Honoring Representative John Lewis

July 19th, 2020
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By: David Shapiro

A copy of John Lewis’ 1998 Walking with the Wind sits on my bookshelf but often runs through my mind in the hopes that it will guide my actions. Representative Lewis could have called it an autobiography. His is an exceptional American journey that encapsulates all the stubborn injustice and triumphant progress that lies at the heart of our nation. But he didn’t. He called it a “A Memoir of the Movement.”

All of us in the mentoring movement mourn and honor his passing and seek to walk in the inspiring shadow of his courage, persistence, resilience, and belief that even in our darkest hours, we must march forward to the beacon of justice and opportunity for all. As a young man, his is a story of mentoring, both as a recipient and giver in the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. As he toured the nation throughout his life, he always prioritized meeting with young activists and local leaders. I found myself as a recipient of that master mentoring in several living rooms over the years.

At 23, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, he reminds us that while wisdom can come with age, there are also those who see the world anew with clarity and purpose and demand that we attend to the injustices of our history and the vast unfinished business of democracy’s promise. He did so as an activist for racial and economic justice and human rights more broadly and ultimately as a longtime public servant. He blended the two in his admonition that we make “good trouble” on behalf of the collective liberation and common good. He intertwined civility with strength and resolve with hope.

In 2017, on MENTOR’s Capitol Hill Day, when hundreds of mentoring advocates went to the Hill, one of our National Mentoring Summit Fellows, longtime leader of Cobb Mentoring Matters in Marietta, Georgia, Maryellen Gomes reflected on her time meeting her Representative. She noted that Representative Lewis, alongside his staff, met with their delegation for almost an hour learning about one of the largest mentoring efforts in public schools in Georgia, about the state of young people, and the role of mentoring more broadly. The whole delegation was elevated as he pledged his fervent support and talked of the role of mentoring in his own life and in the movements that were a bedrock of his journey.

Having seen and battled against the ugly face of America both at individual and systemic levels, he also talked of our nation at its most righteous. His aim was always true. His heart and mind were always open to new allies, and he demonstrated how to stay in the fight with joy, love, strength, strategy, and a sense that our voices and actions can always bring better days. He also demonstrated that we must draw strength from each other and march together no matter the venue in pursuit of promises and possibilities not yet fulfilled. We are inspired by so many of all ages and backgrounds that walk in his path, that we have the honor to walk with, who realize their power and voice to call and fight for this vision.

I was lucky enough to have Representative Lewis sign that copy of his book, and in his closing message he wrote, “Keep the Faith” before signing his name. As we all know, there are days when that is easier said than done, and for some, much harder than others. But we are called to keep the faith and the flame of his and so many unsung heroes alight as we commit ourselves to the just and equitable America in which John Lewis always heroically found faith and sought with unending commitment.   

–David Shapiro