I remember walking into the church in Atlanta, Georgia where Martin Luther King Jr. preached his messages of equality and empowerment. MLK Jr. was supported by several activists and leaders in the Black community. One of these activists was the incredibly inspiring John Lewis. Much to our dismay, John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 due to his cancer diagnosis.
As a young activist, Lewis was one of the 13 Freedom Riders who planned to ride in an integrated bus from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans. Before they could reach their destination, many of the Freedom Riders, including Lewis, were brutally assaulted. Lewis faced many more blows to his body while protesting, but that did not stop him.
As a man in his 20s, Lewis was named a part of the “Big Six,” a group of legendary Black activists who organized and led the March on Washington. He is an inspiration to young people in that he proved that speaking up against injustice can be done at any age. Since his work during the Civil Rights Movement, he has tirelessly worked as a congressman to create more opportunities and better policies for underrepresented communities. Lewis was a hero before he passed and will continue to be remembered as a hero for his efforts to create a better world.
Early Day for the People
As a congressman, John Lewis would start his day at 7 a.m. and would navigate through committee meetings and speeches. Then, in the late afternoon, he would have some soup or whatever was being offered in the Longworth Cafeteria on Capitol Hill. This was followed by a long day of 1-2 and sometimes, up to 7 professional and political receptions that would go into the evening. From 1987 to the day he died, he served in the House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. He was, as some said, the “conscience of congress.” He brought awareness and his sound mind to difficult discussions within the congressional floor. His approach on life and work came from this philosophy: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Stand up. Speak up. Speak out.”
As a congressman, he protested and arranged sit-ins for major issues like gun reform and was sometimes even arrested, but he never backed down and kept on fighting. Even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he went back to Congress working as he normally would. It is incredible how dedicated he was to his work even at the age of 80 while withstanding cancer.
A Reader and A Writer
When he was young, Lewis went to the library everyday to read The Nashville Tennessean, and he continued this habit for the rest of his life. For Lewis, the point of reading the newspaper was to stay informed about the state of the world. As a child, he was not allowed to check out a book from the library because of the color of his skin. This increased his appreciation for reading and books as he wished to read every book he got his hands on. It makes sense why he had such an extensive book collection. As people say, avid readers make great writers, and the same can be said about Lewis. His pen has written several revolutionary speeches, policies, and books like the March trilogy.
Days before he passed away, Lewis engaged in a discussion with other Black leaders and activists about the importance of self-care. Even while facing a cancer diagnosis, Lewis took care of his body with a healthy diet, consistent rest, and good sleep. Above all, Lewis found solace in God and his faith. “Lord let me live,” a little prayer he had uttered while being beaten in Selma, had given him the strength to keep fighting. He said that he felt blessed to see the changes that have happened and was proud of all of the young people fighting against racial injustice.
After a long day in Congress, for Lewis, the little things kept him going, and he found peace in poetry and gospel music. One of his favorite songs was “Order My Steps.” He believed that God had ordered the steps that helped him make the change he wanted to make.
Lewis’ calm composure amazed many individuals, but perhaps, it could have been the result of his ability to self-reflect and think about the purpose of his actions. Before any delegation, speech, or protest, Lewis had what he called “executive sessions” with himself to reflect, pray, and find peace within his mind: “This is what you must do. This is what you must say. Do what you can, and play the role you can play.” His faith not only supported him, but it also allowed him to support others, and it will continue to support people as they fight against inequality.
A Genuine Soul
His wishes in life were simple; he wanted peace and balance in the world. As a congressman, he made rational decisions for the greater good. As a human being, he had simple desires and enjoyed time with his loved ones. Lewis spent a lot of time with his brothers and sisters and visited his family in Alabama. His wife, Lillian, supported him during the worst and the best of times. She managed his election campaigns, stood by his side for 44 years, and was his best friend.
Some of his favorite things were sweet potato pie, the color blue, and the season of spring. Even from his favorites, one can tell how calm and balanced his choices and mindset were. Although he has passed from this Earth, John Lewis will continue to be in our hearts and will continue to inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. May you find his final words as inspiration to keep pursuing justice and liberty.
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