As the nation continues to mourn the loss of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), particularly on this Thursday as his funeral service is conducted in Atlanta, marking the end of a series of celebration honoring the life of the hero, Lewis made sure to leave the nation with one last, hopeful message.
According to the New York Times, shortly before his passing on July 17, Lewis wrote an essay for the newspaper to be published on the day of his funeral. And in that essay, Lewis expressed his wishes and his hope for this nation, while encouraging young people to continue to step forward and get in “good trouble.”
“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,” Lewis wrote. “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 revealed that this coming together motivated him, despite being ill, to visit the then-recently dedicated Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C.
“I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on,” he noted.
The congressman linked the current Black Lives Matter movement to the Civil Rights movement of his day, noting that his own call to action came in a painfully similar way.
“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 wrote. “In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.”
Action, then, the congressman reminds us, is imperative to break free.
“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,” he added, before again giving his signature call to get into “good trouble,” as well as vote.
“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key,” the congressman wrote. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”
In the end, Lewis urged on every American to “answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”
He then formally passed on the torch, noting, “In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
As he ended his essay, Lewis expressed one last hope, that this would be the generation that would bring an end to the “heavy burdens of hate” once and for all.
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war,” the congressman said. “So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”