Dear John: Rest In Peace!

It’s time to Break It Down!

John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020) was an icon; an American hero. The man who singled-handedly popularized the phrase “Good Trouble,” slipped the surly bonds of earth 12 days ago. It is not for me to say where he will rest in eternity. All I know is he did yeoman’s work on behalf of his fellow man, while he walked this earth. Mostly he invested his life in service to the cause of civil and human rights. He sustained more than a few beatings while doing so. As a child, his mother frequently admonished him to stay out of trouble. As an adult, he committed to avail himself to “Good Trouble,” and he did so, as often as possible.

As a 23-year-old, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. As an 80-year-old, in his last public appearance, he visited Black Lives Matter Plaza, in Washington, as protest roiled, after the death of George Floyd. He insinuated himself in “Good Trouble,” many times over the course of the span of the nearly 57 years that separated The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and his last act of valor and sacrifice. As Mr. Lewis rose to much acclaim and notoriety, perhaps no single incident was more riveting than one of the occasions during which, he almost lost his life. He marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, on what is now known as Bloody Sunday. Law enforcement confronted the marchers, and terrorized and beat many of them, including Lewis.

John Lewis was a longtime civil rights activist, and organizer, and the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) when he first marched with Dr. King. However, he didn’t just start fast, he finished strong. He went on to become a US. Congressman in 1987, representing Georgia’s 5th District. He sponsored important legislation, including a bill to establish the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was he first introduced in 1988. It was one of the first pieces of legislation the newly minted Congressman introduced. 

It was a long, hard-fought battle. He re-introduced the bill every year thereafter. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law in 2003. That was 15 years after Lewis initially introduced it. He was not easily deterred. The museum broke ground in 2012, and was completed and dedicated in 2016. The facility is a three-tiered, bronze building designed by David Adjaye between 14th and 15th streets. Until the coronavirus pandemic closed museums, the NMAAHC was among the top-visited Smithsonian museums, having welcomed more than 7 million visitors since its opening day.

Congressman Lewis was a warrior for civil rights and racial justice. He was the last surviving speaker of the ’63 March on Washington. In 2020, he was a sponsor of H.R. 51, the D.C. statehood bill that passed in the House of Representatives in June. One final act in his lifelong pursuit of “Good Trouble.” John Robert Lewis, a devotee of nonviolence, rose from humble beginnings in rural Troy, Alabama. His acts of courage, dedication, prescience, and the pursuit of civil rights and justice for his people were the hallmarks of his four score years on this orb. But in closing, I want to leave you with some of his most piercing and prophetic words. During his speech at the March on Washington, he said:

“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.

“And then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now. We do not want to go to jail. But we will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace.” Loosely translated (by me), he was saying, if “Good Trouble” is what it takes, then by all means, give us “Good Trouble.”

“Dear John: Rest In Peace!” I’m done; holla back!

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