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Legislatively Speaking

In Final Words, John Lewis Issues Moral Challenge

Lena C. Taylor

In the last week, we have laid witness to the many homegoing ceremonies honoring the legacy of Congresswoman John Robert Lewis. In his final act of love for this country, Lewis penned a letter to the young activists of our day. Held until his funeral, at his request, the New York Times published Lewis last words to the next generation of leaders. Long-time civil rights activist, John Lewis, in his op-ed, passed the torch and responsibility for the fight for social justice to those able to finish the work.

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. 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. 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 wrote.

In acknowledging the continued issues facing the Black community, Lewis willed himself to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington. He was admitted to the hospital the next day.

Lewis pointed out that, “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me.”

Lewis went on to say, “Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. 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.”

I encourage you to read the totality of Congressman Lewi’s remarks. While not a young leader, I still have a lot to learn and his last words provided some great insight. “People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time,” Lewis said. Those words will guide my work as a state legislator and a citizen who believes that we must stand up for what we truly believe. We must always be willing to “do something” to advance the cause of social justice.

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