The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis stood only 5 feet 6 inches tall, but there was no greater giant for civil rights and racial justice than the man from Troy, Alabama.
As the world mourns Lewis’ passing, we remember his legacy of putting his conscience and words into action.
He was fond of reminding followers, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Lewis was often beaten and jailed for his beliefs. He strongly vocalized his opposition to white supremacy and racial bigotry, but more than anything he demonstrated courage and boldness to get in the way of injustices.
While advocating for sensible gun legislation after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, Lewis remarked, “We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.”
Those words coming from anyone else might ring hollow, but when delivered by Lewis they had deep meaning and purpose.
He was part of the “Big Six” of the civil-rights movement: Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and Lewis.
Together, with throngs of others, the Big Six helped bend the arc of history toward justice.
The author of 1 John 3:16-18 declared, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
The author’s words transcend history, revealing that love and justice cannot be separated.
Love cannot be present without justice and justice cannot be present without love.
Both depend on each other, putting personal conscience into relevant and tangible action.
For people of good faith, this means getting in the way when injustice surfaces.
Whether advocating for hungry families or civil rights, words cannot be the only reaction to injustice.
We must “do” more to get in the way of injustice, in order to supplant it with justice and love.
Therefore, following Lewis and others, the new generation of advocates must walk in the footsteps of our predecessors who were loyal to personal conscience and courageous to get in the way of injustices.
Marching this way means more than posting on social media. It means lacing up our sneakers and boldly wading into the injustices of this world.
Discussing the importance of the videos that shed light on the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, a black colleague of mine hesitated in the conversation.
She confessed the videos “may” bring justice, but she lamented the fact that the person holding the video did not “get in the way” of the injustice before them.
The civil-rights movement did not bend the arc with words alone (even though they were extremely important).
The arc was bent upon the footprints of Lewis, King, Parks, Randolph, Baker, Wilkins, Hamer, Young, David and so many others.
Their words and actions brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Acts of 1965.
Who will walk across the bridge like Lewis? Who will refuse to give into injustices like Rosa Parks? Who will preach love and justice like Martin Luther King Jr.? Who will speak out against economic injustices like Fannie Lou Hamer?
Who will show us the way of nonviolent resistance like C.T. Vivian? Who will speak and step out for the next generation?
As we mourn the loss of our icons and reflect upon their lives, let’s also listen to their voices, remember their actions and cast our vision toward a more just future.
The only way we can march forward will be with their memories in our hearts and a passion for getting into “good and necessary trouble.”
Writing in his 2017 memoir, “Across the Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America,” Lewis concluded, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
In honor of their memory, it’s time for the next generation to lace up and lead out to that more just society.
CEO of Good Faith Media.