Journalist | Author | Lecturer
MLK always gets the lion share of the accolades and attention, deservedly, but as is the case with many great men and women in every area, there are usually several role players in their circle. These enablers, advisors, and organizers are vital sources for support and inspiration. John Lewis was this and so much more.
John Lewis called for Americans to “answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe” in an essay that was published by The New York Times the same day as his funeral. The Ny Times had received it two days before he passed, and it was to be published the day of his funeral. In the essay, Lewis, a kamisama of the civil rights movement, said he was inspired by the social justice reform and activism that has swept the county in the aftermath of police killings of Black Americans.
“You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society.”
“You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society,” he wrote. “Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world, you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.”
Lewis in 1964
John Lewis lying in state at the United States Capitol.
John Lewis poses for a photo at Black Lives Matter plaza in Washington DC
Seems almost fitting that a man that spent over 55 years of his life battling and defeating the seemingly most insurmountable unnatural causes of death for black Americans like white fear…,should succumb to a fairly natural cause like cancer which doesn’t discriminate at all.
Lewis wrote, “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor,”. He was 15 years old at the time of Till’s lynching. He said he’d never forget the moment when it became clear to hm that Emmitt Till could have easily been him or any black man. “In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.”
“That boy from Troy,” King once called him for Lewis was Born in Troy, Alabama, the son of sharecroppers. He began his civil rights activism at a young age. But before he knew it was helping lead a march for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The date was March 7, 1965, and he was only 25. That day, known as “Bloody Sunday,” he and other marchers were brutally attacked by police. His skull was fractured by police, but his sacrifice made the news and white America got their first real taste of the violence that blacks endured daily. This helped garner support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and spurred President Lyndon B. Jonson into signing it into law.
He passed away at the age at 80 after a six-month long battle with cancer. Seems almost fitting that a man that spent over 55 years of his life battling and defeating the seemingly most insurmountable unnatural causes of death for black Americans like white fear, ignorance and hate, enemy combatants that many In black communities nation-wide never survived their encounters with, including MLK himself, should succumb to a fairly natural cause like cancer which doesn’t discriminate at all.
On a personal note, he has inspired me a great deal, particularly now as we’re entering into another presidential election cycle. I have to confess; I am not impressed with the democratic ticket and would prefer to be motivated by something other than “at least he’s not Trump!” But that would be the perfect bumper sticker for the current democratic candidate. But something John Lewis said gave me the little extra nod needed to vote democratic again and that was his statement written just before he passed.
He said voting is, “the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society!” and insisted everyone use it. Adding that we all must do something because, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
Those are powerful words with added weight because they come from a man who literally nearly had his brains beat out of him in the streets of Alabama by a white lynch mob with dogs and guns and clubs. And if a man who has suffered what John suffered and who traversed the hollowed halls of congress for decades, making the laws we need, rejecting the ones that harm, living long enough to see the fruit he planted blossom, as Barack was sworn in and he and Michelle and their family moved into the White House. I can just imagine the sense of fulfillment that must have filled John Lewis with, how reaffirming of his faith and his vision that moment must have been.
Just imagining how moved he must have been moves me, inspires me to do more, to be more!
That is the power of our ancestors, and though John Lewis has joined them, their power resides within us, whether in the US, here in Japan, or anywhere our spirits guide us. This power anchors us in the most turbulent of times and lifts us up when we need to rise above and see our lives and our world from another perspective. What will you do with the spirit of John Lewis and our other ancestors within you? How will you make your legacy felt, even here in Japan? If you follow the template John Lewis left for us, his recipe for building a meaningful and impactful life, rest assured that whatever you come up with will benefit others in ways they might not even be aware of, and will be worthy of being your legacy.