Drawing from the morning news on cable media, an article from USA TODAY and information on biography.com, I am viewing the life and death of Congressman John R. Lewis through the lens of empowerment beyond. Representative Lewis died Friday night, seven months after receiving a diagnosis for Stage IV pancreatic cancer at age 80.
Born on February 21, 1940, the congressman is said to have had a happy childhood as part of a sharecropping family in rural Alabama. In 1954 when he was only 14 years old, because of his reported disappointment that the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education had no impact on practices in his school district, the unfairness of segregation ignited his passion for what became his lifetime mission.
That miscarriage of justice was the fire behind his empowerment. He did not let the torture and struggles that followed stop him. Arrested numerous times after he started participating in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, TN. Trained in nonviolent protest strategies, he quickly rose to leadership in the movement, applying his knowledge, skills and abilities in organizations for enfranchising minorities.
From a community activist and member of the City Council in Atlanta GA, he won a seat in the US Congress in 1986. Congressman Lewis became a best-selling author, winning the National Book Award for children’s literature in 2016 with his “graphic memoir, MARCH. In 2011, this nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, presented him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Recognizing his persistence in speaking out on issues of justice and equality, President Obama referred to him as the Conscious of the United States Congress and a man of great courage. Congressman Lewis won his 17th term in Congress in November 2018.
As though he was passing on the torch to “the newest generation of Americans” he is said to have “summoned the strength to visit the peaceful protests” in June of this year, during the last weeks of his encounters with cancer. He showed admiration for those taking up “the unfinished” business of racial justice. Surely everyone moving forward with this mission have a strong legacy and monumental shoulders on which to stand. By his life and death, Congressman Lewis is a major influence on them as they are restoring themselves to their innate empowerment.