Good Trouble; Remembering Hon. John Lewis
John Lewis, the legendary civil rights leader, author, orator and U.S. Representative, transcended the physical realm this past Friday, July 17th 2020. He was 80 years old.
Throughout his life, Lewis fought relentlessly for the equality of African American communities. He was one of the ‘Big Six’ leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington, one of the 13 Freedom Riders (who in 1961 rode from Washington D.C. to New Orleans in an integrated bus to fight for desegregation), a member of the 1965 Selma to Alabama March (known as Bloody Sunday), and more. In campaigning for change, Lewis survived numerous arrests and violence. He bore many physical scars of the countless attacks he suffered from police and white mobs—including a cracked skull.
Lewis began his activism as a youth. During his time as a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, Lewis joined the Nashville Student Movement and organized the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at lunch counters. These sit-ins pushed lunch counter desegregation in Nashville. As the chairman for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC,) Lewis represented the group at the March on Washington, and headed countless initiatives to improve conditions of Blacks in the United States. He campaigned for causes such as access to education and livelihoods.
In 1986, Lewis became formally involved in politics. He was elected a City Representative for Atlanta in 1981, and from 1986 until his death, Lewis served as a U.S. Representative. He was re-elected for his position, representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, 16 times. For his efforts, Lewis has been recognized for many awards. In 2011, former president Barack Obama rightfully awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Lewis is a symbol of the transformative power of activism. He brought light to the idea of ‘good trouble’ as a necessary disruption of normality that serves to break new ground. The changes Lewis sparked benefited all peoples of the African Diaspora, including those who migrated to the U.S. after Jim Crow laws had been abolished. He bridged the generational gap of activism by continuing to March and even being arrested with youth in 2013 as they pushed for US immigration reform. He also strongly encouraged youth to continue the fight for justice. One of his tweets holds a special reminder for Black Millennial Change makers.
“Do not get lost in the 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.”
We thank Mr. Lewis for his lifetime of work. May he rest in perfect peace.