John Lewis meant many things to many people. He almost died as a young man, fighting for equality under the law during the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge, which left Lewis with a fractured skull. As the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“SNCC”), Lewis put his life on hold not only for himself but for the millions who, like him, had been treated as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin. He was also one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, seven whites and six blacks, who rode from New York to New Orleans. Beaten and attacked at every turn, Lewis refused to stop even though he believed his activities would ultimately result in his death, but God had other plans for him.
Lewis has always been like a myth. I was blessed to meet him when he spoke to the Class of 1996 at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, giving us insight on our future lives and how we could do good in the world. Though I returned to college at 30 and already had a good idea of the world outside, his words were not lost on me. Several years later, I had taken a job in a law firm in downtown Atlanta, and there he was again. I felt privileged to have twice crossed his path and had the honor and pleasure to speak with him as he signed his memoir “Walking with the Wind” and patiently answered questions. John Lewis was no myth; he was a flesh-and-blood man who never saw himself as the hero he became. That humility is what carried him so far in life. He fought up to his death, and while we believe he had more work to do, God had other plans for him.
I hope that the young people marching for our rights today have learned from John Lewis. He did not take “no” for an answer, but he did so nonviolently. He was willing to literally lay down his life so that we could enjoy freedom in our own country. In his death, John Lewis reminds us of the turmoil in which we currently live. While multiple leaders of both parties have sent condolences and kind words, “president” Donald Trump went to play golf and took forever to even tweet something generic about Lewis’s death. Presidents are supposed to unify us in times of turmoil and in grief. Trump cannot do that because he is not an honorable man. His behavior and persona are the opposite of the man we have lost. God has plans for Trump as well.
Let us keep our eyes on the prize. Mourn John Lewis but do so with the memory of all he contributed to our country. In his memory, we can become the country that he fought so hard for us to be. We must continue to fight, and we must put good leadership in office in November. John Lewis would be disappointed if we do not give this all we have, and we cannot disappoint this great man.
Shirley is a former entertainment writer and has worked in the legal field for over 25 years