct. 9 and Spelman College a day later as part of a 15-stop schedule across 11 states in the south.

“As young people and students ourselves, we understand that it’s very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe,”  Jarrett Lucas, co-director of the Equality Ride, said in a prepared statement. “And students who face harassment or expulsion can’t always speak up for themselves. That’s where we come in. We can speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear.”

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 schools and hosted forums, took part in panel discussions and joined worship services and Bible studies. Organizers want to prompt further conversation and work with students, faculty and administrators to make their schools welcoming to all students.

“We know that young people want to be part of the solution that heals divided communities, churches, and schools,” Katie Higgins, co-director of the Equality Ride, said in a prepared statement. “We’re reaching out to these schools, because we can’t heal those rifts until everyone has a place at the table.”

The 2008 campaign marks the first time the Equality Ride is visiting historically black colleges, including Morehouse, Spelman and Simmons College in Louisville. It is also visiting more seminaries this year, organizers said. Morehouse has been at the center of several issues with anti-gay tones in the past few years.

Morehouse has faced several issues with anti-gay sentiments on campus in recent years, most notably in 2002 when former Morehouse student Aaron Price beat a classmate in a dormitory shower with a baseball bat after he claimed the classmate made an unwanted sexual advance toward him. Price, who used a “gay panic” defense, was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison for the beating but later had his sentence reduced.

Despite the anti-gay incidents, there have been organized efforts on Morehouse’s campus to end the all-male college’s lingering reputation of homophobia, including an anti-homophobia workshop held in 2007. An openly gay student and the campus’ Safe Space program, that offers resources for gay students, held a “No More ‘No Homo’ Initiative” earlier this year.

Lesbian author and activist Audre Lorde bequeathed her personal papers to Spelman College, an all-female campus, after she died of cancer.

The Equality Ride visited Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia in April 2007. View photos from the event.

Meet the 17 riders and two co-directors.

2008 Equality Ride Route

Oct. 2-3 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
Oct. 6 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
Oct. 9 Morehouse College Atlanta, GA
Oct. 10 Spelman College Atlanta, GA
Oct. 13-14 Palm Beach Atlantic University West Palm Beach, FL
Oct. 17 Heritage Christian University Florence, AL
Oct. 20 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
Oct. 23 Louisiana College Pineville, LA
Oct. 24 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX
Oct. 27 Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 29 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
Nov. 5 Ouachita Baptist University Arkadelphia, AR
Nov. 7 Central Baptist College Conway, AR
Nov. 10-11 Union University Jackson, TN
Nov. 13 Simmons College of Kentucky Louisville, KY