As I write this blog, thousands of tributes are recognizing John Lewis as an icon, giant, hero, “the conscience of Congress.” This son of sharecroppers faced challenges at every turn, with racism as the theme. He respectfully listened to his mother ask him “not to get in trouble,” but made the goal of his life to “get in good trouble.”
In 1956, he went to his local public library to get a library card and was told, “The library is for whites only, not for coloreds.” This event served as a catalyst for “good trouble,” addressing systemic racism every step on the way. Sixty years later, John Lewis was awarded the National Book Award in 2016 for MARCH – Book 3.
All of us who are left behind receive patrimony from John Lewis—the gifts of courage, determination, resiliency, and the ability to forgive.
In 1965, Lewis joined hundreds in attempting to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge calling for an end to police brutality. He suffered a fractured skull, but the blood spilled only fueled his determination to keep going, never give up, never give in. Later he would be approached by the man who beat him. The man asked for forgiveness, and without hesitation, Lewis gave it. Courage, resilience, forgiveness came easily.
If you were keeping count, John Lewis was arrested 45 times, most recently on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. For all who hold this as an issue demanding our full attention, we have a voice that says, “Stand up, speak up, and never give in.”
In 2016, Lewis led 40 representatives in a sit-in on the House floor, seeking to force Congress to address gun violence following the Orlando massacre. He called for universal background checks, elimination of military-style assault weapons, and high capacity magazines. This was met with criticism and ridicule from across the aisle. As Dominicans who have taken a stand on gun control reform, his message to us is, “Keep it up.” One cannot get in too much “good trouble.”
I was sad when John Lewis announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer late last year. Using an appropriate metaphor, he said, “We have many bridges to cross. I am going to fight it.” I thought cancer did not stand a chance with John Lewis. He won the race of a life well-lived, or as David Brooks termed it, “eulogy virtues” – those characteristics that people remember after you are gone.
We are left with many struggles for justice and peace in our world that sometimes seem insurmountable. We are gifted with words of encouragement from one who lived those words. In his memory, I hope we will work for the passage of a voting rights bill, comprehensive immigration legislation, and civil rights at every level.
His message to us is a message for the ages:
“You are light. Never let anyone or any force dampen, dim or diminish your light! Release the need to hate, to harbor division and the enticement of revenge. Release all the bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle to overcome evil has already been won.”
May we continue the legacy of “good trouble.”