John Lewis: American Hero

America is facing the fight of a lifetime. The never-ending mission to accomplish racial equality is not an easy one. But as John Lewis aptly put it, it is “good trouble.” 

John Lewis was one of the rare leaders in the battle to focus fully on making Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal” a reality. Lewis died on July 17th, 2020 after a long battle with cancer. Time magazine wrote that his death is the “end of an era”, as Lewis is the last leader of the U.S. civil rights movement of the early 1960s. 

His family released the following statement:

“He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed.” 

Speaker Pelosi wrote that Lewis was a “titan of the civil rights movement, whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation.” 

From former President Barack Obama: “He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

Throughout his life, John Lewis was a  champion for civil rights, both as an activist and a politician. During his youth, he took part in sit-ins protesting segregation, and marched with Martin Luther King to Washington in 1963. He was arrested more than forty times, even during his later career as a Congressman, beaten up by the police, and even got his skull fractured. But he never let those challenges stop him, clearly believing that the fight for civil rights was ‘“good trouble.” 

At an event where Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, John Lewis placed himself in the annals of American history as one of the keynote speakers. Lewis remarked: “We will march through the South, through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.” History mostly remembers Dr King’s eloquent speech, but John Lewis’ ferocious yet loving call for action that day must not be forgotten. It resonates, now more than ever, in the midst of the racial reckoning America is facing. 

Many considered John Lewis to be the “conscience of Congress.”  He was widely respected by both Republicans and Democrats in the House, and was known as a humble and friendly person. He was passionate for civil rights legislation, but strived also for a more humane approach for young immigrants. Lewis remarked that he would “go to the border,” and get himself arrested if necessary, in the effort to reunite families that had been separated as a result of Trump’s inhumane policies. In one of his last acts as a Congressman, Lewis criticized the move by Trump to deport all students if classes are only offered online.

At an historic time of both a global pandemic and America’s racial reckoning, the country has lost an extraordinary human being and a much-needed moral compass. The lives of everyone will, in the end, be made better for the fact that John Lewis walked this earth. His empathy, compassion, friendliness and passion for a very just cause made him very loved.  

John Lewis was there when the fight for racial justice in America began, and his contribution was enormous. He can rest peacefully, knowing that he did his part and inspired many others  to continue the fightIt is only fitting to end with these inspiring words by the man himself:

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble, #goodtrouble.”